want to save America?
Back before the 2016 election, it was easy to find so-called Never Trump Republicans (NTRs). They were thick on the ground, on every op-ed page and cable news show, raising dire warnings about the threat Donald Trump posed to American democracy. National Review devoted a whole issue to that threat.
Since Trump won, the number of NTRs has dwindled precipitously. (Turns out “never” meant “unless he wins.”) There are virtually no elected Republicans still in the ranks. What remains are mostly thinkers and pundits — Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, Ana Navarro, Bill Kristol — with no formal organization to call their own.
Nonetheless, they are still around, and they still need to figure out what to do with themselves. Who should NTRs vote for? What party should they ally with? How should they use their limited political power?
Last week, the Niskanen Center’s Jerry Taylor, a prominent NTR, wrote a somewhat plaintive piece drawing these questions together: Whither Never Trump?
I would like to propose an answer. And though I acknowledge the substantial social and psychological challenges it would entail, it seems to me, on a moral level at least, pretty obvious. To wit: NTRs should vote Democrat.
Perhaps in races where notably reformist Republicans are running, willing to repudiate Trumpism, they should vote GOP. But for the most part, they should vote D.
I’ll lay out the case below, but the reasoning is not that complicated: There are, for all intents and purposes, two parties contending in the American system. If you believe one of them is an existential threat to that system ... you should vote for the other one. Because one of them is going to win.
The GOP is Trump’s now
The first thing to understand is that lots of popular conceptions of Trump — that he’s an anomaly, an aberration, an outsider who’s hijacked and split the party — are just wrong. Taylor cites this recent paper from political scientist Larry Bartels, which shows in great detail that, for all intents and purposes, there is no anti-Trump faction of the GOP. The party is united behind Trump, which is why Congress has provided no meaningful check on his power or corruption.
Similarly, popular conceptions of the GOP — that it is driven primarily by conservative economic principles like small government, low taxes, and deregulation — are also wrong. It turns out those things were the preoccupations of a thin and unrepresentative conservative elite, primarily in DC. The Tea Party uprising and its culmination in Trump were driven by white resentment and white backlash. (Here’s another new study supporting that thesis.) The ethnonationalist populism Trump represents is the dominant strain of conservatism in America today.
That is the ugly place where NTRs must begin: They have lost the party. They command no divisions within it. What used to be called “principled conservatism” — that’s the anomaly.