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Never Say Never Again
The great irony of politics is that it rewards loyalty with neglect and heaps attention on the uncommitted. Saying your vote can be counted on is a guaranteed way to get ignored, while letting it be known that you’re willing to deal (for the right price, of course) means people will fawn over you. It’s not a good system, it’s just the one we’re stuck us with.
If conservatives ever knew this, we forgot it completely when Donald Trump strode onto the political stage. As I describe in a piece on The Federalist, very nearly all of us — NeverTrumpers, Trumpkins, and ReluctantTrumpers alike — overcommitted ourselves at the outset, losing whatever degree of influence or control we might have had over the Republican nominee.
As a practical matter, the [NeverTrump] strategy was an abject failure. It persuaded too few Republicans to deny Trump the nomination. Additionally, the movement’s habit of offering opposition without alternative made it seem stubborn and childish on the one hand, while its elite nature—at least, in its early stages—gave it the air of a frustrated parent falling back on a because-I-said-so defense. […] The smarter—though, more difficult—move for Trump opponents would have been to state that they could not support Donald Trump under current circumstances, and to offer a brief explanation of how they could be persuaded to change their minds.
It needn’t have been likely that Trump would meet these conditions, so long as it were possible. Nor would it have required critics to pull their punches. “I will never support Donald Trump for president,” and “I cannot support Donald Trump for president now because of reason x,” are dissimilar only insofar as one’s future standards or Donald Trump’s behavior are likely to change. If the former is secure, then offering an incentive for good behavior would only have been to NeverTrumpers’ advantage.
But it’s not just the NeverTrumps who overcommitted themselves. Dennis Prager — who opposed Trump throughout the primaries but who argues that conservatives became morally obliged to support him once he became the nominee — provides an almost perfect example of the dangers of telling a candidate that it’s all-but-impossible for them to lose your vote:
There is nothing inherently wrong with Prager’s judgement that, given the stakes, it’s best to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But [arguing] that Clinton’s awfulness obliges one to vote for Trump removes any possibility of influence over the candidate. Though Prager has continued to criticize Trump regularly, it should come as little surprise that the candidate has taken so little heed; if NeverTrumpers have locked themselves out of negotiations, Prager and those like him have locked themselves in.
If you want to know who’s to blame for our current mess, the person who stares back at you from the mirror is probably a good starting point.Published in General
I was never a NeverTrumper – I consistently said Trump could earn my vote between the convention and the election.
He hasn’t yet.
Interesting thought, Tom, but call me a skeptic. We’ve been hearing for a while how Trump is the master of the art of the deal. Part of this mastery comes from staking out bold positions that you later negotiate away as you get closer to a favorable agreement.
Surely he could have known that a percentage of NeverTrumpers would either flip or have a very weak case if he did just a few basic things correctly. He’s just not as good of a salesman as he thinks he is.
Great work Tom.
I will accept the label reluctantTrumper. However, your argument, though presented in strong form, is false. There is no way that this republic or any republic can stand without some political commitment. If you want examples of overcommitment you should be looking at the Democrats right now. Hillary Clinton is patently guilty of multiple federal felonies which involve the breaching of National Security for the express purpose of personal corrupt financial gain. Yet, we hear no condemnations from democrats, no calls for her to withdraw. In fact, they double down with totally ridiculous excuses. She couldn’t remember, she didn’t know, she didn’t intend to break the law!
What about the Black community. They have over-committed to Democrats for 85 years. It has destroyed the black family and allowed murder, drugs, theft, and prostitution to flourish in their poorest neighborhoods. Trump is the first politician to directly address this. “What have you got to lose?” No matter what you think of Trump, that statement was heard in the real Black America, not Obama’s fantasy world.
Tom, sorry it isn’t pretty, sorry it isn’t perfect. Sometimes you just need to get the job done. Gd gave us Trump, certainly I didn’t. I think it wise that we make use of what Gd has given us.
^ There is that.
Who knows? I never called myself a Never – didn’t see the point of needlessly alienating those folks I know who are for whatever reason voting Trump. Odds that I would vote Trump have consistently remained low though.
