Why the ‘Never-Trumpers’ flopped
The implosion of the Lincoln Project is the most spectacular failure — in a long list of failures — by Republican Never-Trumpers. Even though he is diminished, Trump is still the top dog in the Republican Party and a major force in American politics. The Never-Trumpers’ main skill has been generating publicity for themselves; they certainly had nothing to do with Trump’s defeat — Trump managed that on his own.
The Never-Trumpers have failed to come to grips with the fact that their issue positions and politics have failed and are not coming back. They have no platform except despising Trump. They offer nothing the electorate wants. Trump could not have won in 2016 without a powerful set of issues.
The Lincoln Project perfectly represents the rudderless nature of the Never-Trump movement. In spite of their sanctimonious claims about fighting authoritarianism, the Lincoln Project looked to be more a bunch of exiles angry that they lost power. Seemingly equal parts career opportunism, profit machine and fraternity prank, the Lincoln Project offered up over-produced, over-dramatic self-parodies that masqueraded as ads. Too often resembling PornHub for Trump haters than any kind of advocacy.
Never has any group that received such expansive and fawning coverage delivered so little.
Their efforts were profitable for their founders and vendors, but hardly moved the electorate. There is no evidence that Lincoln Project ads cost Trump any votes. Not only that, they signally failed in their mission to “punish” Republican Senators who voted with Trump.
The Lincoln Project’s effort against Sen. Susan Collins best exemplified their fumbling. Their attack ad against Collins started by invoking the memory of late Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith — a reference sure to impress Lincoln Project donors and Beltway insiders, but certain not to impress your average Maine resident — and then devolved into a volley of insults. Collins won re-election handily.
Beyond the incompetent ad content, questionable financial practices and reported sexual predation, the Lincoln Project offered nothing to voters except whining about Trump. And this is the common thread amongst all the Never-Trumpers. There is no alternative except “Not Him.”
Directionless old Republican establishment
By the early 2000s the old GOP establishment was based on an aggressive foreign policy, open trade, capital gains tax cuts and low to no regulation. There was a partnership with social conservatives who were solidly pro-life and morally fundamentalist.
The 2008 financial crisis and the unending quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan combined with the election of Barack Obama and its attendant rise of extreme political correctness to destroy much of the legitimacy of the old Republican platform.
Trump and Steve Bannon tapped into people’s economic insecurities, weariness of foreign adventures (a 200-year-old American tradition) and distaste for heavy-handed woke-ism to create a new electoral coalition. Trump even moved away from orthodox conservative tax cutting philosophy with a tax cut bill focused on lowering individual income rates while cutting or capping the state and local tax deduction, which primarily benefits the wealthy. Trump acceded to social conservatives on the Second Amendment and pro-life, but hardly at all on personal morality.
The old establishment and the Never-Trumpers had no answer.
And how could they? Their very ideology was being rejected — and still is. The American public and self-identified Republicans reject the tenets of the old establishment.
According to YouGov, GOP voters have turned against trade with 42 percent favoring even higher tariffs (and 25 percent favoring the Trump status quo). Republican attitudes to economics have also shifted. While still opposing a $15 per hour minimum wage (73 per cent against), GOP voters are good with “helicopter money” – the proposal to send out $1,400 checks – by a margin of 66 percent to 28 per cent.
In addition, the constituency for the Afghanistan and Iraq interventions has collapsed. Two separate YouGov polls, their regular benchmark and a poll conducted for the Charles Koch Institute, show a plurality of Americans considers both the Afghanistan war (39 percent) and the Iraq war (45 percent) a mistake. Republicans are not ready to agree, but a substantial number do, with 27 percent believing Afghanistan was a mistake and 30 percent, Iraq.
The Koch poll asked more directly whether Americans want to get out, and the results were unambiguously in favor: 74 percent want out of Iraq and 76 percent want out of Afghanistan. Even without the crosstabs for each party, it is very clear the neocon-sponsored wars are unpopular (and considering the cost has been anywhere from $1.4 trillion to $6.4 trillion, can you blame the public?).
American voters also favor the same (32 percent) or less (48 percent) military engagement, the same (40 percent) or fewer (36 percent) troops in Europe, and a focus on domestic as opposed to foreign policy (70 percent to 6 percent). These numbers should not be surprising as the public has consistently set a priority on domestic issues except when there is a perceived and imminent national security threat.
If the Never-Trumpers hold to their anachronistic views, they have no place in current American politics. With a Democratic Party establishment conceding ground to the populist Sanders wing — and favoring appeasement over strength in foreign policy, the Never-Trumpers are starting to realize they are politically homeless.
If they want to have any influence in American politics, the Never-Trumpers are going to have to drop their personal obsession with Trump and come up with a new issue platform that recognizes the public mood.
But just as critically, the Never-Trumpers need to admit their policies of the early 2000s failed — and have contributed mightily to the current state of American politics.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.