Recently I wrote about the evolution of the Never Trump Republicans — those elite-heavy conservatives who could not bring themselves to accept the hostile takeover of their party by the bizarre and mendacious right-wing populist — into what is effectively a faction in the Democratic Party. They do have some rank-and-file counterparts in the electorate — voters who moved from R to D even as some culturally conservative economic nationalists moved from D to R — and they are loosely affiliated with Democratic moderates. Thus they are reasonably happy with Joe Biden as a presidential candidate.
One of the Never Trump leaders I mentioned, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (remembered by many as among the most passionate supporters of Mitt Romney in 2012), clarified my conclusion with this very specific statement of self-identification:
We can happily embrace [Biden]. I would have been prepared to crawl over broken glass to vote for anyone but Trump — yes, even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — because of my conviction that Trump is a menace to democracy and now a danger to our very lives. It would not have been a pleasant choice, and many NeverTrumpers would not have joined me. Thankfully, we were spared the Sanders-vs.-Trump match-up …
[M]any people ask: Are you all big-“D” Democrats now? My answer is “it depends.” I am a Pat Moynihan Democrat, a Scoop Jackson Democrat, an Andrew Cuomo Democrat. I’m not a Bernie Sanders Democrat. So where does that leave me? Where I have been for just about four years: a center-right member of the “Resistance,” an advocate for good governance and internationalism (including free trade and robust legal immigration) and a passionate believer in the American creed. The best answer perhaps to the partisan affiliation question is that it is a time for creative policy and civility, so we will focus on that.
I assume readers are fairly familiar with Andrew Cuomo. But as a boomer translation for younger generations, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson was a strongly pro-defense and anti-communist, labor-aligned Democrat in the Harry Truman tradition who ran for president in 1972 and 1976. The more recently active Daniel Patrick Moynihan was an intellectual associated with the early “neoconservative” movement who served in the Nixon and Ford administration before reverting to his Democratic heritage and becoming a generally conventional liberal senator, representing New York for 24 years. So it’s a rather refined sort of brew that Rubin is now imbibing. Other Never Trumpers would probably define themselves differently. But for the most part they no longer imagine some post-Trump future in which they will rejoin and dominate the GOP.
That’s for the most part. For there are apparently some bitter-enders so committed to this alternative future for their old party — or unreconciled to Democrats as an alternative — that they plan to haunt Trump’s convention in Charlotte, according to the Post:
Conservative critics of President Trump will hold a convention of their own during the Republican National Convention, with plans to craft their own statement of principles and offer it to a post-Trump electorate …
The Convention on Founding Principles is scheduled to run from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 in Charlotte, the city hosting this year’s RNC. The Republicans for a New President campaign, the chief organizer of the event, is planning an online component and a backup plan for a virtual convention if the RNC is canceled.
Apparently this group grew out of a rump gathering of conservatives during the Trump-crazy CPAC confab earlier this year. And there is one quite familiar figure leading their efforts:
“The Trump administration has failed, and that’s provided us with an opportunity to offer an alternative vision,” said Evan McMullin, who ran against Trump as an independent in 2016 and has been part of multiple anti-Trump efforts since then. “We’ll be ready in the wake of what we see as a coming Trump defeat.”
McMullin, you may remember, offered himself as an independent conservative alternative to Trump in 2016, winning around 700,000 votes nationally, and doing notably well in his home state of Utah, where many fellow Mormons rallied to his banner, and in next-door Idaho. In other words: He did well in his home region and in a state where there was no serious risk that Hillary Clinton would win. So he’s had no particular temptation to leave his party, and the event in Charlotte seems to be open to any conservative who doesn’t like Trump, regardless of what they plan to do about it:
The August event, said McMullin, would more closely resemble an actual political convention. There will be debates and voting on a statement of the attendees’ principles, and a vote on whether they supported a particular candidate for president — presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, or a “well-known third-party candidate.” (Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who is seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president, has been praised by many anti-Trump conservatives.)
As I’m sure McMullin & Co. know, the regular Republican Party has few if any remaining doubts about Trump or Trumpism. If some privately hope for a different party when the great demagogue has moved on, they are very definitely keeping it to themselves. Some will show their fidelity to MAGA by mocking the Never Trumpers and their event:
“These Trump haters are sad, pathetic, and irrelevant,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtagh. “President Trump has united Republicans and has unprecedented support within the party. He’s also attracting non-Republicans and making huge inroads with blacks and Latinos. He will be reelected in November.”
Whether or not Trump wins (or has anything like “huge inroads” with blacks and Latinos), the elephant’s soul belongs to him for the time being. And those Never Trumpers who have looked at their options and switched parties seem to have a brighter future.