Source: Nicholas J. Kaster

In December 2015, National Review, still believing that it was the “gatekeeper” of conservative thought, ran its famous “Against Trump” issue. At the time, many of Trump’s political views were not well vetted and there was legitimate concern on the Right. However, NR soon discovered that this was not 1965 and that, in the era of the internet and social media, its role as gatekeeper was no longer required. Most rank-and-file conservatives and Republicans shrugged and rolled the dice on Trump anyway.  

The gamble has mostly paid off. Rich Lowry, NR’s editor, has favorably reassessed Trump. “I’ve been surprised,” Lowry admitted, “how on some really important matters… he’s been a rock, like on pro-life stuff, on conscience rights, on judges. That was one of the deep concerns we had about him but he’s basically delivered.” He might have added to that list: gun rights, climate change, and deregulation, as well.

Most of the initially skeptical conservatives have had a similar change of heart, but a core of bitter-enders — the NeverTrumpers — small in number but loud, have persisted in attacking the President, in spite of, and in some cases because of his relatively conservative governance.

The story of the NeverTrump movement is told in a new book, Disloyal Opposition:How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President. Written by Julie Kelly, a columnist for American Greatness, the book details the rise of #NeverTrump, profiles its dramatis personae, and exposes its financial angels. The book is timely, well sourced, and readable.

Many of the #NeverTrumpers, like Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, and Bill Kristol, started out by rejecting Trump and have ended up rejecting conservatism in toto. Others like David French and Jonah Goldberg still embrace conservative principles, but collude with the Left in attacking Trump. As Kelly meticulously chronicles, the #NeverTrumpers enthusiastically promoted the Russian collusion hoax and have joined Democrats not only in demonizing Trump, but in going after Devin Nunes, pro-Trump intellectuals like Michael Anton and Victor Davis Hanson, and pro-Trump evangelicals.

Operationally, the #NeverTrumpers have become the Never Republicans. The newest iteration of the movement is something called The Lincoln Project, which explicitly aims not only at removing Trump, but turning Congress Democrat as well.

In choosing the title, Kelly emphasizes that her book is not about score-settling or documenting all the ways that NeverTrump has been wrong about everything. Rather it is about disloyalty, “how people like me, millions of Republicans across the country, have been betrayed by the influencers we trusted and supported for decades.”

Kelly suggests that vanity may explain some of the Trump derangement on the Right:

“Consumed with their self-importance and alarmed at their potential demotion within the GOP,” writes Kelly, “they pledged to crush the brash interloper … Acting as a political Praetorian Guard of sorts, this group behaved as though they, not elected officials, or… Republican voters, called the shots.”

Kelly refers to #NeverTrumpers as “useful idiots for the Left,” criticism that is harsh, but on the whole accurate. Kelly reminds us that “NeverTrump vehemently opposed Trump’s slogan ‘Build the Wall,’ ” alleging (like the Left) that the phrase “smacked of racism and nativism.”

She writes that:                                                                                                                   

“Kristol oddly compared a wall on the southern border to the Berlin Wall, recalling how ‘a long time ago, in a conservative movement far, far, away we all thrilled to Ronald Reagan saying, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’

“The avatar of the NeverTrump’s approach to illegal immigration during the Trump era is Mitt Romney… In a Washington Post op-ed on New Year’s day 2019, Romney warned that he would ‘speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant…’ ”

According to Kelly, Trump “has hastened both a reckoning in Republican Party politics and a major reconfiguration of conservative media. The Weekly Standard is gone; National Review may never restore its once vaunted place among the conservative commentariat.”

The book’s subtitle is optimistic: “How the Never Trump Right tried and failed to take down the President.” That was an accurate take as of February of this year. The President had survived an impeachment attempt. The nation was at peace and the economy was booming. The base of the GOP was strongly behind the President and mainline conservatives appeared to be accommodating to Trumpism. (One example: Rich Lowry penned a book favorable to nationalism, saying that it was “occasioned by Trump”).

Today things look different, as the author acknowledges in the preface. The coronavirus and its aftermath of economic devastation have made Trump’s re-election much more tenuous.

Kelly writes:

“NeverTrump will weaponize every aspect of this chaos, including the number of dead, against Trump. Of all of the low points of NeverTrump’s crusade against the president, it will be the lowest.”

That prediction has already turned out to be accurate.

You can follow Nicholas J. Kaster on Twitter.

Image: Encounter Books