The ‘Never Trump’ Misunderstanding

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy

In the spirit of collegiality, let me begin by saying I find Conrad Black a welcome and useful voice here at National Review.

I do not feel the same way about his column today, titled “The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy.”

The first mistake Conrad makes is terminological. He begins:

The Never Trumpers seem to have retreated, more or less in unison, to the last trench before they throw down their arms and run backwards for their lives: They are now invoking the 25th Amendment.

Now, when I read that, I was fairly stunned.

But first I should explain something. As I’ve said before, I do not consider myself a “Never Trumper” any more for the simple reason that the label is inadequate to the times. Never Trump, as I saw it, was about the primaries and the election. Once elected and sworn in, Donald Trump was the president, and to whatever extent “Never Trump” was a movement, it had failed. I call myself a “Trump skeptic,” because, among other reasons, I don’t buy any of the hagiographic explanations and justifications for his behavior. Other former Never Trumpers hold onto the label. Others don’t. This just helps illuminate a point lost on many Trump supporters and left-wingers alike: Never Trump was never some coherent, unified thing. It started as a hashtag on Twitter as far as I can tell and included people of diverse opinions and tactics, some of which I never subscribed to.

Ironically, the people who cling to the term the most are actually Trump’s most ardent supporters (you can choose your own label for this group: Trumpists, MAGAers, nationalists, whatever). For many of them, having been “Never Trump” is a mark of Cain, and it never washes away, short of full conversion to the cause. And, as often happens with political labels (see neocon, paleocon, libertarian, liberal, etc.), critics use them as broad generalizations that often tend to obscure more than they reveal. That’s the nature of the beast. I myself will refer to Trumpists in broad terms from time to time, even though there is a world of difference between some of our friends at, say, Claremont, and Sean Hannity, never mind Bill Mitchell.

But here’s the thing, whatever you think of Never Trumpers, then or now, they were always a movement of the Right. That is a fact, not a matter of interpretation.

Which brings me back to Conrad’s essay. The idea that “Never Trumpers” have moved “more or less in unison” to arguing for invocation of the 25th Amendment — whereby the cabinet can remove a president if they deem him incapable of doing the job — was total news to me, news you would think I’d have heard elsewhere. I have no doubt that some people who go by that moniker have come to that conclusion. But the suggestion that this is the new consensus position is simply untrue.

I kept reading Conrad’s essay, expecting to at least find a few quotes from representative voices of the Never Trump crowd. None were forthcoming.

But we do find this revealing sentence: “Hillary Clinton has become so esoteric that her claim to lead the Never Trumpers is in jeopardy.”

This is simply wrong. Hillary Clinton was never the leader — or even a leader — of anything called Never Trump.

What Conrad seems to be doing is conflating “the Resistance” with “Never Trump.” The self-styled Resistance is a wholly left-wing phenomenon in its origins, assumptions, and tactics (I’ve criticized it on more than one occasion). To conflate the two is a disservice and unfair. I will assume Conrad is doing so in good faith, but it is no less an egregious falsehood than it would be if he was deliberately misleading his readers.

It may be true that, say, Jen Rubin or Evan McMullin have embraced the “Resistance.” Though I have no idea if they have. Regardless, it is simply absurd to use the two terms interchangeably. And even then, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that the Resistance has moved in unison to call for invoking the 25th Amendment. Maybe Conrad has evidence to support such claim, but he doesn’t provide it in his column.

Meanwhile, the most prominent person to invoke the specter of the 25th Amendment is Steve Bannon.

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