Commentary: Why Many Attacks on 'Never Trump' Conservatives Are Unfair and Flawed

Posted: Sep 14, 2016 10:30 AM

Writing at Independent Journal Review, conservative radio host John Cardillo says he's got #NeverTrump conservatives all figured out. Let's review his argument, then I'll address it in some detail. Carrillo, with whom I had an amicable exchange after he published his piece, begins with the base premise that conservative opponents of Donald Trump are in it for one thing -- cash money -- and that they're willing to make Hillary Clinton president in order to protect their own financial interests:

Daily, listeners call my radio show and ask “why are so many Republicans #NeverTrump?” I answer with one word: "Money." They then ask if I really mean it when I say that many on the right opposing Trump are actually hoping for a Hillary Clinton win. Again I answer with one word: “Yes.” Which typically gets me a “really?” from the caller. So I explain.

His promised explanation rests on the flawed theory that all Trump opponents fall into one of four categories:

1. Establishment Republicans who are terrified of a paradigm shift in campaigning and governance.

2. Conservative purists who believed that Ted Cruz was handpicked by God, and can’t believe God lied to them.

3. CINOs (Conservatives In Name Only) who are really establishment types too afraid to admit that their inner social justice warriors are afraid of Trump.

4. Progressive Democrats.

This analysis is, at best, incomplete and uncharitable.  In light of Donald Trump's historically awful favorability ratings -- which Hillary Clinton is doing her best to match -- it is obvious that a great many Americans who fall into none of those columns have concluded that they will not vote for Trump.  This large swath of voters includes countless independent and apolitical people who have no familiarity with, or interest in, the fraught political circles that heatedly toss about loaded labels like "establishment" or "RINO/CINOs," and whose heterodox and often loosely-held ideologies disqualify them as committed progressives.  Cardillo's four silos also discount the existence of center-right conservatives who genuinely believe two things:  First, that Trump is vastly ignorant and temperamentally unfit for the presidency.  And second, that as a walking left-wing caricature of a conservative who is uniquely repellant to a number of ascendant voting demographics who will increasingly determine elections for decades to come, he poses a serious threat to the longer-term electoral prospects of conservatism (and, adding insult to injury, who also isn't even remotelyreliable conservative anyway).  Some of these center-right 'Never Trump' individuals have determined that for those reasons, Hillary Clinton is the lesser of two evils, and they'll support her.  Most, I'd wager, find her equally unacceptable -- a corrupt statist liar who will never, ever earn their vote.

I vehemently reject the notion that I've landed in that latter, highly unpleasant gray zone due to money-grubbing (as Jonah Goldberg has noted on several occasions, the idea that I have a financial incentive to actively dissent from a large segment of my audience for more than a year is nuts), and I refuse to be shoehorned into any of Cardillo's four columns.  Taking each of them separately: (1) My initial inclination in the 2016 cycle was to support Scott Walker, who has governed as a bold conservative reformer, and who cemented my admiration by shedding the endemic fear that too often paralyzes many light-stepping establishmentarians.  (2) Although he was in the mix for me, Ted Cruz was absolutely not my first choice, raised electability concerns in my mind, and was the target of some of my toughest analyses.  Before you ask, yes of course I would have voted for him over Donald Trump (or Hillary), but no, he was never deified in my mind.  

(3) I'm not sure what the rules are for qualifying as a 'CINO.'  My worldview includes a number of conservative "apostasies," but in general, I advocate for a limited and accountable federal government, a strong national defense, and a federal judiciary that doesn't make up "the law" in pursuit of an ideological project as they go along.  I also co-authored an entire book about the cynical debate-squelching excesses of the Left, an epidemic perhaps most acute among SJW's on college campuses.  (4) I agree with progressive Democrats on a handful of issues; I disagree with them, often strongly, on most.  I have never voted for a Democrat in my life. As such, and for reasons rehearsed passionately and at great length throughout the primary, I place myself in a fifth column: Never Trump and Never Hillary -- a political refugee, at least in the presidential race.  I'll certainly turn out on November 8 to support down-ballot Republicans, and I'll urge every right-leaning voter in America not to stay home out of disappointment or disaffection.  People should always vote their conscience, but that requires showing up. The presidency isn't the only office on the ballot, or the only thing at stake, this fall.  

For the record, my personal brand of Never Trumpism has evolved over time:  During the Republican nominating season, I wrote and spoke fiercely and tirelessly against the candidacy of Donald Trump.  I would do so again without a moment's hesitation.  Once he attained the 1,237 delegates required to claim the GOP's crown, however, I insisted that rules and fairness matter, and came out against ex post facto efforts to change the rules and block his nomination.  I do not begrudge the many Republicans and conservatives who have decided that because Trump is now the only realistic alternative to a Hillary Clinton presidency -- and the serious damage it would inflict -- they will pull the lever for him, often despite grave reservations, in many cases. Those who actively aided and abetted Trump's rise, and who used their conservative credibility to promulgate the fiction that he is something other than what he has clearly demonstrated himself to be over several decades of public life? That's another discussion.

Given today's state of play, I continue to criticize Trump, occasionally harshly, when it's warranted.  But I'm currently using much more of my time and energy leveraging my various platforms to point out the disqualifying flaws of the Democratic nominee.  I also do not expend almost any of my efforts trying to dissuade people from voting for Trump.  In many cases, I understand and respect the calculation they've made.  I will, however, defend my choice to cast my one little vote as a firm "none of the above" statement.  My partisanship has its limits.  And I will also continue to push back hard against faulty accusations that all or most 'Never Trump' conservatives are driven by ulterior motives, or that our refusal to embrace this man means we are in favor of Hillary Clinton.  If Trump loses in less than two months, I will fight against the inevitable cries that people like me are responsible for his failure -- as opposed to the many, many factors that led me to discern that he is unelectable long ago.  A Trump loss would rest squarely on the shoulders of the candidate, his campaign, and the people who thought it was a good idea to nominate him.  I'd spend the ensuing four years adamantly opposing much of (::shudder::) President Clinton's agenda, and praying for the health of conservative judges across the country.  

If he should win, I'll admit that I was wrong about his viability (I've consistently pegged his chances of prevailing at about 20 percent, largely because his opponent is so terrible), celebrate America's delicious rejection of Mrs. Clinton, relish the brutal affront to Obamaism, and set about supporting and opposing Trump's actions in office, as necessary. I appreciate that many will disagree with this approach, but it's the best I've got under the circumstances.  My job, as I see it, is to offer political reporting, analysis, and commentary rooted in reason and prudential judgment, and guided by a moral compass -- and to do so with intellectual honesty and transparency.  In that spirit, I offer this explanation of where I stand, where I don't stand, and why.

Editor's note: Image via GQ Politics.