For all the problems the president and his allies have had this year with the Republican Party (particularly in the U.S. Senate), their plight looks idyllic compared to that of their bitterest intraparty enemies, the #NeverTrump gang. As David Weigel of the Washington Post explains today, the core of the #NeverTrump movement has been regularly getting together under the auspices of a group calling itself the Meeting of the Concerned.
A lot of familiar names are apparently still in the movement: Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (who said of Trump “he’s dead to me” after the mogul’s infamous 2015 dismissal of John McCain’s POW saga); columnists Mona Charen (long associated with National Review, the magazine that early in 2016 devoted an entire issue to an effort to delegitimize Trump among conservatives) and Max Boot (a foreign-policy expert who has repeatedly challenged Trump’s mental fitness for office); Evan McMullin (who actually ran against Trump in the 2016 general election as an independent candidate); and a couple of ex-congressmen, Bob Inglis and David Jolly.
As Weigel reports, this gang of discontents have decided to issue a public statement “asking congressional Republicans to preempt any presidential action against Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” But ironically, what appears to have motivated them to do so is the recognition that they’ve lost the battle and the whole GOP’s in the tank for Trump.
In interviews, members of the Meeting of the Concerned said that the Mueller issue forced their hand. Several said that the influence of conservative media, especially the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post, made them worry that the president would fire Mueller and spark a constitutional crisis. Charen pointed to a weekend of Wall Street Journal op-eds that laid out a case for ending the Russia probe, building on months of attacks on Mueller’s integrity.
But if The Wall Street Journal has been “Trumpified,” of what value is this motley crew of dissenters? And who is likely to be listening on Capitol Hill, particularly with the like-minded Jeff Flake and Bob Corker headed for the exits? Nobody, it seems, according to their own assessment, as articulated by McMullin’s former running mate Mindy Finn:
“There’s a leadership vacuum,” Finn said. “Ideally we’d have more members of Congress standing up for the rule of law, being willing to challenge the president. Given that they’re not doing that, we felt that groups like this need to exist and need to speak out.”
So this statement is less a rallying cry than a cry of despair aimed at the history books more than at today’s historymakers. Or perhaps some of them are genuinely motivated by the moral hazard of associating themselves with the president so many fellow conservatives now idolize:
“Donald Trump is reshaping the heart of the GOP into something that is very dark and very diseased,” said [former congressman] Inglis. “My nightmare scenario is a Republican Party that loses its soul. It’s one thing to lose an election. It’s another to lose your soul.”
And it’s another thing altogether to lose your party to Donald J. Trump.