It’s Not “Never Trump.” It’s “Country First.”
There are times that I grapple with how to explain my politics to people. Among other political and media work, my career has consisted of two Republican presidential campaigns, a Republican gubernatorial campaign, and a Republican congressional campaign. I worked at the 2016 Republican National Convention and the 58th Presidential Inauguration—yea, Trump’s inaugural. But when I tell people I’m a Republican, that’s not quite the whole picture.
See, I’m one of those “Never Trump” Republicans. Or maybe I’m a “Limited Trump,” Republican since I did give the man a chance in the four months immediately following his election. I wanted to be optimistic. I hoped for the best.
Instead, we got exactly the same guy who ran for president, only as the commander-in-chief.
So my experiment with “Limited Trumpism” ended and I thought about myself as a “Never Trumper” again because it was already in the public lexicon and because it was a shorthand way to disassociate myself from the stable genius in the White House
But to be honest, I’ve never really liked the term “Never Trump” Republican. And it’s time to retire it.
The phrase “Never Trump” doesn’t do justice to Republicans, or former Republicans, or any non-Democrat who speaks out against the lies, immorality, and nefarious activities of Trump’s Republican Party. It’s an intellectually lazy label born of the clickbait media culture. I guess that’s the reason why the Trump cult loves it, and maybe partially why journalists use it.
But you ask, why is it intellectually lazy?
Because every time Trump, or his sycophants use the term Never Trump, they imply that those Republicans who oppose Trump are corrupt and those who are apolitical are part of some sort of conspiracy. And the truth is, there’s nothing of the sort. David Frum and George Will and Rick Wilson all come to their antipathy toward Trump for different reasons, none of which was for self-gain. The unifying thread is that these people and others, believe that Trump represents such a danger to the Republic that it is important to sublimate their careers, their policy preferences, their tribal identities, in an effort to oppose him.
Calling people like this “Never Trump” is just a dumbed-down phrase that anyone can repeat when they get overwhelmed by facts. It’s not a category, or a descriptor, so much as an epithet.
Here’s President Trump undermining the credibility of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman:
Yesterday’s Never Trumper witness could find NO Quid Pro Quo in the Transcript of the phone call. There were many people listening to the call. How come they (including the President of Ukraine) found NOTHING wrong with it. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2019
Or Congresswoman Elise Stefanik smearing those who criticized her for her servile performance during the impeachment inquiry:
Or Cory Lewandowski attacking Jonah Goldberg:
Just watched @JonahDispatch on @FoxNews. He has been #NeverTrump since day one. Sad to see him try and stay relevant when he used to be a “conserative”. Thanks to @realDonaldTrump America is winning again! America First!
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) November 17, 2019
Or President Trump (again) attacking the credibility of an aide to his own vice president and implying that there is a cabal out to get him:
Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2019
See how that works?
Look at example #1, Vindman. Here the president is trying to discredit an Army lieutenant colonel who works for him. The man is a combat veteran. A Purple Heart recipient. He has passed an extensive NSC background-check. And because Trump doesn’t know how to grapple with all of that, he simply asserts that Vindman is a “Never Trumper” operating in some extra-legal capacity.
I realize that some people wear the Never Trump label as a badge of honor, but after looking at the comments from Trump, Lewandowski, Stefanik, and others over the last couple weeks, I think it’s time to be more accurate about what it means to oppose Donald Trump as a Republican.
For three years, President Trump has subjected the country to an onslaught of lies and hyper-divisive behavior rooted in conspiracy, circus, insult, bigotry, and fear. He has circumvented the U.S. Constitution. He belittles and betrays our allies. He has multiple associates in prison or currently awaiting sentencing.
None of these attributes are normal.
It’s important to say that again: Playing footsie with white supremacists is not normal. Having your campaign manager, personal lawyer, and political guru in prison is not normal. Defending Vladimir Putin by criticizing your own intelligence agencies is not normal. Calling in a private citizen, dictating a note to him, and then tasking him with delivering the message to your attorney general, is not normal. Paying hush money to a porn star is not normal.
Tweeting all day, every day, is not normal for a president of the United States.
The heart of the movement to oppose Trump from within the Republican Party is a refusal to normalize the man’s actions. Because to accept his behavior and low character as the new baseline for the nation’s chief executive invites danger today and disaster tomorrow.
And this opposition isn’t really about being “Never Trump.” It’s about putting our country first. Above our tribal loyalties. Above our policy preferences. Above the partisan spoils of politics.
Country First Republican is a far more accurate label for people like me.
Whatever happens after Trump, Country First Republicans will be vital to the national debate, because the current infrastructure of the GOP will have been thoroughly discredited as anything other than an authoritarian-curious personality cult.
If the Democrats take power in 2020, Country First Republicans will be the only ones with the credibility to defend political norms from the right. And as Republicans try to rebuild after the Trump Era, Country First Republicans will be the first constituency the party needs to win back.
And here, it’s important to note that I’m not talking about people active in politics, like me. Maybe we’ll be let back into the club to help chart a way forward. Maybe we won’t. I don’t really care about that.
I’m talking about the millions—and millions—of educated, suburban voters who have checked out of the GOP during Trump’s tenure. These people are the real Country First Republicans, and there is no path forward for the Republican Party without them. None.
It’s entirely possible that the post-Trump GOP will fully embrace illiberalism, nationalism, and isolationism and become relegated to rural areas. But if the GOP is to become a national party again, it will be because the party rediscovers its love of liberty, its respect for our allies, its compassion for the needy and the weak, and its willingness to be truthful, even when it is politically inconvenient.
Whether it is with the Grand Ole Party, a new party, or as independents, the Americans who currently hold the label of Country First Republicans will eventually become national leaders again. And it will be this group who ensures that governance in America is grounded in fact-based arguments, fiscal responsibility, common sense solutions, free enterprise, free markets, and local coalitions, all without assaulting human dignity or social cohesion.
Because at some point, the party is going to have to disavow this shameful period. Otherwise it will cease to exist or become a minor party with an abhorrent stench that future generations will avoid.