Back in 2016, the term Never Trump (or Never Trumper) had a pretty clear meaning. It referred to Republicans, usually conservative Republicans, who were so horrified by the prospect of Donald Trump becoming a GOP President that they vowed to fight him up to, and perhaps beyond, the nomination contest. It included very prominent people like Ted Cruz (until he finally capitulated late in the general election season), the two Bush presidents, and whole institutions like National Review magazine.
Since Trump’s election, the ranks of Never Trump have dramatically shrunk as Republicans, and especially conservatives, have made their peace with the once-terrifying chieftain, or simply kept their mouths shut. Some especially loud disparagers of the 45th president before he took office crept towards him via the intermediate position of an anti-anti-Trump focus, celebrating whenever possible the chagrin and reversals experienced by the common liberal foe while largely ignoring the supposedly intolerable man responsible for these happy moments of schadenfreude. And a lot of genuine 2016-vintage Never Trump folk whose only problem with the man was his presumed hopelessness as a presidential nominee obviously had no problem embracing the vanquisher of Hillary Clinton.
But perhaps because the Never Trump herd has been culled, all but hunted to extinction, the term is now being used by true believers in the president to disparage people who have not yet proved their absolute loyalty. This is happening right now to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, according to Politico:
President Donald Trump’s frustration with Kirstjen Nielsen, which boiled over Wednesday in a Cabinet meeting tirade, has been growing for weeks — stoked by associates who have privately made the case that she’s a closeted “never Trumper” who still doesn’t fully back his agenda.
Trump’s advisers have been increasingly criticizing the Homeland Security chief in private conversations with the president, arguing that she isn’t doing enough to improve border security and noting that she wasn’t a vocal Trump supporter during the campaign, three people familiar with the internal discussions told POLITICO.
That’s interesting. “Wasn’t a vocal Trump supporter” now means “Never Trump?” So it seems.
Nielsen doesn’t appear to have publicly criticized Trump during the campaign or since. She served on the White House Homeland Security Council under George W. Bush, worked as a consultant advising private companies and government officials on infrastructure and cybersecurity before joining the Trump administration as chief of staff to Kelly at DHS. She followed Kelly to the White House as his deputy in July 2017.
It’s unclear whether this background has anything to do with the 30-minute Cabinet meeting tirade the president indulged himself in earlier this week, much of it reportedly aimed at Nielsen. Perhaps the tirade was the motive for underlings to typecast her as some sort of mole for the dwindling ranks of the president’s Republican enemies.
You certainly get the sense that Nielsen doesn’t have many friends in her agency or in the White House (“[S]he is actively being undermined by Trump appointees, and career folks simply do not like her” says one of Politico’s sources).
But if she does have any friends–other than Kelly, whose own star is not exactly rising these days–they should help her turn around fast. Give her a MAGA hat, get her lunch with Hannity, find her some allies in The Family. It’s never to late to become a Trump sycophant. And that may be what it takes for Nielsen to keep her job.