One of the more unpleasant features of the fall campaign has been the hectoring effort by pro-Trump voices on the Right – many of whom were not on Trump’s side during the primaries – to focus fire on “Never Trump” conservatives for standing on principle instead of voting “anyone but Hillary,” while the same conservatives are simultaneously attacked from the left for not voting “anyone but Trump.” Jonah had an excellent response to the latter in an interview with Slate the other day.
One of the more vitriolic critics of “Never Trump” from the Right has been the pseudonymous and always acid-tongued Ace of Spades, long one of my favorite reads even when I disagree with him. Ace went so far in a recent post as to argue that “Never Trump” resistance makes him want to go back to being a Democrat:
I’m personally probably defecting to the Democrats after this. All my life I’ve been animated by one idea in politics. Not about guns, not about abortion, not even about national security. (Okay, that last one is important.)
But what caused me to join the GOP is the very palpable idea emanating from the liberals that there was a group of people empowered due to their position and education to Lead Us, and the rest of us had no say in the affairs of the country. They were to make decisions for us, and we were to follow….
I think I’m out. And I think I’m defecting to the Democrats after this because, if I have a choice between one group of corrupt lying scumbags who think their (much over-vaunted) position gives them special rights in this democracy unavailable to the commoners, then I’ll side with the party where I get the least social grief.
If I’m to get nothing I want from either party — not even the minimum respect of being offered the truth — then I’ll go with the party where I don’t have to make apologies for my political leanings at parties.
This party is now determined to give the machinery of prosecution and persecution to the Democrats until at least 2020 and probably 2024. Eight more years under a weaponized IRS and compromised FBI.
Nevermind what’s going on in Wisconsin — and a Hillary-stocked Court won’t interject itself to stop that madness.
They’re doing this deliberately. They’re exposing thousands of their alleged fellow party members to government harassment for four more years and probably eight.
If you’re part of an army that’s deliberately losing the war, maybe you should start thinking about your own safety and security and slip across No Man’s Land to join the other side.
At least that army seems to give a *** about protecting its own.
Now, I have my own litany of rational arguments for continuing to refuse to support Trump (or Hillary), many of which overlap with Jonah’s, and my share of grievances with those who abetted Trump’s nomination, and I won’t repeat those all again here. By contrast, given how awful the available choices are, I have no intention of begrudging anyone on our side who has decided to vote Trump, or Hillary, or Gary Johnson, or Evan McMullin, or write in a candidate (heck, go ahead and vote Jill Stein if you just want to make trouble). As Noah Rothman notes, we’ll all need each other again after November 8 (we need each other before then to hold the Senate), and the opportunities for purges that aren’t counterproductive for the movement will be pretty limited.
Ace is appealing to the most elemental arguments of tribalism and party loyalty: there is Us and there is Them, and we should always vote for Us. Part of this is his view that a Trump Administration would use the machinery of government only against Them, not Us.
Neil Stevens argues that Ace is buying into a dangerous tribalist instinct that many of Trump’s primary supporters brought over from their old home in the Democratic Party, and I agree that this is not how we should look at politics in a constitutional republic. That said, there is a strong argument, if you believe in political coalitions, for voting for all of your party’s candidates for every office, no matter how much you personally dislike or disagree with them, except in the most unusual or extreme of cases. (I once voted for a literal blood-drinking pagan for City Council – and he won, and promptly got indicted for selling access to the GOP primary to Democrats). If the GOP nominee in this election was someone in whom I had very little confidence, or with whom I had serious disagreements – George Pataki, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul – I would almost certainly still be voting for them, because they are Us, and I respect the need to let different factions take their turn at the front of the bus if we’re all going to stay on the same bus route.
But even examining Ace’s critique on its own tribal terms, he’s missing one of the big problems so many have with Donald Trump: Trump is not one of Us. Writ large, the overlapping circles of the Republican Party and the conservative movement include a lot of very different kinds of people – urban and rural, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, old and young, religious and irreligious, moralistic and libertine, CEOs, preachers, cops, farmers, soldiers, stay-at-home moms, etc. Some are professionals in the movement: GOP officeholders and party officials, professional issue activists, political consultants, think-tankers, writers and pundits. Some give their money, from big donors to people writing $5 checks. Some give their time, as grassroots activists and volunteers. Some just reliably give their votes, showing up at the polls once or twice a year every year or two or four.
What do Chris Christie and Rand Paul have in common? What do Ben Carson and Rudy Giuliani have in common? Even within a single state party, what do Paul LePage and Susan Collins have in common? Often very little, by culture, background or ideology – but one thing tends to unite them all, and that is that they look at Them (the Democrats, the liberals, the progressives) and think their view of the world is wrong and dangerous and at odds with the things We value and the things We believe work. Oh sure, all those people named might make common cause with Them on some issues or even offer friendship or endorsement at times across the aisle, but fundamentally they stand in there and take the fire and bear the scars from siding with Us against Them.
And that gets to why Donald Trump is the worst possible example of an Us against Them, party loyalty, big-tent candidate. There is simply nothing in Trump’s 70 years on this earth to suggest that he actually believes in his guts that We have more of the answers than They do, or that having Them in charge of the machinery of the state is a bad, impractical or foolish thing. Trump’s donation history is Exhibit A: he’s given generously over the years to the Clintons, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, you name it. Never exclusively – he’s played both sides of the aisle – but at no time has he acted as if he thought of these leading Democrats as Them. He was proud to have the Clintons at his wedding. Trump has changed his party registration at least five times since 1987, and neither he nor his children had previously shown up to vote in any previous Republican primary. He never ran for office before as a Republican, nor stuck his neck out to advocate publicly in any kind of sustained way for the more conservative position on any issue before 2015. He didn’t join the party to help Us, but to help himself.
The last time the GOP tried to wrest the White House away from the Democrats, in 2000, Trump entered the primaries of the third party (Ross Perot’s party) that had divided the opposition to the Clintons in 1992 and 1996. The time before that, in 1980, he was a max donor to Jimmy Carter. Even in this year’s primaries, he often cowed critics with the implicit or explicit threat that he might still bolt and run third party, making the nomination worthless to whoever won it. And of course, we all know about Trump’s seemingly endless list of left-wing policy positions over the years; you think a guy who publicly praises Planned Parenthood sees the world from the perspective of Us and will deny money and power to Them?
Think of how Trump treats prior opponents who endorse him: not with the open arms and joy of the father greeting the Prodigal Son, but like a foreign conqueror seeking to humiliate the locals in order to demonstrate his dominance and show that there’s a new sheriff in town. This is how you act when you conquer Them, not when you finally get the support of all of Us.
And if you’re at all familiar with the stylings of Trump’s most vocal supporters – from campaign manager Steve Bannon and his website down to the shrieking mobs on Twitter – you know that what they openly, loudly desire most is a thoroughgoing purge of the “globalist” elements of the GOP – that’s why they backed primary challenges to Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and John McCain (all of which ended in humiliating defeat). If these people gain the levers of power, are they likely to refrain from using them to settle internal scores against opponents within the GOP and the conservative movement? You know the answer to that, and so do I. The pressure, of the sort Ace is applying here, to stay on board or be made to regret it will only get worse for Us. And it will come from the top down.
American politics should be about more than rooting for laundry, cheering Team Red over Team Blue. But if it comes to that and nothing more, nobody on Team Red should be bullied into supporting a candidate who is not one of Us, and never has been.