I’ve long been a huge fan of William McGurn’s, and, until this year, I don’t think I can remember a time when I meaningfully disagreed with him about much, if anything. But I think his column, “The Cheap Moralizing of Never Trump,” is deeply mistaken. Like some other reluctant Trump-supporting conservatives (as opposed to all-in Trump-worshipping conservatives), McGurn implicitly over-inflates the importance of Never Trump conservatives. Also like many pro-Trump conservatives, he declines to cite a single Never Trump conservative (save in a glancing slap at George Will near the end) while mischaracterizing their arguments. I understand why some writers — many of them friends of mine — do this. Who wants to make things personal? But when you blithely and sweepingly speak of Never Trump conservatives as a single bloc, you make it sound like it is an intellectually homogenous group, and the tactics of one or some are the tactics of all. In a way that makes it more personal because such arguments end up flirting with guilt by association. (If one Never Trumper says something dumb or ill-advised, suddenly that’s the “Never Trump” position. Surely people supporting the GOP nominee wouldn’t want the same tactic deployed against them.)
But McGurn’s mistake is bigger than over-generalization. He makes a category error as well, more than one actually. Instead of aiming at Never Trump conservatives directly, he tries to associate them with the Left. Indeed, he begins his column by elevating Bill Maher as the spokesman of Never Trump:
Three weeks out from Election Day, the Never Trump argument has been neatly summed up by Bill Maher. Not only is Donald Trump coarse and boorish, anyone who supports the man is as revolting as he is.
On his show last month, Mr. Maher put it this way to Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway: “You are enabling pure evil.” The HBO comedian went on to amuse himself by adding that “Hillary was right when she called a lot of his supporters deplorable.”
I have been a critic of Bill Maher’s and have refused to go on his show for years (something I wish many other conservatives would do as well). Suffice it to say, I find no common cause with Maher and neither does any conservative Trump opponent I know. Nor have we made the argument that Trump voters are all evil (a point McGurn concedes and then rhetorically claws back). Part of the problem is that McGurn blurs the distinction between liberal elites like Obama and Clinton and conservative opponents of Trump. “Above all,” Trump voters “support him because they also get that the elite contempt for Donald Trump is a proxy contempt for them.” It’s not at all clear from his column whether McGurn means that as a shot at Never Trumpers, liberal partisans or both. And I think that may be the point; he wants to blur the distinction between liberal elites and conservative elites. Moreover he wants to make it sound like opposition to Trump is better understood as snobbery instead of principle or good taste. That’s unfair.
There’s one last distinction that McGurn blurs. He goes on at length describing all Trump voters as rational actors who’ve simply decided that Hillary would be worse. I have always said that “Hillary is worse” is a perfectly legitimate argument, and so have many other Never Trumpers. But McGurn is simply not right when he makes it sound like everyone voting for Trump is doing so in the same spirit that he is. Not every Trump supporter sees the nominee simply as the lesser of two evils. Some see him as a divinely anointed deliverer.
Pretty much every hero of the Bible had done far worse than these few words by Trump before God redeemed them to lead His people.— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) October 8, 2016
Others see Trump as a vehicle for destroying the GOP as we know it — and that’s why they like him. Ann Coulter recently published a book in which Trump replaced God in the title: In Trump We Trust, all because of his stance on immigration (a stance that traditionally has been anathema to The Wall Street Journal). Laura Ingraham and many others affirmatively wanted Trump over the rest of the field because they want a new populist-protectionist party. Indeed, the man running the Trump campaign, Steve Bannon, despises Paul Ryan, traditional conservatism and much of the agenda The Wall Street Journal holds dear. Is it really snobbery to see this for what it is and reject a poison pill? Isn’t it possible that reasonable people might conclude that an attack on conservatism from within the GOP, led by a Republican president, would be more destructive than an attack from without led by a weak and unpopular Hillary Clinton?
About a third of Trump supporters tell pollsters that the number one reason they are voting for him is that he’s “Not Hillary.” That leaves two thirds of Trump supporters with a variety of different views on the matter. Some are the sober-eyed realists McGurn makes them out to be, some are not. Likewise, some opponents of Trump are just left-wing jackasses who would oppose any Republican nominee. McGurn is way too smart not to know that these people don’t fall under the label “Never Trump.” They are simply “Never Republicans.” Some Never Trumpers have endorsed Hillary Clinton (which I think is a grave mistake). Others, like myself, have said they will vote for the only conservative in the race: Evan McMullin.
These distinctions are meaningful and Bill McGurn does a very uncharacteristic disservice to his readers and his fellow conservatives by claiming otherwise.