Postmodern Conservative

The Current State of ‘Never Trump’

So it’s just no fun to comment on the presidential election at this point. George Will — a leader of the Trump delendum est faction — says that Paul Ryan should be contrasted with Thomas More. Unlike More, he caved to the tyrant who would ruthlessly abuse political power for his narcissistic personal ambition.

Well, far be it for me to defend Ryan, whom I class (with Will) as one of those out-of-touch Republicans who unwittingly facilitated the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Still, I know Henry VIII. Trump is no Henry VIII. For one thing, he’s not actually and will never be a pretty unlimited chief executive of his country. For another, it would not occur to him to remake our churches in his own image. And one more: Trump isn’t a learned and astute man.

Still one more: To give the king his due, he was stuck with a thorny succession issue characteristic of hereditary aristocracy that was solved for us by the procedures set forth in our Constitution. And if Trump needs another divorce, he won’t seek or need to seek anyone’s political or theological approval. That means Ryan could oppose him (or not) without facing execution.

It would, of course, be better if Ryan were more like Thomas More in many ways, including being more ironic about modern utopianism and more concerned about the relational effects of our technocrats’ faux cosmopolitanism. If he were, he’d be the first Speaker ever to be both a philosopher and a saint. I would be unjust if I didn’t add that Ryan, after all, is a devoted public servant who would give his life for his country or his God if that’s what circumstances really required.

I gather that all Ryan is trying to do is to keep the nominee Trump from sinking the whole party, to give the Republicans a shot in retaining at least one house of Congress. He would be foolish if didn’t assume that Trump isn’t going to win the election anyway, and so his modest goal was to incentivize the rogue Trump to tell his guys to vote Republican all the way down. I’m not endorsing Ryan’s choice, and it may well backfire in a variety of ways. But I don’t think it was a monstrous violation of conscience. Nor do I think he was sacrificing truth and decency to his legislative agenda. As Pete points out, Republicans have to take responsibility in a variety of ways for Trump’s impending nomination.

Still, the trouble with trying to own Trump by endorsing him — however distantly and ironically — is that it’s likely you’ll have to disown him later. The Mexican-judge thing probably isn’t enough to pull the plug, but God knows what he’ll say or do next. And disowning will seem even more pathetically impotent than the failed attempted to own.

Now we’re reading here and there, as Trump continues to be rhetorically and really unhinged, of an emerging Republican effort to deny him the nomination at the convention. Certainly his negatives are starting to move up again, and the impression is becoming more pervasive that he’s a racist. And the mainstream-media and Democratic-opposition research have not yet been deployed at this point — but will be after he’s officially nominated — to destroy him with ruthless efficiency.

I don’t think it would be illegal to dump him. But the Republicans had better prepared to lose everywhere if they do. So the alternatives might be to march off the cliff with Trump or without him. I think if Ryan (with Romney or whoever) headed up such a dump-Trump effort, it would probably be even less likely to succeed. I still think the convention rebellion remains a real, if hugely remote, possibility. But the outrageous Trump event or revelation that would trigger it hasn’t happened yet.

There are a variety of reasons I’d be for the convention rebellion. But none of them is based on the illusion that Trump is nothing more than an alien predator. One of them is that a genuinely messy and hugely dysfunctional convention might provoke Republicans to thoughtful reflection and deliberation.

One thing’s for sure, as someone just said to me. Each party’s convention is going to be pretty bleepin’ intense this year.

What hope Republicans have at this point often seems to come from the possibility that Clinton will be denied her party’s nomination because of her combination of criminality and unelectability. I really don’t think that will happen, especially after her unexpectedly impressive victory last night. But if it does, the likely nominee would be Biden, who, with Warren or maybe Sanders (the latter would lock up the vote of both the very young and the very old) on his ticket, would emerge as a very popular candidate. (People like Biden, as they like Sanders, and that counts for more than usual this year.) In any case, the event or revelation that would take Clinton out hasn’t happened yet, and it’s pretty late in the game now.

Realistic Republican hope, sad to say, is that the showdown between two terrible, unfit candidates wouldn’t produce a landslide in one direction or the other. And I agree with Carl that it would be a disaster if Trump won as the lesser of two evildoers. I really don’t think that will happen. It is not so much that Trump is evil, but he is completely unprepared in every way to lead.

Clinton’s brand now is that being the first woman president is central to her campaign. And that, by contrast, Trump is a male chauvinist racist pig. Hillary is a woman’s woman, and the young women who voted for Bernie need to see that. And Trump is a man’s man. As Tyler Cowen says, the campaign, in one way, is the choice between being nice and being a brute. And Clinton does appear nice in comparison with Trump, which is a very low standard. ;Not only that, Trump doesn’t even appeal to all American men, but only whiny and angry white men. And Clinton wins easily because plenty of men want to distance themselves from brutishness and from any implication of racism.

I, for one, was sorry to see Bernie go out with a poor showing. If we’re going to have identity politics, I’m much more sympathetic to the issue of proletarianization of various sectors of the workforce, an issue that might bring together blacks and whites, Anglos and Latinos, and men and women. But, of course, I’d really like to have less identity politics and more dedication to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.

The takeaway, Clinton’s branding is fine strategy, and it can’t be readily countered by the loutish Trump or Republicans saddled with Trump.

Other facts worth noting: The third-party effort tanked. I’m happy that our NRO friend David French’s admirable life is not going to be ruined in a futile effort. This effort might have been quite a big deal with a first-rate candidate — a person, as David said, of means and charisma — but it’s easy to see why no such person stepped forward.

And it seems to me that most of those who have refused to choose so far are creeping in either the Trump or the Clinton direction. Some will endorse Trump, others Clinton, by October, with foreign policy maybe being the chief concern in both directions. The “Never Trump, Never Clinton” category will shrink significantly. As far as I can tell, I will stay in it.

What about the Libertarian party? It doesn’t bother me that it isn’t bothered by candidates who can’t keep their clothes on on stage. But “primo cannabis” Johnson heads the ticket and is joined by “urban casinos” Weld. That’s not the kind of libertarianism that I might be able to believe in — the spirited deployment of libertarian means to achieve non-libertarian ends. I liked the unguarded extremism of some of the delegates at their convention a lot more than I liked their nominees. My prediction is that the Libertarian vote will fade to less than 5 percent — maybe far less in battleground states — by Election Day.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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