Never-Trump Republicans are exactly that: Republicans.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time — Maya Angelou
Would you call Mitt Romney a Never-Trumper? Maybe. Because only a few months ago he voted not only to convict the President of being guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours, but to remove him from office immediately and permanently. That seems like a pretty Never-Trump to me.
But fast forward eight months and Senator Romney believes that this very President — yes, the one he deemed necessary to have removed from office — should be able to force through a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court either before an imminent election or worse, during a lame-duck session ahead of the inauguration of a new President.
Looking back to his vote to convict that once seemed oh-so-brave, and realising it had no material impact, I wonder whether he would have been so brave if he was forced to cast the deciding vote in a SCOTUS hearing. Certainly, after Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski suggested they wouldn’t support replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the outcome of the election had been decided, their colleague from Utah quickly realised there would actually be consequences to his actions and fell sharply into line.
This turn of faith was, at first look, deeply frustrating. Perhaps it was simply naive to hope the Republican Party writ-large would do anything decent — you know, like honouring the death bed wish of an American hero.
Au contraire, I expect Romney’s position to become much more common. While Romney’s willingness to occasionally break from the Trump Cult in Congress puts him in a minority, there are many more such Republicans occupying Twitter feeds and newspaper columns.
Such Republicans aim to create a “permission structure” for other doubting GOP voters to cast aside their desire to control women’s bodies or arm us to the teeth with military grade weapons and maybe, just maybe, vote for Joe Biden. Mitt Romney has return the favour and provided such permission structure for Never-Trumpers wanting to come home when things get too real and Democrats actually, you know, begin to govern.
The response of some famous Never-Trump Republicans to the Supreme Court vacancy has not been as explicit as the Senator’s, but that’s kind of the point. A group of people awash with political talent who are priding themselves on their ability to turn the political dial this election are conspicuously quiet. No all-singing-all-dancing advert, no high-production social media post. Instead, a statement, simply “urging the Trump administration” to respect the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s wishes.
Their messaging as well is focussed on exposing the hypocrisy of Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. But here’s the crux — everyone knows Republicans are hypocrites. If they really wanted to shift the dial on this, then why don’t they use their skill to focus messaging on how through forcing through a 6–3 Supreme Court majority a whoop speed threatens healthcare, citizenship, and voting rights. Instead, we’re reminded in a meak statement that Republican Senators are hypocrites. Shock.
For the record, I think some of the Never-Trumpers have done great things. They’ve produced some first-rate ads and got under the skin of their audience for one like few Democrats have been able to do. They’ve also temporarily bereft the GOP of a mass of talent, preventing them from producing effective adverts of their own. See this Cory Gardner ad; in a different year Gardner would have attracted Republican talent to help him hold on to his extremely vulnerable seat.
If we also believe that part of the vaccine against Donald Trump is friendliness, decency, and the ability to get on with each other, that too is an area Never-Trump Republicans are leading on. The now-long running podcast, Hacks on Tap, brings together Never-Trumper Mike Murphy and Democrat campaign stalwart, David Axelrod.
But, much like it was Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the clue is in the name. Republican Voters Against Trump, Never-Trump Republicans.
The deeply sad passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg may well have shifted the overton window. The fund-raising mechanism the podcast, Pod Save America run has raised over $20 million in the days since her death. Money that will help elect more Democrats to a chamber that gave Democrats 12 million more votes than Republicans, yet still puts the party in a minority.
There is a massive, fundamental, misalignment happening which the Republicans have surrendered any responsibly to correct. It’s now down to Democrats — Democrats — to do the job. I do not expect Republicans, whether Trump supporters or not, to join them in that task.