I'll preface my piece by saying that overall I'm still standing by my predictions from back in February looking at Trump one year in. My basic read then and now is that the theory of him becoming some sort of fascist dictator seems wrong. Instead President Governator/The Body or Berlusconi seems what were stuck with. This of course will have long term, and in my view very bad impacts, from the failure to address climate change, to trade wars, to the future of the Supreme Court. But the "tail risk" Brad DeLong identified in his post I was drawing from seem unlikely at this point.
Likewise the whole idea that Trump's election might re-scramble the whole makeup of the coalitions that makeup our political parties was popular for a while last year, but seems to have faded away. Instead, in a time of high partisanship, we are seeing a few changes around the edges of party coalitions, but they largely seem the same when it comes to big points in which Trump is a president loathed by Democrats, generally disliked by Independents, and quite popular with Republican voters.
This is of course wasn't the case back in 2016, where there was a massive revolt of conservative "thought leaders", professional writers, and other movement Janissaries against the whole idea of ever letting Trump win the GOP nomination. This was best personified in National Review's "Against Trump" issue in January of that year. There's a number of other examples, and they often rallied around the hashtag of #NeverTrump. And the label itself was a bit like the "Left" political labels of #BernieorBust or #NeverHillary, in that they stressed the idea that Trump was simply too awful for any number of reasons to ever be supported out of personal conviction.
But it didn't work, and Trump of course won the Electoral College, which leaves us with the question of what happens to the #NeverTrumpers now?
Personally I think their future, at least in terms of inside the world of Republican politics is pretty grim. As Jonathan Chait pointed out in a recent piece about new Pew survey results on the electorate much of the "anti-Trump" GOP base in the primaries, that is those voters that generally rallied around conservative stalwarts like Cruz, Jeb! Bush, or Rubio are now, well Trump's base. While his more "Trumpish" voters or whatever you want to call them are actually more skeptical of him since he's taken office:
The first, and largest [group of GOP voters], “Core Conservatives,” holds doctrinaire positions on everything. This group is “financially comfortable,” and “overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation’s economic system,” and also “express[es] a positive view of U.S. involvement in the global economy.” This is the conservatism of Paul Ryan.So now what's a #Never Trump conservative to do?
Another group, “Country First Conservatives,” is “older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups,” and has more populist and isolationist views. They are “highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement,” and most likely to believe “if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”Which of these two groups do you think registered higher support for Donald Trump? The Country First Conservatives, right? Well, no. Ninety-three percent of Core Conservatives approved of Trump’s job performance, as opposed to 84 percent of Country First Conservatives.
I personally see three main options for the #NeverTrump thinker, professional writer, or aspiring "thought leader" and honestly thinkthese battle lines are already being drawn and people are already taking sides.
The first group I'll call "Accepters". There's are folks that have decided to just accept Trump as their leader and charge ahead. Oh they might not love it, they might even express worries or "concerns", but they aren't going to stand in his way and will accept him as their party's leader until he's gone. People like Paul Ryan, a number of RedState bloggers, and well everyone and their mom basically are good examples of "Accepters"
The second group I'll call the "Outties", as in people who've announced they are "outtie" when it comes to contemporary GOP politics. Example of "Outties" include Senator Jeff Flake, Steve Schmidt, and some more obscure figures.
The final group I'll call the "Pretenders", that is people who are pretending that Trump isn't president, hasn't taken over the GOP, or are pretending they aren't expected to take a side. Ross Douthat scolding liberals about Sarah Huckabee Sanders' ordering at a restaurant, or a number of swing-district Republican office holders trying to simply pretend everything is the same as in 2014 or 2016 all count as "Pretenders" in my book.
I think the "Pretenders" are the important group here, as the other two groups' fates seem pretty much cast by this summer: they'll be Trump's base in 2020 or no longer be very relevant.
But what will happen to our "Pretenders"? I personally used to think they might be a bit like the Neoconservatives of the later 20th Century. These were a group of important intellectuals originally oriented with the Democratic Party and their Cold War "Hawks" who then became disillusioned with the perceived failures of the liberalism in The Sixties, especially Johnson's Great Society, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and the rise of more "Left" politics in that era. And so they decided to leave the Democratic Party and become Republicans after the tumultuous Sixties came to a close.
These are the folks that helped give us the Iraq War and a bunch Cold War escalation (see here and here) so they are hardly a group to emulate policy-wise in my book. But in the first months of the Trump Era I used to think they there was a possibility of something similar, but with conservatives deciding to switch teams and maybe giving up their social conservationism beliefs for a staunch defense of a free-trade and alliance based international system. Or so other grand "switcheroo".
This seems highly unlikely these days, and so instead we'll probably get these groups just playing out as is.
In other words the "Accepters" will continue with throwing in with Trump until he leaves office, after which, like George W. Bush, questions about why he happened and why his Administration was so bad will be ignored. Expect lots of posts about how president Gillibrand/Booker/Harris are being "uncivil".
"Outties" will probably simply leave the party and/or politics and never be heard from again outside of some interesting historical tomes.
And a final group of "Pretetnders", if they haven't already picked the former or latter groups outlined above, will just go with a "Uh, both sides are terrible, politics is so bad" type of framework (although likely written better). That's right, self-identified Libertarian Megan McArdle assuming a post Roe legal framework would be sensible did this the other day.