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    What do conservative Never-Trumpers really want?

    What do conservative Never-Trumpers really want?

    Dennis Prager column in National Review sparks debate.

    By now readers are familiar with my position from my “You go to war against Obamacare with the President you have” posts.

    Trump is the president we have, and while he’s not an ideological conservative, and certainly has unique personality traits, he is someone willing to do conservative things:

    I would have liked to see a truly conservative alternative. But in order to do that we should have elected a truly conservative president.

    That’s not a knock on Trump — he is what he is, and as pointed out during the primaries he never has been an ideological conservative. There are many things he believes and already has done that are conservative, but it’s not his nature. He’s always believed in big government, but big government that seeks to make America great again, not big government that seeks to make America weak again.

    Ideological conservatives had their chance in the primaries. They lost. We lost. I supported Ted Cruz, but he couldn’t pull it off.

    Also, in the absence of actual evidence of extremely serious wrongdoing or illegality, as opposed to innuendo and speculation, there is no basis upon which to try to undo the election by removing Trump from office via impeachment and trial.

    I understand the motivations of Democrats, mainstream media, leftists, Antifa, and the others in the streets. For them, it’s a powerplay. They lost what they thought they should have won, and they are angry. Their world collapsed sometime in the very late evening of election night into the early morning hours of the next day.

    Trump’s victory was challenged through an attempt to intimidate Electors into changing their Electoral College votes. For me, that effort was a clarifying moment that the Never Trump movement was a danger to our system of government and the stability of the nation.

    Since election night, there has been a non-stop Democrat and media frenzy to undermine the Trump administration and to make it difficult to govern. Their endgame seems to be removal of Trump before his term expires.

    Yet some of the most vocal attempts to sabotage the Trump administration come from conservative and Republican Never-Trumpers. But what is their endgame? Removal of Trump from office based on personal dislike of him? A paralyzed administration that accomplishes nothing, not even conservative agenda items? The ability to say ‘I told you so’ if and when Trump fails?

    I’m so old that I remember when Never Trump conservatives and Republicans (and of course, Democrats and the media) considered it nearly treasonous for Trump not to immediately declare during a debate that he would not challenge the election result if he lost. Yet that is what they are doing.

    The atmosphere is so toxic, and so much of that toxicity is generated by conservative and Republican Never-Trumpers, that people have to wonder what is the real motivation.

    Dennis Prager wonders, and wrote a column at National Review, Why Conservatives Still Attack Trump. Prager attempts to find the core difference between conservatives who opposed Trump in the primaries but now support him as president, and those whose opposition has intensified, if anything. The core, according to Prager, is that he saw a Hillary win as an existential threat:

    I have concluded that there are a few reasons that explain conservatives who were Never-Trumpers during the election, and who remain anti-Trump today. The first and, by far, the greatest reason is this: They do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake. While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.

    To my amazement, no anti-Trump conservative writer sees it that way. They all thought during the election, and still think, that while it would not have been a good thing if Hillary Clinton had won, it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe either. That’s it, in a nutshell….

    In other words, I believe that Donald Trump may have saved the country. And that, in my book, covers a lot of sins — foolish tweets, included.

    I think Prager correctly puts his pulse on why many people support Trump even if he was not their primary choice.

    Prager goes on to assess claims of conservative ideological purity, and he finds that moralizing a failure of perspective:

    The Never Trump conservative argument that Trump is not a conservative — one that I, too, made repeatedly during the Republican primaries — is not only no longer relevant, it is no longer true….

    So, why aren’t anti-Trump conservatives jumping for joy? I have come to believe that many conservatives possess what I once thought was a left-wing monopoly — a utopian streak. Trump is too far from their ideal leader to be able to support him.

    There is also a cultural divide. Anti-Trump conservatives are a very refined group of people. Trump doesn’t talk like them. Moreover, the cultural milieu in which the vast majority of anti-Trump conservatives live and/or work means that to support Trump is to render oneself contemptible at all elite dinner parties.

