‘Never Trumper’ Philip Klein: ‘Never Means Never’

Wednesday on Fox News Channel’s “The Kelly File,” Washington Examiner managing editor Philip Klein why he’s still “Never Trump,” despite likely presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump having wrapped up the party’s nomination a night earlier after winning the Indiana GOP presidential primary.

Later in the segment, The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech explained what he thought Trump will have to do to win over some of those disaffected by Trump’s prior statements.

Transcript as follows:

KELLY: Breaking tonight in the 24 hours since Donald Trump took Indiana and became the presumptive nominee, we have seen a whole series of dramatic announcements from some conservative and Republican opponents. Some of them are not only vowing that they will never vote Trump, but they went so far as to literally quit the Republican Party.

One of those was Phil Klein, managing editor of The Washington Examiner. And he joins us now along with Ben Domenech, he is the publisher of the Federalist and another outspoken Trump critic. Great to see you both.

Phil, so, it’s a dramatic move. You came out and said, I have officially deregistered as a Republican and you are not alone. Why?

PHIL KLEIN, MANAGING EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I am not a professional Republican. I’m a journalist, and I have conservative viewpoints. And the Republican Party is not an end in and of itself to me. It’s a means to an end. And that’s to advance conservative principles that I agree with. And I’ve outlined for months and months how I did not think that Donald Trump did that, in fact, quite the opposite. The Republican Party has chosen to embrace Donald Trump. That’s their prerogative. But this is where I get off the boat.

KELLY: The person who heads up the PAC that’s opposing Trump, Katie Packer, came out and said, there’s a sense by some, like Katie, that if this is who my party is, I don’t really identify with it anymore. That’s where you’re coming from?

KLEIN: Absolutely. I just don’t think that Trump meets the basic fitness level to be president. I don’t appreciate his rhetoric. I think that he’s exploited and inflamed bigotry and sexism. That’s not the type of conservative message I abide by, which is about limited government, returning power to the states, and focusing on the constitution.

KELLY: Now, you know, Phil, that everybody — not everybody but those who are supporting Trump will say, get on board, Phil. Do you really want Hillary Clinton? You know, you should be Never Hillary instead of Never Trump.

KLEIN: Look, I am also Never Hillary. I mean, to be clear, I’d never cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. But, you know, the Republican Party is not my family, okay? It only has value to me in the sense that traditionally it’s been more likely than the Democratic Party to advance ideas that I believe in. That’s clearly no longer the case. I mean, just today Donald Trump talked about raising the minimum wage. So clearly he’s supported socialized medicine and all the things that we’ve documented for months and months. And the Republican Party has decided that none of those things are disqualifying nor any of his various long litany of statements, none of that is disqualifying for them. It is disqualifying for me.

KLEIN: Ben, something happened last night on Twitter and online where different Republicans, like Mark Salter, who was a strategist of John McCain’s, he came out and said, I’m with her. And there was a hash tag going around among Republicans, I’m with her, Ben Howe contributing editor at Red State, I’m with her, good-bye GOP. These are people saying they will vote for Hillary, especially given her stance on National Security issues, that’s how Steve Schmidt put it. He said that on issues of National Security, there are many Republicans who will endorse Hillary Clinton. Do you believe that?

BEN DOMENECH, PUBLISHER, THE FEDERALIST: I think that there’s certainly a number of Republicans who are going to shift over and support Hillary Clinton, but I don’t really think that that number is going to be all that significant in the big scheme of things. I understand there’s been a disturbance in the force. You’ve heard a lot of voices cry out on Twitter and elsewhere about what’s gone on within the Republican Party and people who I respect like Phil who can’t support Donald Trump for ideological reasons are going to be a portion of the electorate. But what we are already seeing in the polls that you’re seeing, the CNN poll that you referenced earlier in the program, you’re already seeing 84 to 83 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners saying that they’re going to support Trump.

You’re already seeing a kind of unification around him among most of the party members. I think you’re going to continue to see that. There was a lot of animosity towards Mitt Romney after the 2102 primary was over, he ended up winning 93 percent of the Republicans. The problem for Donald Trump is, even if he won 100 percent of the Republicans in that poll, he would still be losing to Hillary Clinton. He needs to expand his base in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan, especially among the women who have been turned off by a lot of his comments over the past several months. He needs to make up the distance with them more than he does with the conservatives who have ideological objections to his candidacy.

KELLY: What do you make of what Paul Manafort was saying, Ben? Where he was saying, look, anybody who is telling you that Trump can’t win with some of these Democrats and Independents, those are the same people who were saying he couldn’t win this nomination and they have been proven wrong?

DOMENECH: Well, I was saying that he could win the nomination back in August of last year, and I think that, you know, some of those critics still had points when it came to the sort of pointless arguments that he made at certain points in the course of this election that drove up those negatives. I do think that he can make up a lot of that over the course of the coming months but he needs to start now and it needs to be — I think it needs to be in a very sustained way to make up some of these negatives that we’ve seen particularly among minority groups who should be open to some of his economic messages and among women who have been turned off by a lot of his rhetoric over the past couple of weeks. It’s possible, but it is something he has to sort of shoot the moon on.

KELLY: I got to get to Herman Cain. But I want to ask you quickly Phil, before I let you go. Do you see yourself ever wavering on this? Do you see yourself once wounds heal, crossing over to support Trump?

KLEIN: Never means never.

KELLY: Great to see you both.

DOMENECH: Good to be with you.

KELLY: Thanks, guys.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor