Bernie Sanders recently upset many of his supporters when he endorsed Hillary Clinton. I’m not a Bernie supporter, and I’m disappointed he endorsed Hillary, but I did have a certain grudging respect for the man as an honest old school leftist who focused on class rather than the Cultural Marxist grievance stoking and thought policing that characterizes the modern left. That said, I think it is useful to look at Bernie’s endorsement and how his supporters have reacted and contrast it to the NeverTrump effort.
If a voter’s primary candidate of choice loses the battle for the nomination of his major (presumably for the sake of this discussion) party of choice, the voter has several options. He can either 1.) bite the bullet and vote for the candidate who actually won his party’s nomination 2.) vote for the candidate of the other major party whether out of real preference or spite 3.) vote third party or independent 4.) write someone in or 5.) not vote. If I’ve missed any options, let me know.
So let’s examine these options for an enthusiastic Sander’s supporter now that the Democrat primary is over and Hillary has secured the nomination. He could hold his nose and vote for Hillary which is the normal course. He could vote for Trump, maybe because he just despises Hillary that much or maybe because he sees some overlap between Sanders and Trump on issues like trade and foreign policy restraint. He could vote third party. He could vote for the Libertarian nominee since there is some overlap between Sanders and Gary Johnson on some issues like civil liberties, or he could vote for the “further” left Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, who he is likely close to on the issues. If he can’t bring himself to do any of these things because he doesn’t like any of the candidates or the third party candidate he would like to vote for isn’t on the ballot in his state, he could write someone in, maybe Sanders. Finally, he could just not vote, either by not voting for President but voting down ballot, or just staying home altogether.
Notice that one of the traditional options is not attempting to stage a delegate coup at the Democrat Convention and nominate Sanders instead of Hillary even though Hillary won the primary. Have you heard any talk at all among Sanders’ supporters about such a plan? I haven’t, and Sander’s supporters have a right to be upset about the Democrat primary because the superdelegate process is a blatant farce that unfairly favored Hillary. Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is leading an effort to abolish the superdelegate process which I hope is successful, but she isn’t plotting a convention coup to install Sander’s as the nominee even though he lost the primary.
What is baffling about the NeverTrump effort is that having your primary candidate of choice lose and/or a candidate that you really don’t like win is not a novel situation. It happens all the time. Assuming a reasonably competitive primary, there are likely more supporters of candidates who didn’t win the primary than there are of those who did. This is true at every level, from town council to Congress to President. The NeverTrump supporters act like they are the only people who have ever not been satisfied with the outcome of their party’s primary. Well I’ve got news for you NeverTrump, you aren’t.
Ron Paul supporters in 2012 sought to allow his name to be placed in nomination, an effort that was quashed, but they didn’t form a NeverRomney effort in order to deny Romney the nomination and nominate Ron Paul or someone else more acceptable to them in his place. Such an effort would have been bound to fail and wrongheaded anyway.
This is what makes NeverTrump so radical and virtually unprecedented in modern campaign history. There was an active effort to deny Ronald Reagan the nomination in 1976 in favor of Gerald Ford, but in that case Ford came into the convention with a lead in the delegate count, although shy of what he needed to win. Imagine if partisan primary races frequently resulted in a NeverWhoever effort. For better or for worse, living with the eventual nominee is generally an understood feature of the party primary system.
Donald Trump won the Republican Party primary fair and square, and he won it big and going away. NeverTrumpers may not like it, and they may have some qualms about the process, open primaries for example, but the process is what it is and the rules were not changed mid-game to favor Trump. They don’t even have the very real issue of superdelegates that Bernie supporters have. All the candidates knew the process going in, and the NeverTrumpers and their candidates of choice had the opportunity to make their case and the case against Trump throughout the primary process, and make it they did in a very big way. But unfortunately for them, Republican primary voters were not moved and nominated Trump despite their pleas.
This is how the system works. You don’t always get the candidate you want. Lord knows I don’t, but once the primary process is over, it’s over. I would never say that someone must then vote for the party nominee, although that is the normal outcome of supporting a losing primary candidate. If NeverTrumpers just can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump because he is outside the movement conservative mold or they are concerned about his character and temperament, then fine. So be it. Do what people do when their candidate of choice loses the primary and they find the nominee unacceptable. Vote third party. Vote for Hillary. Write in Ted Cruz. Stay home. It’s not my call, but for the sake of your own and everyone else’s mental health, get over it and move on. Trump is the Republican nominee regardless of your protracted hissy fit.
The effort to overturn the results of the primary process and have the Convention nominate someone more to your liking never had a chance of success, and I suspect many of the leaders of the effort understood this. Well-meaning rank and file NeverTrumpers were led to believe this was an actual workable plan that had a shot, but in reality it was always just grand theater with the effect of harming Trump in the general and dividing the party base, and I believe harming Trump in the general was the deliberate intent of some elements of NeverTrump who were willing to risk fracturing the party if it was necessary to get their way.
In addition to never having a chance to succeed, the convention coup scheme was always illegitimate and wrongheaded. For a relatively small group of NeverTrumpers to insist that they know better than Republican primary voters is arrogant and presumptive. Many NeverTrumpers that I have interacted with proceed from a very arrogant premise: that only they understand and care about “real” conservatism, that only they understand what is best for the party, that only they know who can and who can’t win in November, that only they are informed voters, and that all Trump voters are necessarily either ignorant and uninformed, Democrat plants, crazed Trump “cultists” or not real conservatives. They are loath to concede that maybe some Trump voters, who happen to constitute a plurality, actually had some considered reason for voting for Trump. Perhaps instead of calling Trump voters fools and idiots and low information and cultist, they should try to listen to and understand those voters so that maybe next time their candidate of choice could actually attempt to address their concerns. Instead, they continue to pound the square peg of their own flawed narrative about what happened in the primary into the round hole of reality by trotting out potential replacement candidates like Mitt Romney who are cookie cutter examples of what Republican primary voters rejected this cycle and rehashing the same old tired movement conservative rhetoric.
I am convinced that there is so much more vitriol associated with Trump winning the GOP nomination than in past instances of relative moderates winning because NeverTrumpers understand intuitively that it wasn’t just their candidates who were defeated by Trump but the whole movement conservative template and paradigm. John McCain and Mitt Romney were not as conservative by degree as many conservative NeverTrumpers would have liked, but they were both within the basic movement conservative mold. They understand that Trump is not in that mold. Trump voters must, therefore, be low information or in thrall to a cult leader because it just couldn’t be that Trump’s more nationalist and populist message actually appeals to large segments of the GOP base. NeverTrumpers are ready to burn the whole thing down, not just because they didn’t get the candidate they wanted, but because they desperately want to maintain their tidy little paradigm. Perhaps people who cling to neat and tidy paradigms and seem incapable of thinking outside their dichotomous Red and Blue boxes shouldn’t criticize others for being low information.