A Bayesian would point out that a literal “never” (odds literally zero) means claiming that no amount of evidence will change your mind, while low (maybe very low, even functionally zero for most purposes) means that it would take extraordinary evidence to change your mind (assuming that extraordinary evidence does not resurrect other dead hypotheses).
I thought your article on The Federalist was quite good – will we be seeing more of your work there?
This is right on. What is odd is that it was so widespread.
I’m not sure what would earn your vote at this point – the hour is late – you may have to pick someone soon. It’s been hard for everyone but this is it. Make a couple of columns and write the plusses and minuses for each and then just get off the fence and do it.
I like this. What a difference to Jay’s post yesterday.
Makes me think of Shapiro. He frequently (and rightly in my opinion) says – I am paraphrasing – don’t commit to people, commit to ideas.
And to James. I don’t think Tom said no commitment. To me both of you argue for avoiding overcommitment. I agree. Can we try to work towards common ground here?
Are you saying that you think Trump has done enough to earn his vote, or are you questioning whether or not anything Trump does in the next week could earn his vote?
I’ve thought Trump was a charlatan from the beginning, but I could have been swayed to vote for him if he ever put together something resembling a consistent political and ideological philosophy. He never did that and it is too late now.
Have you thought about wearing the Skipper’s hat from Gillian’s Island and calling Trump a purveyor of National Socialism? Or maybe building a coconut radio?
Whoever wins next week, the country loses. Right now, I’m leaning towards voting for the awful Johnson (and he has been incredibly awful). Since I live in Illinois, my vote is only symbolic, and I simply can’t give my symbolic vote for an authoritarian central-planner who happens to also be a horrible human being. So, my symbolism is going towards expanding the two party system (and a vote for McMullin doesn’t do that). I think that is the best use of my vote since it has zero impact on the outcome.
FWIW, I think we need to change the presidential debate rules so the highest-polling third party is guaranteed a spot at the first Presidential debate (with subsequent debates being based on polling after the first debate). That would hopefully create a race to quality for third parties and possibly end the freakshow that describes every current third party.
Oh no I’m not taking the blame for our current situation. I will heap much of the blame on the Republican leadership for taking their base for granted for too many years. Then, not taking the Tea Party Movement seriously. I mean where think all these Trump fans came from, they were Tea party folks waiting for their chance and Trump was there to cease upon it. The Republican leadership never opposed Obama, they happily took the support from the Tea Party to give them majorities in congress and to many of their supporters, got there and did nothing to oppose Obama and his agenda. Yes, I know what you all will say, but we only had congress we would need the White house to get anything passed.
yes, I know that BUT we also see that it never seems to matter who has the majority in congress the Left’s (ie: The Democrat party agenda) always seems to get passed. Even with a Republican controlled White House and congress. Much of the base saw no fight against Harry Reid’s dirty tricks in the Senate, Obama trashing the constitution with his “executive orders” and for some reason the Republican leadership remained oblivious to the ticked off masses in their base. Hence the rise of Trump. The people are sovereign in this country and the leadership usually finds out that they are during elections, often too late.
Oh, Bingo!! I would add only that anyone who looks in the mirror and sees Donald Trump staring back at him also should shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for where we are now.
Which is, as far as I can see, sitting here hoping that a weirdly blond Australian alleged sex-offender holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, who may or may not be in cahoots with the Russians, has something illegally obtained and earth-shattering on Hillary Clinton, that he will release in time to make a difference in the election, or perhaps to insure her impeachment shortly thereafter (hello, President Tim Kaine–that’s what we all wanted anyway, right?), or that Comey and the FBI will somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat, while sidestepping the political machinations of the “Justice” Department, and find an “intentful” email on the odious Weiner’s PC, and, ditto, ditto, ditto.
Way to go!
Remember a year or so ago, when all we were talking about was how only Donald Trump could defeat Hillary Clinton, “just wait till he gets started on her . . . ..” Not to mention, “he owns the media. The media didn’t make him, the media can’t break him . . . ..” Cautions, from others, that the media would turn on him and destroy him, after he was nominated, were largely ignored.
