NeverTrump began not as an insurgency but as an act of conscientious objection: We were Republicans who would not vote for Trump even if he won our party’s nomination. He did, and we didn’t, and that was that.
Or so I thought. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton changed the calculus. Now, our fellow Republicans repeatedly tell us: “The election’s over—move on.” Democrats, meanwhile, tell us our mission is really just beginning. Where they’re both wrong, however, is where most people in this discussion are wrong. It’s not about the president anymore.
My initial verdict on the election was that it was more or less a quirk: Trump won in spite of being Trump. But it’s clear to me now Trump won because he was Trump. That is the alarming reality of my party, because what distinguished Trump from his 16 Republican primary opponents was his outrageousness. There’s no such thing as Trumpism. What there is, instead, is a set of incentives Trump followed to the nomination, a sort of cheat code. And his victory threatens to magnify those incentives a hundredfold.
Conservatives used to stand athwart history shouting stop; now they run alongside history gleefully yelling, “Hit ’em again!” Hit who? Racial and ethnic minorities, much of the time. “Economic nationalism”? That’s a figment of Steve Bannon’s imagination. Rick Santorum spoke downright poetically of the Rust Belt’s forgotten man, and he didn’t come close to winning the nomination. Tim Pawlenty—the Sam’s Club Republican—barely made it to the pregame show. When Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam made “Sam’s Club conservatism” a key theme in their attempt to reform the GOP’s approach to working-class Americans, Rush Limbaugh derided them and any likeminded thinkers as “intellectualoids” who merely wanted the GOP to be a party that “gives money away to the Walmart middle class.”