It started out with a belief that Donald Trump would never win the Republican nomination for President in 2016. Given his past stances which were clearly more in line with the Democratic Party, his financial support of Democratic politicians, his lack of substantive policy awareness, there were very few who believed he had what it took to be the nominee.
There has been numerous commentaries on these pages and others regarding the Trump phenomena and the reasons he eventually won that nomination. Whatever the reason- political scientists will write books on this in the near future- it is what it is.
Personally, this writer believes that Trump unknowingly fell into a worldwide movement that railed against the entrenched political class amid a chorus of populist/nationalist rhetoric. There have been political gains by such people in Germany, Austria, Great Britain, France, most of Central Europe, Peru and the Philippines. Some are crazier than others, but none should be dismissed out of hand.
There were also some miscues by our own preferred candidates along the way. Ted Cruz, for example, waited much too long before openly criticizing Trump. Having witnessed what Trump did to other primary opponents, did he think that Trump would not turn his attention to him? Others were simply not up to the task whether Trump was a candidate or not, while others fell prey to Trump surrogates (Christie versus Rubio during the New Hampshire debate).
But amid the chaos and a campaign unlike any other in recent history, some voices did emerge in opposition to Trump. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse was perhaps the first most high profile one when he waded into Iowa and asked voters there to vote for anyone but Trump. As it became more apparent that Trump had a realistic chance of capturing the nomination, more voices came forward and a movement was born. The National Review actually dedicated an entire issue against Donald Trump.
What most pundits get wrong is that the Never Trump movement was actually never a political movement in the strictest sense. Although some tried to recruit a viable independent alternative candidate to Trump, no high profile person stepped forward and those recruitment efforts collapsed.
Instead, the Never Trump movement was and is a more philosophical movement rather than one that will offer up a political candidate. The true member of the Never Trump movement honestly and deeply understands the damage that a candidate or potential President Donald Trump will do to not only the Republican Party, but to the cause of conservatism.
For example, we have spent the past eight years railing against the excesses of the Obama administration’s Executive Office power grab through regulations (the EPA, etc.) and issuance of Executive Orders (immigration) and the like, or the use of government agencies to stifle opposition speech (Lois Lerner and the IRS). That opposition to Obama’s practices is predicated upon a true understanding of the Constitutional roles of the Legislative and Executive Branches. The true Never Trump person knows that a President Trump will be an Obama administration on steroids in this area.
With Trump gaining in the polls nationally and in key swing states (Nate Silver now gives Trump a greater than 50% chance of winning Ohio), the non-Never Trump contingent composed of Trump supporters and those who view Trump as the lesser of two evils, now claims that the NeverTrump movement was wrong all along. They claim that the NeverTrump movement wanted a historical electoral landslide by Clinton to banish Trump and his supporters to the dustbin of Republican political history.
The NeverTrump movement was never about teaching Trump and his supporters a hard lesson by ensuring an electoral landslide by his opponent. Instead, it was predicated upon a philosophical belief and understanding that Trump was not a conservative now nor had he ever been. They never fell for the media rapture over Trump, and instead stayed steadfast to the underlying reasons for opposing him.
Any true NeverTrump person does not care whether Trump loses 270-268 in electoral votes, or 500-38. Their cares and worries are the fact that Trump will radically change the Republican Party by redefining conservatism in the process. Should Donald Trump win the Presidency and be such a disaster, very few NeverTrump adherents will be dancing on his grave in the aftermath. Instead, they will be lamenting the damage he did to the cause of conservatism.
Further, being NeverTrump in no way means one is pro-Clinton. Both candidates are unpalatable for differing reasons. Trump supporters offer up the false binary choice that has some semblance of reality since we are basically a two-party system. But if we go back to that document called the Constitution, the best strategy is to ensure that the necessary Legislative check is there on a President Clinton by voting for neither Trump nor Clinton, but making sure both the Senate and House remain in Republican control. In this way, we cross our fingers and hope that the Legislative branch does their Constitutional job while walking out of the voting booth with heads held high knowing that we voted for neither Trump nor Clinton.
Because whether Trump or Clinton wins, we will nevertheless be crossing our fingers so we are no better or worse otherwise. But, at least we retain some shred of electoral dignity. And that dignity extends to avoidance of a “we told you so” attitude in the aftermath.