The movement known as NeverTrump — self-identified conservatives who vowed never to vote for Donald Trump, even at the price of a Hillary Clinton presidency and liberal dominance of the Supreme Court for generations — did not take long to recover from the shock of Trump’s victory in November.
Indeed, NeverTrump joined the media and Democrats in hyping the Russia conspiracy theory, and continues to mock those who dare to support the president.
The self-flattering conceit that sustains NeverTrump’s criticism is that Trump supporters are participating in a cult of personality. Never mind the fact that some of Trump’s strongest supporters have had no problem whatsoever in criticizing him for substantive reasons — as in the backlash against his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. NeverTrumpers still believe themselves to be the unique guardians of conservative orthodoxy and honest punditry.
They find a welcome audience in the mainstream media, which has always been willing to give a platform to those conservatives willing to bash other conservatives. (They deny that this is the game they are playing, because they maintain that Trump is not a real conservative, though he has governed as the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan.) They say they praise Trump when he deserves it — though they clearly savor the criticism more.
During the campaign, it was clear that much of the momentum behind NeverTrump was driven by narcissism, as well as by self-interest. NeverTrump gambled on a Hillary Clinton victory, preparing to blame Trump supporters and hoping to take revenge. NeverTrumpers imagined they would be the last conservatives standing atop the rubble of the movement, able to set the agenda and the boundaries. After the election, most ignored calls for reconciliation.
Until recently, there seemed to be no broader plan behind NeverTrump’s early, and vigorous, opposition to Trump and his administration. But the contours of a plan have begun to emerge, particularly on social media, where the movement’s criticism of Trump alternates with praise for some of his opponents in the 2016 Republican primary.
The path ahead is a conservative primary challenge to Trump in 2020, and the foundations are being laid now.
For such a challenge to be successful, NeverTrump would have to coalesce around only one candidate — and not to persist, as it did throughout the 2016 primary, with a divided field of contenders. Moreover, NeverTrump would not only have to separate Trump from his political base, but also to win the support of that base for its own candidate. That will be particularly difficult, as NeverTrump has made no secret of its general disdain for Trump supporters.
The case NeverTrump and its candidate will have to make is that while they are grateful (ahem) for Trump’s success in defeating Hillary Clinton, most of his other achievements for the cause could have been done by any Republican president, and few other Republicans would come with Trump’s disadvantages. They have to hope that Democrats continue to flounder, so that a primary challenge would not seem a threat to the GOP’s 2020 prospects as a whole.
The biggest problem for NeverTrump, however, is the pitiful performance of the Republican Congress, which has been unable to act on its core priorities, and reinforces the notion that only Trump is strong enough to lead the party.
Nevertheless, NeverTrump sees in the 2020 race a reason to persist. It will continue to cast its fight as a principled one. Much of it, however, is about power and revenge. Apparently, NeverTrump cannot forgive Trump for winning.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.