The Deck Is Stacked Against A #NeverTrump Movement

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Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I ran afoul of some of the conservative Twitter police the other day when I suggested that most Americans (even so-called conservatives) weren’t interested in “esoteric” things like the Constitution.

Anyone who knows me knows the air quotes were implied, that I care deeply about things like constitutional conservatism, the rule of law, and political philosophy, etc.

I just don’t think Republican base really cares about those things — much less the general electorate. The shibboleths of conservatism betray an air of elitism, while slogans like “make America great again” resonate.

This brings us to the #NeverTrump movement. The media wants to make fetch happen, but (no matter what they say now) most of the rank-and-file #NeverTrump Republicans will probably end up voting for Trump at the end of the day.

That’s because people usually come around, fall in line, revert to form. Remember Hillary’s PUMAs? That didn’t last long, did it?

Granted, Trump-ism is uniquely distasteful, so there is no perfect analogy. But in our two-party system, rank partisanship is still a powerful force.

The world wants to force you to pick a tribe — and it’s a binary choice. You’re either with us, or you’re with her.

My guess is that the specter of a Hillary Clinton presidency (and the lifetime Supreme Court appointments she will make) will turn most #NeverTrump activists into #NeverHillary voters.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that, come November, #NeverTrump will constitute a pretty small band of vocal conservative opinion leaders who are either deeply principled — or worried about being on the wrong side of history. To use a politically incorrect term that Donald Trump would surely approve of, there will be “lots of chiefs, but few Indians.”

It strikes me that Sharyl Atkisson’s suggestion here is correct:

Let’s be honest: Trump is more popular than [crscore]Paul Ryan[/crscore]. This is just a fact.

Ryan’s reluctance to support Trump merely underscores the fact that Trump is an outsider and a pragmatist. In this new world, we are the ones who are out of touch.

This doesn’t mean we are wrong. Majority status does not denote moral authority. But I think we need to be realistic. We can probably expect the #NeverTrump movement to go nowhere in the short run. Nothing about the resistance has, thus far, convinced me that there is the stomach or commitment or competence or constituency to actually do anything to stop Trump. Half of the people who are ostensibly our political leaders are now flirting with Trump; the other half are refusing to run for president and give the voters an alternative.

And while I think that most of the #NeverTrump folks are utterly sincere and courageous, I do suspect that at least some of them see this as a publicity opportunity. They want to go on the record as opposing Trump, and maybe get some attention by feeding the media’s “Republican on Republican” bloodlust. Fine. But that’s a lot different from doing any hard work.

To be sure, during these next months (or years!), it will be important for a resistance to keep the banner of conservatism alive in exile. It is vital to distinguish ourselves from the new Trump Republican Party, in order to preserve the integrity of the movement. But this is a long-term branding project — not an insurgent effort to elect a third-party candidate.

Philosophically committed conservatives are more likely to endure this difficult endeavor if we are honest with ourselves about our current level of popularity — and our chances of short-term success. If #NeverTrump is about movements and individuals retaining their character and integrity — on principle — and sustaining a conservative movement in waiting, that’s a realistic goal. If the point is to elect someone in 2016 — or to somehow sway large numbers of average Republicans — it’s going to be a long, hot, summer.