    In addition, anti-Trump conservatives see themselves as highly moral people (which they often are) who are duty-bound not to compromise themselves by strongly supporting Trump, whom they largely view as morally defective.

    Finally, these people are only human: After investing so much energy in opposing Trump’s election, and after predicting his nomination would lead to electoral disaster, it’s hard for them to admit they were wrong. To see him fulfill many of his conservative election promises, again in defiance of predictions, is a bitter pill.

    But if they hang on to their Never Trumpism and the president falls on his face, they can say they were right all along. That means that only if he fails can their reputations be redeemed. And they, of course, know that.

    Prager ends with a call for conservative Never-Trumpers to get with the agenda:

    They can join the fight. They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL. I beg them: Please report for duty.

    Prager’s column generated a fast and furious reaction from conservative Never-Trumpers.

    Jonah Goldberg wrote at National Review, Why Dennis Prager’s Analysis of ‘Never Trump’ Conservatives Falls Short. After taking issue with the phrase “civil war” finding the analogy inaccurate:

    Dennis runs through a bunch of other motivations for why conservative Trump critics don’t recognize that Trump is “our general” in a “civil war” and “report for duty.” In none of them does he account for the fact that he is using the term at best figuratively and at worst wholly inaccurately. Nor does he wrestle with the myriad problems with his analogy and the assumptions that support it. Donald Trump is literally no one’s general, because the president isn’t a general. Even figuratively, the idea that conservatives should operate like loyal troops to a political leader is fraught with intellectual, philosophical, and historical problems.

    Perhaps more fundamentally, Goldberg takes issue with Prager’s assessment of motivation:

    Another explanation for why some conservative critics refuse to report for duty is, according to Dennis, spite, pettiness, or self-interest.

    In short, he accuses the conservatives he says he admires of operating in bad faith. Indeed, one of their chief motives is — wait for it — the ability to attend elite dinner parties. C’mon. I thought we were done with this stale chestnut a long time ago.

    He also says that because our predictions were wrong, we’re too bitter to admit error and that we’re undermining Trump to save our reputations. I’m not going to try to psychoanalyze Dennis’s motivations here. But I will say that this essay reads more like an effort to affirm what a talk-radio audience wants to hear than a good-faith effort to understand and persuade conservatives that he claims to admire. If Dennis is truly interested in persuading the very diverse group of conservative Trump critics on the right, my advice would be to call them on the phone and ask them why they — we — say what they say and do what they do. Insinuating that conservative thinkers and writers are vain elitists who are betraying their cause by not becoming spinners (never mind soldiers) is not, to my mind, the best way to persuade them — or me — of anything.

    David French, also at National Review, objected to Prager’s arguments as answering the wrong questions:

    But Trump’s stalwart defenders, it seems, want something else. They want members of the conservative movement to act, in effect, as Trump’s defense lawyers. That means praise him when he’s right, and find the most plausible possible defense when he’s wrong. That’s completely legitimate behavior when standing at counsel table or when hired as a public-relations representative, but when your goal is not only to speak the truth but also to advance a concrete set of values that can and should endure well past any given election cycle, then the world looks very different indeed….

    Moreover, I’ll never defend conduct from Trump’s team that I would condemn in a Democrat. It’s sad to see the reflexive defenses of Trump’s conduct in, for example, the Comey firing when we know, we know, that similar conduct from Hillary Clinton would lead to nonstop calls for impeachment from the very same voices that so zealously defend Trump today. Either approach is wrong before the facts are in. Healthy skepticism and diligent investigation are mandatory. Culture matters more than politics, and a culture that abandons truth and the rule of law for the sake of short-term partisan advantage is a culture that sentences itself to death.

    Jay Cost from The Weekly Standard took exception to Prager in a Twitter thread. He considers his opposition to Trump to be “prudential” not “moralistic.” Here’s part of it:

    Erick Erickson wrote:

    Who exactly is Dennis talking about?