So. How’d all that work out for everyone, including Trump?
My NeverTrump-ness is in part geographically contingent. Because I’m in Maryland, I am comfortable that nothing could induce me to vote for Trump. If I lived just across the border in Pennsylvania, it would have been hard for Trump to earn my vote, but just barely possible at some point in the process. I likely would have been hard to convince, but I would not have taken such an early and unshift-able hard line.
Call me an elitist or un-American or a traitor or incapable of logic or whatever the insult du jour is for NeverTrump people, but refusing to vote for Trump is a luxury I have in a state that was in the tank for anyone with a “D” after their name long before the nomination process ended.
I’ve always thought the Trump as ‘president of everything’ was the wrong sales pitch to attract the Never Trumpers.
We really do vote for a team (advisors, officials) to direct the affairs of the country. Most of those positions are appointed but always with advice and consent. Even a Trump skeptic (me for sure) has to believe he can put a decent team together. This has been my guiding principle this cycle.
I know what kind of team I get from Hillary. I do wish the Never Trumpers would see it that way, I understand if they don’t.
I have a pretty low bar. If he was either a supporter of the separation of powers embodied in the constitution or a decent human being, I probably would have voted for him.
I’ve long been a proponent of the lesser of two evils. At a minimum, this election makes that calculus a close call. To me, this election demonstrates quite clearly that the lesser of two evils just allows both parties to nominate an ever-increasing level of evil with the knowledge that the other major party will also increase their level of evil. It’s also clear that for a large majority of both parties, there is no limit to the amount of evil they will vote for as long as it has the right letter next to their name.
It’s time to nominate people for the office of Presidency that would be good Presidents, not just someone slightly less evil than the other party (to us, while the other party believes the exact same thing about their candidate). But, I acknowledge that is a pipe dream. Over 100 million people will vote for one of these evil people.
This is something I have been observing as well. When you basically tell the candidate that all they have to do for your support is to NOT be Hillary Clinton, that says there is no line they can cross to lose you……
Keen insights here no matter what side of the Trumpian divide you find yourself on.
You are a very tough customer. Sometimes you’ve got to make a deal with a rough partner who has the true grit it takes to get the job done.
Unpersuasive. I didn’t vote for Trump, and I hold little to no influence over individuals who did. Trump is their mess.
Dear god, is A-Squared the reasonable one now?
I agree. We Republicans had an opportunity to nominate someone who was not only a decent person, but also had a reasonably good, if imperfect, track record of conservatism. We had governors like Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Rick Perry. Even George Pataki or Jim Gilmore would have been like Moses compared to Trump. We had good senators like Rubio and Cruz.
If we had a proportional representation system of allocating delegates, instead of winner take all by congressional district or winner take all by state, no candidate would have won a majority of delegates and a good nominee would have been chosen at a contested convention. Proportional representation is a good reform going forward. Trump received less than a majority of the votes in the primary contests.
Tom’s point in the rest of the piece isn’t that Trump is NeverTrumps fault so much as they lost any potential influence they might have had and forced him to pursue voters not aligned with conservatism. I don’t know if I’m onboard 100% with this argument – one need only look at that video of Ted Cruz talking to two Trump supporters to see that a large portion of them were never interested in conservatism – but it may have held sway with Donald. Who knows.
The one criticism I have of this piece is that it ignores the tenor of the EverTrump movement – they were so wedded to their orange vessel of rage and so uninterested in conservatism that most conservatives like me took one look at them and said “no thanks”.
Isn’t this a strange argument you are making. You want people to bluff with the possibility of a Clinton election so to effect the possible behavior of Trump. Meanwhile, you are ignoring that Hillary Clinton’s behavior makes Richard Nixon look like an Eagle Scout.
I’ll say it again if you’d like. If the only thing Donald Trump can guarantee me is a Clinton Free White House for the next four years then that is a sufficient reason for me to vote for him.
How is dare you say that about me!
I am insulted.
Is there anything Trump could do or any position he could hold that would make you not able to vote for him?
Last I looked at the date on the bottom right of my screen, it’s five days until the election. Cutting it awfully close for wisdom, methinks.