Josh Hammer, At this time four years ago, the “Never Trump” movement was alive and well. Birthed in earnest by National Review in its infamous “Against Trump” issue in February 2016, Never Trump consisted of conservatives and Republicans who vowed, even if he were to become the GOP presidential standard-bearer for the general election, to never, ever support Donald Trump. Never Trumpers supported other candidates throughout the presidential primary season, pushed to “free” committed delegates away from Trump at the Republican National Convention and continued to oppose his candidacy through Election Day. The hashtag #NeverTrump became ubiquitous on Twitter as a mark of protest against the unorthodox candidate.
I would know because I was a part of the Never Trump movement. And, much to my shame, I was not a silent but, at times, a vocal and quite brash part. In retrospect, four years later, (hopefully) four years more mature and with the benefit of knowing what we now know about how Trump has governed, I will gladly fall on my sword: I was mistaken. Never Trump’s concerns largely did not materialize, and the president has pleasantly surprised his erstwhile skeptics in a myriad of ways. Whatever purported “conservative case against Trump” may (or may not) have existed in 2016 has completely and unequivocally dissipated.
Many feared that Trump, who had spent little time as a registered Republican or a traveler in the labyrinth of hoary institutions constituting Conservatism Inc., might govern as a Manchurian candidate liberal; in reality, the 45th president has presided over one of the most dynamically conservative administrations in a century. Many feared that Trump, the bull in a china shop brimming with machismo and braggadocio, might inadvertently start World War III; instead, the president has overseen a wildly successful foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, premised around the time-tested, common-sense principle that it is best to punish one’s enemies and reward one’s friends. Many feared that Trump, who had once graced the Playboy magazine cover, might accelerate a hegemonic cultural progressivism; actually, he has been a consistently courageous, stalwart friend of religious and traditionalist Americans.
Given Trump’s record, given how much the left has become utterly radicalized over the past four years — Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, the Women’s March anti-Semitism, anarchist antifa, Marxist Black Lives Matter, the toxicity of intersectionality and cancel culture — and given Trumpian heterodoxies’ “sunk cost” effects upon the American presidency’s putative institutional norms, the “conservative” case against Trump has simply not withstood the test of time. Prudence and humility suggest that one must be willing to acknowledge error and change course; the Never Trumpers of 2016 are perfect archetypes. In 2020, the only viable “conservative” vote is an affirmative vote for a second Trump presidential term.
Alas, not everyone agrees. Many of 2016’s leading Never Trumpers have instead chosen to further dig in their heels. Bill Kristol, perhaps the most recognizable of the original 2016 crew, is now involved with any number of 2020 anti-Trump initiatives, including the Republican Voters Against Trump group. George Conway, Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt spew anti-Trump vitriol under the banner of the (grotesquely misnamed) Lincoln Project. Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot haven’t budged a millimeter away from their anti-Trump predilections — Trump’s historic pro-Israel/anti-Iran record and the harrowing, (literally) burning state of our leftist-overrun progressive cities notwithstanding.
But many of 2016’s other leading anti-Trump conservatives have not yet publicly indicated whether or not they will support Trump in 2020. Examples include any number of figures associated with the aforementioned “Against Trump” magazine issue, David French, Ross Douthat and some religious conservative figures such as George Weigel. To point this out is not an exercise in attempted public shaming; these leaders, who opposed Trump from within their own party and their own movement four years prior, merely owe their readers and followers transparency as to where they stand on the binary issue of whether or not they will vote for Trump this time. A case can be made that Trump, notwithstanding his sundry accomplishments and notwithstanding the ascendant threat from the leftist mobs now setting the nation aflame, is still unworthy of conservative support. It is a markedly unpersuasive case, to be sure, but the least we can do is ask adherents of that argument to publicly make it.
Four years ago, Trump managed to secure an Electoral College victory despite battling a fifth column from within the Republican Party. I was, unfortunately, part of it, so I would know. Many erstwhile Never Trumpers from 2016 have made a prudential judgment this time around, while many others have only doubled down in anti-Trump defiance. But at a bare minimum, four years later and amidst a roiling cold civil war between the proud Americanists and the embittered civilizational arsonists rioting in the streets, it is at least worth clarifying where everyone stands.