    See, if I say anything in defense of this administration, the President, or any of his staff I am presumed by some of just trying to suck up and ingratiate myself with Trump. Meanwhile, those who see themselves as apologists for Trump are ungrateful, badgering, and hope the supposed sucking up fails.

    If I say anything critical about the President and his administration I am presumed to still be nursing a grudge over getting the election wrong. To Trump’s apologists, once Never Trump, always Never Trump, which is now short for treason to his tribe as much as the left presumes treason for supporting Trump.

    Joe Scarborough — and many others — picked up and ran with the claim that Prager was pandering to his talk radio audience:

    There were many other reactions, but I think the excerpts above are a good cross-section of the reasoned reaction.

    What’s missing from all these analyses is an explanation of the endgame. So I emailed Goldberg, whom I respect, with two questions which I believe frame the issue:

    1) Did you want Hillary to win, and
    2) since she lost, what is it that you want to happen now? Trump removal from office, something else?

    Here are his complete responses:

    1)​ I didn’t want Hillary to win and I don’t think I’ve ever written a “pro-Hillary” sentence, never mind column. I did think she was going to win (so did a lot of people, including the Trump campaign). I thought he had a chance intermittently over the course of the campaign and wrote as much. But my position from the moment they secured their nominations was that the choice was between two crap sandwiches on different kinds of bread. When he won, I was pretty elated. (See my G-File right after the election.)​ I thought, somewhat rightly, that he could get some important things accomplished before the wheels came off his administration. But with the exception of Gorsuch and some excellent appointments, that was optimistic.

    I should say that the constant invocation of Hillary as a standard by which to judge Trump’s behavior in office is insane. When have conservatives ever used that yardstick before? Did people say in 2007, “Well, at least he’s better than John Kerry?” Did the priests of conservative talk radio and cable say that Bush’s conservative critics were wrong and illegitimate because Bush was better than Kerry? If Trump’s actions can be defended by conservatives solely because they’re better than what we could expect from Hillary Clinton, then conservatism as a serious ideal — never mind as a political or intellectual movement — is dead.

    I revere Dennis, but his use of that standard is so contrary to the kind of morally grounded principle I normally associate with him.

    2) I don’t want Trump removed from office — at least not based on anything we know now. If we learn new facts we should respond accordingly. Removing a president from office is no small thing and it shouldn’t be based on smoke and emotion. What I do want is for Trump to grow up and do (most) of the things he promised. I want him to behave in an unselfish, un-narcisstic, professional way. I want him to listen to the professionals who want to get a conservative agenda accomplished.

    I don’t have high hopes because I believe that character is destiny and the challenge Trump poses is Aesopian. The scorpion must sting the frog and Trump must be Trump.

    That said, if he were removed (for legitimate reasons) or if he resigned, the specter of Hillary isn’t waiting in the wings. I do think Mike Pence would be a better president and would get more accomplished.

    And since we’re on the topic of what I want, I want conservatism to survive this mess with its integrity and viability intact. Defending whatever Trump does threatens that (polling shows that whatever issue he embraces becomes unpopular, which is a disaster).

    I don’t think America was one election away from oblivion in 2016. If it’s one election away from oblivion, America is already lost because the whole idea of America is bound up in the notion that elections do not and should not matter that much. But I do think America will be lost if the conservative movement is reduced to blind loyalty to a politician who feels little need or ability to reciprocate that loyalty.

    Those are thoughtful answers, but not practical enough for me.

    What do Never-Trump conservatives and Republicans want to happen?

    As in the general election, a more perfect choice is not available. You either work to direct the administration into the most positive and least damaging actions possible given that Trump is what he is, or you seek to remove Trump.

    Which is it for conservative and Republican Never-Trumpers?


