Does the Never Trump Movement Matter?

AuthorHeilbrunn, Jacob
PositionNever Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites - Book review

Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites

by Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles

Oxford University Press, 304 pp.

Most conservatives eventually embraced Trump. Here's why a few didn't.

It's become a commonplace that few on the right, whether lawmakers or intellectuals, are willing to utter a peep of disagreement, let alone dissent, about Donald Trump's serial constitutional outrages and destructive policies. Instead, as the Republican Senate cowers abjectly before Trump, conservative journalists and thinkers have been vying with each other to construct a scaffolding of respectability around the Trump administration. Perhaps the most vivid sign of these efforts came recently with the publication of National Review editor Rich Lowry's book, The Case for Nationalism.

Once upon a time Lowry was a severe critic of Trump. In January 2016, for example, the cover of NR (as it is known to the faithful) declared, in mock gold: "Against Trump." It stated, "If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster."

But that was then. Huckster, shmuckster. Winning, as Carlos Lozada observed in a blistering review of Lowry's book in The Washington Post, "has a way of tempering such concerns." And so Lowry has become a Trump votary, exhorting Republicans to embrace the former Manhattan real estate developer and "thoughtfully integrate his nationalism into the party's orthodoxy."

His transformation epitomizes the return of the GOP to its earlier incarnation. In the 1950s, for example, conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr. and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell Jr. were staunch defenders of Joseph McCarthy, a stance, incidentally, from which Buckley never retreated. They bashed the liberal elite ensconced in the universities and Hollywood. Buckley's own maiden book, God and Man at Yale, pioneered the genre of university-bashing books that continues to emanate with some regularity from the right. Altogether too much seductive piffle has been written about a vanished conservative intellectual golden age that antedated Trump. If anything, numerous links can be detected between past and present, something that the recent documentary Where's My Roy Cohn? makes abundantly clear as it traces the mentor-disciple relationship between Cohn and Trump.

As a variety of conservatives adapt their outward political coloration to support Trump, however, a small remnant has steadfastly adhered to its initial rejection of him. At the outset, it mostly consisted of stolid foreign policy establishment figures like Eliot A. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and professor at Johns Hopkins University, who regard Trump as a betrayer of venerable Republican principles as well as a mendacious liar and rank opportunist. In successive open letters that garnered a lot of publicity, the Never Trumpers voiced their disapprobation in no uncertain terms, thereby inadvertently creating what amounted to an enemies list...

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