The demise of the Never Trump movement is greatly exaggerated. There is no doubt that its members failed in one of their aims — denying Donald Trump the GOP nomination — but Never Trump was only partially about this election. At its core, the movement represents a statement about the role of character and ideas in American politics and culture.
Every four years, Americans are tempted toward myopia. Each election is the “most important election in our lifetimes.” Each election is the election that will decide whether America stands or falls; if the wrong man or woman wins, then we will “never recover.” So the pressure builds to take sides. After all, with the fate of the nation at stake, who wants to be on the sidelines?
But there’s another view, one that holds both that politics is downstream from culture and that culture and politics aren’t dictated by any single election but rather by countless people, events, and ideas interacting in unpredictable ways. Elections are important, to be sure, but they aren’t as important as ideas and character when it comes to shaping the destiny of a nation.
Ideas matter, and supporting Trump means advancing ideas I find not just wrong, but destructive. I’ve defended the unborn my entire career; he praises Planned Parenthood. I believe that marriage is a sacred covenant between husband and wife; he’s a serial adulterer. I believe America should lead the world in defense not just of its territorial integrity but also of civilization itself; he would retreat into glorified isolationism. I believe that free trade has made America more prosperous and enriched the lives of its citizens; he threatens to start ruinous economic conflicts. I believe that a core American value is that we can and must judge our citizens by the content of their character, not the color of their skin or their families’ roots; he attacks a federal judge because of his parents’ Mexican heritage.
So Trump has profound differences not just with me but with Americans like me. And we’re not willing to lift a single finger — not even in the voting booth — to advance his ideas, even if his opponent’s ideas are also repugnant.
Character matters, too, and supporting Trump means elevating a man of low morals, which is the last thing our nation needs. I believe men should strive to be honest; Trump lies habitually. I believe men should treat women with respect; he mocks any woman who opposes him or challenges him. I believe in treating opponents fairly; he calls them names and spreads the most vile rumors about their families. I believe that public officials should be intellectually curious, striving to know more about the world; Trump is aggressively ignorant, paying far more attention to poll numbers and press clippings than to the issues he’d confront in the Oval Office.
Ideas matter, and supporting Trump means advancing ideas I find not just wrong, but destructive.
So there is a profound gap between Trump’s integrity and the integrity Americans need in their leaders. Yes, he faces a woman of low morals, but even if one seeks to choose the lesser of two evils — not a choice anyone should be forced to make — it’s difficult to tell which of them is worse.
Finally, there’s the matter of credibility. It is hard enough to argue for conservative ideals — especially Christian conservative ideals — in a popular culture dominated by secular progressives. The far left will never care and never come around, but we don’t live to persuade the unpersuadables. Instead, we seek to win over those who haven’t gone all-in for the other side. We seek to find the open minds.
To the open-minded, how credible is a message of life, individual liberty, free markets, and limited government coming from erstwhile conservatives who tossed those values overboard for the sake of a single election? How credible is a message that a great nation needs good citizens if friends and neighbors coming from the advocates of a known liar? How can anyone resist the continued decadence and degradation of the sexual revolution after casting his lot with a proud philanderer?
The conservative movement is invested in the long game — our own “long march” through American cultural institutions. It is not worth throwing away years of influence for the sake of four months of intraparty peace. When Trump crashes and burns — and he will, either on the trail or in the Oval Office — Americans won’t look to his partisans and defenders to rebuild from the wreckage. They’ll seek other voices. For the sake of the nation, it’s vital that those other voices are both conservative and untainted by alliance or association with the newly minted Republican nominee for president.
So, yes, Never Trump remains, and it is more important now than it’s ever been.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.