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    Ragspierre | June 1, 2017 at 1:51 pm


    Purrrr, purrrr T-rump sucking myrmidons.

    Sad. (I mock T-rump here)

      VaGentleman in reply to Ragspierre. | June 1, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Post as many ‘toldja’s’ as you want. It doesn’t change the FACT that, on Nov 8, Trump was the best choice for the intelligent Conservative voter. A choice you didn’t have the courage to make. Faux conservatives like you still have nothing to offer except suicide – a suicide which only serves YOUR selfish interests.

        Ragspierre in reply to VaGentleman. | June 1, 2017 at 2:56 pm

        No. You lying SOS.

        Suicide is where you subsume ideas and ideas to a cult of personality.

        You are dead.

        I live on to fight.

        VaGentleman in reply to VaGentleman. | June 2, 2017 at 4:16 am


        >>No. You lying SOS.
        Projection on your part.

        >>Suicide is where you subsume ideas and ideas (ideaLs??) to a cult of personality.

        Interesting that you don’t recognize that you are the Trump personality cult. It’s a cult of negativism, but a cult none the less. Your hatred is so extreme that you willingly jeopardized conservativism because of it. And you continue to do so. But you’re right – it lead you to attempt political suicide. In the real world, Custer could only kill himself and his men once. In politics, you come back week after week and demand that we join you in your insanity. And it is the insanity of the cultist. What we understand, and what you refuse to accept, is that we can ride the train without buying the railroad. This train will take us as far as it can and then we will get off and catch the next one going our way. The fact that we ride this train doesn’t mean we have surrendered our virtue or sold out our principles. That you believe that we did is typical of cult behavior, where the belief system matters most of all. You demand we get on a train going the wrong way, or don’t ride at all, because you don’t like the engineer on our train. How stupid. How childish.
        This also explains your oft repeated line: ‘I won’t vote for any collectivist…’. Well, you should have. Let’s just face facts – you should have. That’s what adults do. We give 5 yr olds hard rules because it’s what they can understand. Their brains aren’t physically fully grown and they lack knowledge and experience to make adult decisions. Adults (should) recognize that the hard rules don’t apply to all decisions. I believe the legal system recognizes the need as exigent circumstances and the law of competing harms. Sometimes you have to choose the better of 2 imperfect cases. Nov 8 was clearly one of those times. The fact that you gave no thought to the needs of conservativism, but stopped thinking at the needs of the cult of #NT, shows again that you championed the cult, and not conservativism. Cults force you to think like a 5 yr old, and you are proud to do so. The fact that you still can’t answer whether Clinton or Trump was better for conservativism, but fall back on your ‘won’t vote’ line, shows that your true loyalties lie with the cult.
        In the same way that the hate mongers of Westboro Baptist try to hide their hatred behind christianity, you try to hide your hatred behind the veil of conservativism. In doing so, you pollute conservativism as they pollute christianity. You are a loyal #NT cultist, but a faux conservative.

        The fault lines have been exposed.
        It’s time to fish or cut bait.
        The game’s started. We’re 7 mins into the 1st quarter. Our team’s got the ball. If you are going to keep cheering every time we fumble, take off your jersey and go sit with the progressives where you belong.

        >>You are dead.
        >>I live on to fight.

        Typical 5 yr old’s bravado.

    MaxWebXperienZ | June 1, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    What goes with this comment section. When I open it up to post my CPU spikes and the computer slows so much that typing is horribly fiddly…

    Anyhow I learned new term here today: snotflake!! I love it.

    Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything acronym is SWINE, so SWINE Snotflake Crybullies are the New Left [asif the Left really is about anything new]

      Yeah, there seems to be something going on here at LI. Twice this morning my entire browser went black when I navigated to LI and it has happened several times before. I’m not a computer nerd but they looked like DOS attacks that my browser blocked.

