With the over-hyped but underwhelming conclusion of the Mueller investigation, whatever dreams Never Trumpers within the GOP had of removing the president from office have vanished. Their last flicker of hope lies in mounting a Republican primary challenge in 2020 — a strategy doomed to fail.
Never Trumpism is not dead, but it is on life support with no possibility of returning to the vitality it displayed in 2016. Were it not for the news media’s eagerness to amplify the voices of those who hate the president, the movement would have long since been relegated to the more obscure corners of the internet.
Never Trumpism still exists only because the Left finds it useful to add a sprinkling of “conservative” anti-Trump vitriol to its progressive anti-Trump vitriol. At this point, it is becoming difficult to distinguish the Never Trumpers who claim to be on the Right from the anti-Trumpers on the left.
Among conservatives, Never Trumpism is already a fringe and irrelevant movement, its ranks having been decimated by countless defections. Most onetime Never Trump commentators — like Ben Shapiro, Rich Lowry and Erick Erickson — have long since rejoined the ranks of fair-minded conservatives who simply judge Trump the way they would any other Republican president, praising him when warranted, criticizing him when necessary. A handful, led by Max Boot, have abandoned conservatism altogether. They are not missed.
The leading Never Trumpers in Congress have either retired (Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker), become irrelevant (Sen. Ben Sasse) or died (Sen. John McCain). The flagship publication of their movement, the Weekly Standard, folded at the end of last year. Its online reincarnation, the Bulwark, has none of its clout or reach.
The right has tuned out the few lingerers. The president’s approval rating with Republican voters now stands at 89 percent. By comparison, Obama’s was at 80 percent with Democratic voters at the same time in his presidency.
The conservative case against Trump was strongest during the 2016 Republican primary, when there were many qualified candidates to choose from. Once Trump became the Republican nominee, however, the reasonable conservative case against Trump became the indefensible Never Trump case for Hillary Clinton.
Our presidential elections are, for better or for worse, binary propositions. The known unknowns of a Trump presidency should have been preferable for conservatives to the known knowns of a Clinton presidency. Still, there was no way to fully refute the apocalyptic predictions Never Trumpers made during the 2016 race, however implausible or silly they were.
Now, 2 ½ years into the Trump presidency, the case for Never Trumpism has completely collapsed. Not one of the overblown doomsday scenarios that President Donald Trump was supposed to unleash on humanity has panned out. The economy hasn’t collapsed. Fascism hasn’t come to America. And we aren’t at war with the world.
The president, in fact, has an impressive record of conservative accomplishments. Admittedly, it is easy to lose sight of them amid the flurry of tweets, the high turnover rate in the administration and the daily skirmishes with journalists. But Trump has cut taxes, pursued an aggressive deregulatory agenda, boosted the defense budget and appointed two fine justices to the Supreme Court as well as a record number of appellate judges to the federal bench.
The economy is growing, unemployment is falling and wages are rising. We have pulled out of the Paris accord, withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and destroyed Islamic State. Trump has arguably done more to advance the conservative agenda than any other of the 16 Republican candidates he ran against would have.
If anything, it is Trump’s original die-hard supporters who have the most reason to be disappointed with him. His rhetoric notwithstanding, Trump has proven to be more of a conventional Republican than an “America first” nationalist. The great irony, which is entirely lost on the Never Trumpers, is that in terms of policy, Trump has turned out to be the kind of president they always said they wanted but predicted he could never be.
David Azerrad is director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics and the AWC Family Foundation Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. This column was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.