Talking Points

The smart debate rumbling through the Never Trump right

I became a Never Republican long before it was cool — during George W. Bush's re-election campaign in 2004. So the smart debate currently rumbling through the Never Trump right isn't something that matters much to me personally. Yet it's important for the future of both the GOP and the country.

On one side are those — including The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, The New York Times' Ross Douthat, and Arc Digital's Berny Belvedere — who strongly oppose Donald Trump and think the best way to prevent him from winning the Republican nomination, and possibly the presidency, in 2024 is to fall in behind a more decent alternative, possibly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or maybe Glenn Youngkin, who was just elected governor in Virginia.  

On the other side are Sarah Longwell and her colleagues at The Bulwark (where I contribute to a weekly podcast). They believe DeSantis, Youngkin, and most of the other potential contenders for the GOP nomination in 2024 who aren't named Trump have failed to distance themselves sufficiently from the 45th president, especially when it comes to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. If they won't clearly and unequivocally state that Trump lost and Biden won that contest, how can we know that they won't shred these and other essential democratic norms the moment the rabidly Trumpfied base of the party demands it?

It's tempting to describe this as a Never Republican position, though Longwell also makes clear that she would consider it perfectly defensible to back one of the few members of the party who have dared to forthrightly denounce (or at least distance themselves from) Trump. That would include Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, or Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. The problem, of course, is that the two members of Congress on that list are facing imminent political extinction, while the others are governors of deep-blue northeastern states and would have close to zero chance in a race for the Republican presidential nomination.

In technical terms, this might not be a Never Republican position. But in its practical consequences, it is exactly that. Which is perfectly fine! I voted for John Kerry in 2004 and haven't pulled the lever for a Republican since. That doesn't mean I've always been excited about or even liked the Democrats on the ballot. But sometimes "not quite as bad as the other party" is as good as politics gets.  

Whether that's the situation confronting Never Trump Republicans in 2024 is something each of them will need to decide for themselves.