I predicted that Donald Trump was going to win the GOP nomination before the Iowa caucus. I even predicted that he might run the table. While he didn’t run the table as I overly enthusiastically suggested at one point, he came closer to running the table than he did to imploding as all the smarts were predicting. The reason I was confident Trump was going to win the nomination was because he had been leading in the primary polls since shortly after he announced, and that support, while it trended up and down somewhat, was relatively stable and seemingly impervious to attacks on the candidate. The assumption that he was inevitably going to implode was always based on wishful thinking by the same pundits who were too blind to see the Trump phenomenon coming and incapable of truly understanding it.
As I mentioned in a previous column, I firmly believe that there is a ruling elite that attempts to steer the political process to its advantage. Unlike some of my more conspiratorial friends, however, I don’t believe these elites are all powerful or can control for every contingency. Trump is a contingency they didn’t foresee and didn’t know how to deal with when it was upon them.
Since I foresaw Trump winning the Republican nomination, I have been considering for some time how Republican elites and the Establishment of the party would deal with the reality of a Trump nomination. There were always essentially two possibilities. They could either defiantly counter-signal Trumpism, like they did with the Republican response to the State of the Union, and deliberately tank their party’s nominee, or they could put on a happy face and make the best of the situation by attempting to work with and potentially co-opt the Trump phenomenon. Even though I do believe that Trump’s rhetoric and issues cluster and the Middle American rebellion he has fomented are a genuine challenge to the elite consensus, my hunch was always that they would do the second, and this seems to be how things are playing out. The logistics of deliberately tanking your own party’s nominee are difficult and the fallout from such an effort would be even worse.
The elites tend not to be particularly ideological. They are self-interested, and to the degree that they promote an ideology, they generally don’t do so for the sake of the ideology itself, but because it keeps the rubes on board with policies that benefit the donor class. The elite aren’t all powerful, but neither are they stupid. You don’t get to be elite by being a dummy. So, it should not be surprising that the Republican Powers That Be, for the most part, are coalescing around Trump. Better for them to try to make the best of a less than ideal situation, than precipitate a Republican Party Armageddon by either attempting to deny Trump the nomination through subterfuge or openly subverting him once he is the nominee.
That said, while #NeverTrump’s (I will include the hashtag only once.) third party efforts appear to be on life support, there remains a core of NeverTrumpers who are unwilling to come to terms with the reality of a Trump nomination. It is noteworthy that most of the leadership of NeverTrump – Mitt Romney, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, Eric Erickson, Glenn Beck, RedState, National Review, et al - are people or outlets who do have a vested interest in maintaining the reigning “conservative” ideology, rather than the more practically oriented moneyed elites.
I have repeatedly made a distinction between the NeverTrump foot soldiers, the kind who adamantly supported Ted Cruz for example, and the leadership of NeverTrump. I do believe there are rank and file NeverTrumpers who are Christians and are genuinely concerned about Trump’s demeanor and lack of a lifelong exemplary Christian character. I also believe there are rank and file NeverTrumpers who are intellectually and emotionally invested in the conservative movement ideology they have come to believe, mistakenly in my opinion, represents what it means to be a conservative.
I have no doubt, however, that the leadership of NeverTrump is not, in fact, motivated primarily by concerns about Trump’s lack of conservative purity. If conservative purity was indeed their primary concern, they would have opposed reformed Massachusetts liberal Mitt Romney and “Maverick” John McCain. Heck, Mitt Romney is one of the leaders of NeverTrump. If he was sincere about maintaining conservative purity, he would have opposed himself.
The real problem the leadership of NeverTrump has with Trump is that he challenges the reigning paradigm. He doesn’t repeat all the movement conservative pieties and babble about supposedly universal “conservative principles.” He eschews ideology and talks in blatantly nationalistic terms about making his country great again and helping its people. Imagine that. He doesn’t follow the script of universalist left vs. universalist right arguing over policy details.
I highly suspect that the NeverTrump brain trusts realize their nice, tidy ideology carrying on about freedom and opportunity and raising all boats has never entirely captured the heart and mind of Joe Middle America in Flyover Country. Joe has never been on board with flooding his country with foreigners, shipping his country’s manufacturing base overseas and giving tax breaks to millionaires. Why should he be? Those policies don’t help him or his family or his peers. Joe just never had a viable alternative because most everyone in the Republican Party follows the playbook, and the Democrat Party is basically open about its contempt for him, clinging to his guns and religion and not checking his privilege and all that.
Trump’s success reveals that this movement conservative dogma, which just so happens to justify the favored policies of the transnational donor class (relatively open borders, globalist trade deals and foreign policy meddling), is hanging by a thread. A vast portion of the Republican voter base rejected it (or more accurately ignored it) in favor of the nationalist candidate who defied all the rules about how politicians are supposed to act if they want to get elected, despite all the foot stomping of movement conservative ideologues that he isn’t a check all the boxes conservative.
Trump and his nationalist, populist brand of politics represent an existential threat to the conservative movement fiefdom ruled over by the NeverTrump leadership, and they know it. That is why they are so hysterical, but they don’t know how to respond. So far their response has been primarily to petulantly finger wag about how Trump doesn’t adhere to the prescribed orthodoxy and feign outrage at his alleged behavioral and linguistic missteps, missteps that upset the oh so sophisticated crowd of which they are conspicuously a part, but don’t seem to bother the yahoos in Flyover Country, aka actual Republican voters. And that’s when they’re not acting like some teenage Social Justice Warrior on Tumblr spewing PC slur terms like racist, misogynist, xenophobe and nativist. What self-respecting conservative does that?
The NeverTrump groupthink enforcers don’t know how to combat Trump because they have never had to deal with a candidate like him who is both off script and also a big personality with billions of dollars. One of the ways the Powers That Be control the process is by limiting the field of potential candidates to only those who more or less follow the script. When off message challengers arose in the past who threaten to upset the movement conservative apple cart, such as Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan, those candidates weren’t celebrity billionaires with oversized personalities who were masters of the media. Paul and Buchanan were eventually shouted down by the groupthink apparatus. Trump cannot be shouted down, and the NeverTrump effort represents their collective temper tantrum at this realization.
It is instructive that the ideological flame keepers are primarily the ones resisting Trump to the bitter end, rather that the power elite whose interests their ideology, whether they are aware of it or not, serves. It makes you wonder who in the NeverTrump leadership really understands that it’s all a game but don’t want to lose their place in the kingdom, and which ones are just useful idiots.