Well, that was a quick counter-revolution. The Republican Party establishment, realizing it was teetering on the edge of a very dark abyss, tried to marshal its once-formidable forces to defeat Donald Trump. Out trotted Mitt Romney, backed by John McCain -- the party's two previous presidential candidates -- to condescendingly explain (establishment-splain?) why Trump was utterly inconceivable as their proud party's nominee. Trump was beyond the pale, absolutely unacceptable, not welcome, an interloper, and the only possible thing to do would be to shun, expel, reject, ostracize, and shame Trump into handing the Republican Party's voters back to their rightful owners. The hashtag "#NeverTrump" appeared as a rallying cry, and millions of dollars are being donated by fatcats for the purpose of (finally!) running some scathing anti-Trump ads to take the insurgent down.
That's all fine and good, as far as it goes. The problem with this nascent movement, however (only one of its problems, I should say), is that it simply doesn't go far enough. The entire premise briefly saw the light of day, and then it was immediately kneecapped by just about everyone involved in the effort. This was most evident on the last Republican debate stage, hosted by Fox News. Fox had kicked off the GOP debate season by asking how many candidates would forswear a third-party bid and support the eventual nominee, no matter whom he or she turned out to be. This was intended to "trap" Trump, and was followed by actual party loyalty oaths signed by each candidate in fealty to the Republican National Committee. Last week, Fox moderators put a bookend on this initial question by asking at the very end of the debate whether all the four remaining candidates would support the Republican nominee -- even if it was Donald Trump (for Trump, it was even if it is not you, of course). All four answered in the affirmative. Marco Rubio is promoting the whole "Never Trump" theme on his campaign site, but he stood there and admitted that "never" might not be quite as long as you'd imagine. "Never Trump," except if he wins the nomination, in other words, and then: "Reluctantly Trump, because Hillary Clinton."
Almost everyone involved in the effort to tear down Trump eventually had to admit the same thing. Here is Mitt Romney, on yesterday's Meet The Press, answering a question about a hypothetical open national convention and whether he would run if the convention begged him to:
I'm not going to be a candidate, I'm going to be endorsing one of the people who's running for president. And one of the people, I can guarantee you this, one of the people running for president, one of the four, is going to be the Republican party nominee.
Got that? "One of the four" -- in other words, Mitt made a long speech full of many detailed reasons why Donald Trump is absolutely unacceptable as a presidential candidate; but if Trump becomes the nominee, then Mitt will put party in front of country and go right ahead and support Trump anyway.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan issued a statement of his own last week, after Trump's David Duke gaffe. Like Mitt's, it was strongly-worded. Also like Mitt, Ryan immediately backed away from it. The Washington Post put this doublethink on prominent display:
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan stepped in front of cameras Tuesday and delivered just the sort of high-minded, clear-eyed, aspirational message that has made him a Republican Party standard-bearer.
"This party does not prey on people's prejudices; we appeal to their highest ideals," he said. "We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental, and if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this."
Moments later, asked what if that nominee were in fact Donald Trump -- who days before had balked at denouncing the Ku Klux Klan -- he was forced to retreat from the moral high ground. "I plan to support the nominee," he said.
Now, to be fair, some Republicans do mean what they say when they vow they'll never vote for Trump. They say they'll stay home, or vote for (shudder!) Hillary, or write in Condi Rice, or whatever else helps them sleep at night -- but they will not vote for Trump, even if he does become the Republican nominee. Unfortunately, though, most of the people who have publicly taken such a strong stand are relatively minor characters in the GOP. All the high-profile ones -- the Republican congressional leaders, the current candidates for president not named Trump, and the previous presidential nominees -- they all want to have it both ways. Trump is completely unacceptable -- right up until he faces off with Hillary Clinton, and then suddenly he magically becomes a lot more acceptable.
By taking this inherently contradictory stance, they have undercut the #NeverTrump movement in its infancy. If never doesn't really mean never, then why even bother? Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz spent two hours begging voters to see the light and reject Trump because he was wrong about so many issues near and dear to Republican hearts, and then they completely negated all of it with their answer to the final debate question. "OK, well I guess I'll just ignore everything else I've said tonight about how dangerous it would be to have Donald Trump as our party's nominee, and say that I'd fully support him if he beats me," was their clear message. Fox did the nation a public service by asking the question so pointedly, in fact, because it exposed the weakness of the #NeverTrump movement in unequivocal fashion.
Which is why I'm predicting that #NeverTrump is going to fade away pretty quickly, especially if Trump wins either Florida or Ohio next Tuesday. In fact, let's have a little contest in the comments section for what the hashtag should morph into. Perhaps "#Never*Trump" (so you can add a footnote to it later)? Here are a few other suggestions, to get the ball rolling:
We've only got a little over a week before #NeverTrump starts its inevitable decline. So the contest will remain open until we all watch the returns come in next Tuesday. What do you think #NeverTrump should become, at that point? Let everyone know, down in the comments. [Winners will receive absolutely nothing, other than a hat tip in a future column, just to be clear.]
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