NeverTrumps: The good (who have re-evaluated), the bad (who can't get over themselves) and the ugly (who have thrown in with the left)
The passage of tax reform and the booming economy, sweeping transformations in Middle East policy, and regulatory reform unleashing vast potential bottled up the last eight years and more are all signs that President Trump is not the ogre feared by a large faction of the conservative intellectual establishment. The famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) special issue of National Review, "Against Trump," stands as a unique instance of the conservative movement's intellectual elite turning against the champion of the GOP's base. With almost a year in office for Trump, some of those who partook of the NeverTrump fashion have started to change their minds, while others are doubling down, becoming bitter enders.
National Review's editor, Rich Lowry, the man most responsible for "Against Trump," has managed to give the POTUS credit where he sees it due, particularly in material written for other publications, such as "The Trump Presidency Isn't Nearly As Bad As It Sounds" in Politico and "Give Trump credit where it is due" in his nationally syndicated newspaper column. Other NeverTrumps also have re-evaluated the virtues of an outsider. Consider Matthew Continetti, editor of the Washington Free Beacon, the publication that originally commissioned Fusion GPS to produce anti-Trump opposition research, the effort that was taken over and expanded into the infamous "dossier" that may go down in history as the trigger for a cabal of FBI and DOJ officials to seek the ouster of an elected president. Continetti recently wrote a column entitled "Promise Keeper" that was remarkable in reversing course:
It is a sign of the disingenuousness of American foreign policy that it required someone from outside this system to behave as if words have meaning. President Trump has no background in or admiration for the routines, manners, and norms of the U.S. foreign service, especially that part of it which specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This has enabled him to state unequivocally the fact others would prefer to avoid: Jerusalem is Israel's capital, full stop. His transactional nature also brought him to this fateful recognition. In March 2016, at the AIPAC policy conference, he pledged that "We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." His remarks today make clear his intention to fulfill that promise and to cement his support within the pro-Israel community.
I wonder about the journalists and flacks and politicians criticizing this literal reading of U.S. law as "disruptive." Have they not paid attention to this man? Donald Trump's purpose in office is to disrupt if not overturn the patterns of governance and ideological consensus that have dominated the U.S. capital for decades. In this sense his Jerusalem policy is his presidency in microcosm. He is acting on a common sense appraisal of the world and satisfying the wishes of his supporters without regard to global or domestic elite opinion. What Trump knows more than the art of the deal is the art of the bluff – and how to call one. By keeping his campaign promise today, he has called the bluff of everyone who thought the United States could have its cake and eat it too on the question of Israel's capital. And by moving our embassy to Jerusalem, the United States will acknowledge Israel's right to determine its own capital city. That is not something to condemn or fear. It is something to be proud of.
Others have been unwilling to change the positions they have staked out, and some have been actively destroying their credibility. At the top of that list is Bill Kristol, former editor of the Weekly Standard, scion of conservative giants Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, and chief of staff for Vice President
Cheney (corrected: Quayle)when he was in office. On Twitter, he disclosed "inner" tendencies that apparently lay dormant under other Republican administrations but were "triggered" by Trump:
The GOP tax bill's bringing out my inner socialist. The sex scandals are bringing out my inner feminist. Donald Trump and Roy Moore are bringing out my inner liberal.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
– Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) November 21, 2017
Yesterday, in the wake of mass bonuses and the announcement of corporate investment plans following the tax bill's passage, he could not restrain himself from denying the obvious results, calling it "kind of slightly brain dead" and boldly predicting: "I can't believe it will make much difference to the economy one way or the other, honestly."
Kristol's personal bitterness and unwillingness to change his position to the point of identifying with the movements he has opposed for decades are remarkable. But even more unrepentant is Evan McMullin, who ran a farcical campaign for the presidency aimed at depriving Trump of the electoral votes in Utah. Yesterday, on MSNBC, he savored the prospect of the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives and the "defeat of Trumpism."
Roger L. Simon, a founder of PJ Media, called on remaining NeverTrumps to apologize now:
[I]t is time for the remaining NeverTrumpers to apologize for a reason far more important than self-castigation or merely to make things "right." Donald Trump – whose initial victory was a shock, even, ironically, to those of us who predicted it – has compounded that shock by being astoundingly successful in his first year, especially at the conclusion. (He's a quick study, evidently.) More conservative goals have been achieved or put in motion in eleven months than in any time in recent, or even distant, memory. It's an astonishing reversal for our country accompanied by the beginnings of an economic boom.
The reason for the necessity of apologies now is not personal vindication, but rather the stakes ahead:
The next year seems poised to be an ideological duel as close to the death as we have seen in a long time. If the right does not win, the gains of 2017 will be stymied by the election of 2018 and completely washed away in 2020.
It's an all-hands-on-deck situation and we need the NeverTrumpers' help. We need – to borrow a hoary leftist term – a united front.
Those stakes are far greater than any individual's ego. It is tragic (in the sense of being brought low by fatal flaws) that people like Kristol, McMullin, and David Frum cannot get over themselves.