The Corner

Politics & Policy

It’s Important to Distinguish Between Never Trump and Never Trump/Never Hillary Conservatives

I’m really hoping this will be one of my last posts on this whole Never Trump business. I’m with Jonah, the whole debate about the nature of Never Trump after his election is getting really tedious. I wrote a piece about my approach two days after the election, and I feel like I’ve been repeating myself ever since. Praise him when he’s right, critique him when he’s wrong, apply the same standards to your own side that you apply to ideological opponents, and keep your eyes fixed on the larger, more important cultural trends.

The label “Never Trump” is and was imprecise. There were actually two broad kinds of Never Trumpers. There were the Never Trumpers who voted for Hillary and the people like me (and many of my colleagues) who were opposed to Trump and Hillary and refused to vote for either candidate. This is not a small difference. 

I see the Democratic Party as utterly opposed to many of my core values — including the defense of life and religious liberty. I see its progressive base committed to a brand of identity politics that is noxious, toxic, and often bigoted. And I saw Hillary Clinton as thoroughly corrupt and just as unfit for the presidency. She should have been prosecuted for mishandling national defense information, not nominated by her party to run for the nation’s highest office.

The Never Trumpers who crossed party lines and voted for Hillary disagreed with some or all of these assessments. None of them had that much affection for Hillary, but most of them saw her as a conventional Democratic politician with perhaps an above-average number of flaws. Many of them aren’t socially conservative and might even feel a degree of hostility to the religious conservative wing of the GOP. If you’re not pro-life (or indifferent to culture war issues), if you favor increased gun control, and if you feel a degree of cultural alienation from many of the GOP’s exurban and rural voters, then voting for Hillary and even allying with the #Resistance is a much more natural fit. Some folks seem to be on a glide path to becoming Democrats — or perhaps starting a third party that better fits their more centrist world view.

But what about the Never Trump/Never Hillary religious conservatives? While there are multiple cultural vehicles for advocating their core values, the sole viable political vehicle remains the Republican Party. That means engaging with Republicans of good will and good faith (there are many), advocating for the best possible outcomes from the current administration, and fighting against not only the worst impulses of the current president but also the viciousness, incompetence, and bigotry of the Bannon-led insurgency and its coalition of grifters and cranks.

I’m ending 2017 with a small amount of unexpected optimism. As I wrote last week, conservatives are actually winning the GOP civil war. Trump’s polices aren’t nationalist populist but rather conventional and conservative. Roy Moore’s loss is a loss for the worst elements of the Republican Party. There’s good reason to believe that after the Trump storm passes the GOP’s conservative core will remain. I know there’s trouble on the horizon in the midterm elections, and Trump’s character and temperament have proven to be worse than I feared, but the transformation of the GOP into a Trump/Bannon vehicle for white identity politics and malignant nationalism has been bitterly and often successfully opposed from within the GOP — and that’s a very good thing indeed.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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