      That is how it started with Discus too and my account was eventually hijacked. So I closed it and deleted the history. If you see Pasadena Phil on any Discus threads, it’s not me. So many websites use Discus so it is a prime target for hackers. I don’t know what service LI uses but maybe security is being compromised similarly.

    I find the question “What do Never Trumpers Want” to be odd, even sarcastic. One might well have asked those Conservatives who were critical of the many shortcomings of John McCain or Bush II the same thing. However, that question was not asked of conservative critics before because, unlike Trump, they did not have too many mindlessly infatuated “bots” – they did not think their guy was our “last chance” and “only one who can save us” messianic figures.

    Have Trump’s loyalists forgotten (or never learned?) the basics of opinion journalism: it is the self-assigned business of opinion makers to speak to truth, not whip the troops into foaming partisans – leave that to party propagandists and quasi-religious true believers.

    National Review, for example, has always spoken for movement conservatives…not campaign committees. It fiercely opposed Bush over his attempts to give amnesty to illegals, as it did his (and McCain’s) efforts to massively increase immigration and keep porous borders. They, Limbaugh, Levin, and many others were a part of the national grassroots uprising over Bush’s attempt at stuffing it down our throats.

    And National Review and the Weekly Standard were part of the massive grassroots protest against Bush’s attempt to appoint his clueless personal attorney rather than a real originalist. Good thing they were “disloyal” to “our” President, don’t you think?

    In fact, I recall that the hotbeds of conservative critics went after Bush over Medicare Drug expansion, failing to balance the budget, his tepid unwillingness to play hardball with Democrats on many issues, failure to deal with Rumsfeld and/or Powell (depending on the critic), and his mishandling in appointing a special prosecutor.

    So Professor Jacobson, why weren’t you (and many others) asking “What do these people want?”. How is it you feel so uncomfortable and demand answers when Donald Trump’s shortcomings are noted, but not Bush’s?

    Mind you, I am not saying that there were not Bushbots in the hoi poli (the Bush can do no wrong acolytes) but this is the first time that people who should know better are asking a pointless question.

    Might it be that it is Trumper core in the opinion arts that have gone of the deep end, have demanded folks sell out their integrity and mouth the party line for the sake unity…truth be damned?

    While you think about it, let me suggest that never Trumpers want what they have alway wanted: conservative-free market policies that advance the vision of Goldwater, WFB, Friedman, and/or Reagan. What they don’t want is is empty attitude without purpose or substance; they don’t want another stealth supreme court nomination, or back-tracking on DACA, or waffling on Jerusalem. And they don’t want liberal Kushner and liberal Goldman Sachs Cohn setting policy.

    As a former refusenik (I refused to vote for either Trump or Hillary) I suspect what Goldberg, Shapiro, French and many others want is what I want: compliments and support of Trump when he does right, criticism and opposition of Trump when he does wrong, and a consistent non-hypocritical loyalty to ones values.

    Why does that seem to make you (or core Trump acolytes) so uncomfortable? How could anyone, including you, be otherwise?

    Lee Jan | June 4, 2017 at 10:37 am

    To start with…..I would like a president who is sane.
    Not some self centered unbalanced madman.

    Sonnys Mom | June 6, 2017 at 6:46 am

    What do diehard intellectual neverTrumpists want? (And I don’t necessarily include Trump skeptics here, who remain somewhat critical but are willing to “go to war with the resources we have”.) Not much, really: they simply want to be RIGHT– about everything– in order to maintain their exalted position as inheritors of the mantle of the saintly William F. Buckley.

    As intellectual progeny of Buckley, they can never be wrong; they MUST never be wrong. They look down upon anyone who supports the president, no matter what the reason, as members of a primitive, ignorant moblike cult. For only they, the neverTrumpers, are fit to serve as custodians of the Truth. (For only the candidate who passed the patented True Conservative Smell Test won their approval. But that guy couldn’t carry even one state.)

    Meanwhile, the fires set long ago by members of the Frankfurt School are smoldering, even bursting into flames in some places.

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