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30 Nov 2022, 4:50 pm

Opposing Trumpism is about more than rejecting one man - Tom Nichols for The Atlantic

Quote:
Never Trump is—still—a movement that is about more than just one man. It stands in opposition to everything Donald Trump has done to American civic life, and rejects those who would wear his mantle.

In one of the most appalling appropriations of a political banner in years—or at least since Trump decided in 2012, after years of changing party registrations, finally to settle on calling himself a Republican—some of the conservatives hoping to salvage the GOP’s fortune after the 2022 midterms are trying to seize and redefine the term Never Trump to mean a rejection of “only Trump, and no other Republicans who are like him.” This is important not as some internecine fight among the right but because it is a preview of how many Republicans (and especially those coalescing around Florida Governor Ron DeSantis) intend to rehabilitate the GOP brand in 2024.

The strategy will be to make Trump the sin-eater for the entire party, designating him as the GOP’s sole problem, and then rejecting him—and only him. The goal will be to scrub away the stain of having accommodated Trump while pretending that the Republican Party is no longer an extension of his warped and antidemocratic views. This will require an extraordinary suspension of disbelief and an expenditure of gigawatts of political energy on the pretense that the past seven years or so didn’t happen—or didn’t happen the way we remember them, or happened but don’t matter because Trump, having escaped Elba to contest the primaries, will finally be sent to St. Helena after his inevitable defeat.

This will be the new Republican line, and it is nonsense.

As one of the original Never Trumpers—an appellation adopted by disaffected Republicans and conservatives who swore never to support Trump—I think I have a pretty firm handle on what the term means. I do not speak for every Never Trumper, but I am confident that virtually all of us would affirm that we were not just making a choice about a candidate but opposing the movement that coagulated around Trump. We did this not only by expressing disapproval—which is easy—but by actively voting for his Democratic challengers, which for some of us was harder to do but was part of actually “stopping” Trump. In this, we became a movement ourselves. We were not merely choosing one flavor of ice cream over another; we were examining our own beliefs, and then advocating for others to join us in defending those ideas in the public square.

We knew that Trump represented an existential threat to everything that we and millions of other Americans, regardless of party, cherished. He was an avowed enemy of the rule of law, cared nothing about fidelity to the Constitution, and could never be a responsible steward of the awesome powers of the presidency. (It is no accident that the first Never Trumpers were heavily concentrated among those of us with connections to national security.) We were certain that Trump would bring racism, misogyny, and religious bigotry to the White House. And we were right.

But Trump exceeded our worst fears. We expected him to bring a claque of opportunists and various other mooks and goons with him to Washington, but we overestimated the ability of the GOP’s immune system to fight off a complete surrender to Trump’s parasitical capture of the party. We appreciated the threat of Trump, but we were surprised by the spread of Trumpism—the political movement that arose as a malignant mass incarnation of Trump’s personality, based on racism, nativism, isolationism, the celebration of ignorance, and a will to power that was innately hostile to American institutions. Trumpism is now the only real animating force in Republican politics; indeed, DeSantis, the great GOP hope, is so much a Trump sycophant that he has even learned to stand and gesture like Trump.

The idea that Never Trump means more than the rejection of one vulgar and ignorant man—that it also means Never Trumpism—infuriates a lot of people on the right. (The folks over at National Review some of whom have apparently jumped on the DeSantis bandwagon, have seemed particularly agitated in the past few days.) The immediate circumstance that precipitated all this online whining about the Never Trumpers and generated the sweaty attempts to seize their mantle was, of course, Trump’s dinner this weekend with an anti-Semite and a white supremacist. Top Republicans who should be desperate to scour the stink of Trumpism off the GOP but who fear Trump and his base once again went weak in the knees. Most stayed quiet; others employed careful circumlocutions. Mike Pence said Trump should “apologize” for the dinner, as if it were a faux pas.

The Republicans know they have a problem. Many of them seem to believe their only recourse now is to say that they were all Never Trumpers in the hope that voters will somehow draw an unwarranted distinction between Trump and the party he has captured from top to bottom. But those of us who said “Never Trump” years ago—and meant it—know the difference.


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