What are we to make of the so-called Never-Trumpers?
Their steady acceptance by the media seems way out of sync with their actual numbers. True, there is a gaping credibility gap in the Republican party these days — not a word out of their collective mouths can be believed — and these former operatives have deftly stepped into the vacuum. The media can’t get anything accurate from Republicans in power, so they turn to Republicans who are out of power.
You know the names — you see them every day. Bill Kristol, David Frum, Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, Charlie Sykes, Bret Stephens, David Brooks, George Conway, and a bunch of others. Most of them should have left the scene in disgrace years ago. Yet they’re all over the panels on MSNBC, CNN, PBS. They land prized columns at NYT, WaPo, WSJ, and get syndicated all over.
It’s like a bad flashback. These were the abettors and enablers of George W. Bush and his puppetmaster, Dick Cheney. But here they come again, their pasts freshly scrubbed — Wikipedia will tell you the titles they had in the Bush era, but not what they actually did. You have to dig.
But these were the officials and staffers, journalists and speechwriters, lobbyists and Republican apparatchiks who shamelessly played the American electorate for decades, bringing their considerable but ethically challenged political skills, not just to the Bush Administration, but to the slimy presidential campaigns of Bush, McCain, and Romney.
They were paid to cynically manipulate the forces of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and climate denial, all in the name of a plutocratic agenda. With very few exceptions, they still don’t seem to understand the damage they’ve done, and they certainly don’t admit to it. Yet they somehow continue to get an outsized seat at the pundit table.
Since we are a nation of fast forgetters, let’s take a moment to remember the Bush Administration, shall we? The fact that Trump is far worse doesn’t excuse the stuff these guys once had a hand in:
The Afghan War (still going on). Patriot Act (still there, never talked about). Donald Rumsfeld (“There are no good targets in Afghanistan”). Black sites. Paul Wolfowitz. Extreme rendition. Massive tax cuts (turned Bill Clinton’s surplus to a deficit). WMDs (non-existent). Iraq War (sold with lies, bought on credit). “Mission Accomplished.” Torture memo. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo detainees (still sitting there). Alberto Gonzalez. Condoleezza Rice. Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Swift-boating of John Kerry. Scooter Libby. Valerie Plame. Hurricane Katrina (“Heckuva job Brownie”). And the grand finale: the Great Recession.
There are surely a bunch of crimes there, none of which have been answered for. And while I won’t match the Never-Trumpers to their involvement in any of this, suffice it to say that Obama did them all a huge favor by not turning DOJ loose on them.
There aren’t that many of them, and they are so far out of touch with the Trump-addled base, there’s no longer a place for them in their morally bankrupt party. They could have easily sold their souls to Trump — he would only be the latest buyer — but I think their antipathy to him is genuine. Mostly what bothers them is his stupidity.
They’d be fine with the ideology — the tax cuts, deregulation, pro-business agenda — but the fact that he’s so incompetent, so bad at everything he does, offends their sense of professionalism. So they sit in their incredibly cushy jobs, where they pontificate and lament the Trumpification of the Republican party, basically ignoring their own part in bringing it about.
But what’s especially galling is that much of what they say makes sense. They actually do have insight into the Republican mind, such as it is. They understand how Mitch McConnell thinks. They know all the underhanded tactics taught them by the likes of Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and the patron saint of dirty tricks, Lee Atwater. Their default mindset of going negative, which Democrats simply can’t grasp, gives them a perspective we can’t get elsewhere, and normally wouldn’t want.
And then there’s the Lincoln Project. The commercials being churned out by that group are unusually good. Exactly the kind of gut-punching emotional pitches Democrats never seem to get the hang of. And there’s no doubt that they’re effective, not so much with the Trump base — Fox will never run them — as with Trump himself. They have him rattled and over-reacting. These guys seem to know the right buttons to push.
It’s been said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So be it with the Never-Trumpers. I’m happy to have the help of anyone who wants to rid the world of this monster.
But it would be a mistake to trust them. Some seem to be genuine converts, finally seeing the light. But some of them are no doubt setting themselves up for 2024, when — they hope — they’ll be the ones to raise their diseased party up from the ashes.
By then, if all goes well for the Never-Trumpers, they can latch onto someone like Tom Cotton, who is at least as fascistic as Trump, but with a brain. Talk about scary.
So for now, we’ll watch them do their thing. But we'd better watch them carefully.