One of the most interesting political divides of the Trump era is that between long-time Republicans who strongly support Donald Trump, and those who have been in the group of so-called “Never Trump” conservatives. This schism has gotten fair amount of media attention over the last couple of years, but, as a “member” of the latter faction, it appears that no one has really fully explained the real dynamic at play here.
The conventional wisdom, especially among Trump fans, is that “Never Trump” conservatives have “lost” because Trump is not only president, but because his administration has supposedly not been nearly the disaster many of those on my side feared and predicted (I do wonder how many more firings/resignations it will take to reach that standard). They still, maybe more than ever, openly and gleefully ridicule “Never Trumpers” as losers, traitors, wimps, liberals, Hillary enablers, sell-outs, and poor prognosticators, who suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome” and root for bad things to happen to America.
I will be the first to admit that the “Never Trump” position is very unpopular within the Republican ranks, and that this has probably never been more the case than it is currently. However, the idea that popularity or short-term objectives were ever anywhere near the core concerns of those conservatives who oppose Trump is just part of the series of gross misconceptions which Trump fans have about the vast majority of us.
The Trump fanatics do, however, have a couple of valid points. One is that Trump has not governed as much from the liberal perspective, at least so far, as I for one feared that he might.
My rebuttal to this is that to call him “conservative,” at least in any traditional sense, would also be extremely inaccurate. More importantly, I am always baffled that his fans assume he will remain even remotely loyal to conservative principles if Democrats take the House (he famously declared during the campaign that, “I am very capable of changing into anything I want to change into”). I’m also baffled that Trump supporters don’t realize he will be responsible for what is still very likely to be a liberal political backlash which will happen, perhaps for many years, after he leaves office.
Another area where Trump supporters have a legitimate beef is that sometimes commentators in my category have been a bit hyperbolic in our rhetoric, delusional in our strategizing (invoke the 25th Amendment!) and condescending in our criticism. As someone who has probably used the phrase “Cult 45” to describe Trump’s base more than anyone else, I am clearly guilty of this at times. Though sometimes such language has been the only way to adequately describe the full extent of the insanity of what has been going on.
Where Trump supporters really do get “Never Trumpers” very wrong is in the realm of motivation and sincerity. Many of them ludicrously believe, or at least claim to, that people like me automatically oppose Trump on everything for one or more of the following reasons: blind hatred of him personally, an unwillingness to admit we were wrong about him, and a desire to benefit career-wise by currying favor with the liberal mainstream media.
Personally, it is bad enough to get called stupid or liberal, but it is far more infuriating to have your integrity questioned, especially when you are taking a stand based entirely on principle and the long-term interest of the country. While there may be a couple of Anti-Trump conservatives who have benefited in some way while also completely losing their impartiality about Trump (Ana Navarro comes to mind), that is very much not the norm.
These three allegations are as maddening as they are laughable. Yes, I loathe Trump as a person (mostly because he truly is a narcissistic, pathological liar with no apparent morals), but that in no way makes me unable to clearly see when he does right or wrong. If that was at all true, how could I have been consistently correct in predicting that particular negative news stories would NOT harm him politically?
Secondly, I honestly could not care less about being proven wrong about Trump — at least in terms of honesty and ethics, his presidency has been far worse than even I imagined it would be — and would be truly thrilled if he somehow suddenly turned into Ronald Reagan for more than just a few minutes while acting on live television. Finally, the notion that it has ever been a remotely good career move (even in theory) for a conservative commentator to oppose Trump is simply ignorant of the basic reality that being totally shut out of now state-run Fox News and talk radio is effectively a career-ender for all but a handful of conservatives.
Within just the past few days, I have come to what I think is a much better, though far more depressing, understanding of what is really driving the intense hatred of “Never Trump” conservatives by at least some of Trump’s fans. This came from having shockingly and painfully lost a couple of what I previously thought were good friends, while being largely oblivious, until recently, that the relationships ended primarily because of my opposition to Trump.
Since, for good reason, I don’t like human beings very much, I consequently don’t have many “friends.” So when I “lose” one I take particular note of it.
At least four people I was close to fall into this category. All of these relationships ended by the choice — and via sudden disappearance — of the Trump supporter, despite my efforts to salvage them.
While I can often be perceived as a jackass, what really stunned me about these situations was that, for the most part, I had never gone over the line when it came to chiding them for their backing of Trump. It also would never have even occurred to me to end these friendships due to their positive feelings towards Trump, and in at least two of the situations I was completely ignorant this was even the reason that they had suddenly dropped off my radar, until I recently pieced it all together with new information.
I suddenly realized that these fractures really had very little to do with me, per se, but everything with how these intelligent conservatives felt about themselves because of my position on Trump.
As a married man, I have long ago realized that I am far more likely to be forced to suffer punishment for an argument when I am actually right (which happens about 5% of the time) than when I am wrong. This is because, on the very rare occasion that I am right, it makes my wife feel badly about herself. Conversely, when I am wrong she actually tends to feel sorry for me and good about herself.
It sure seems that a very similar pattern is going on within what is left of “conservatism.” The Trump fans are “winning,” but many of them (in the non “Cult 45” crowd) feel worse about themselves because deep down they know that they are acting foolishly and in contradiction of many of their previously-stated principles.
Essentially, people like me are party poopers for Republicans who have been lured into this drug-induced euphoria, reminding them that the good time they are having will be short-lived and come at a heavy price. Nobody likes a party pooper.
Like so much else in the era of Trump, the truth is often exactly the opposite of what it appears to be. When it comes to “Never Trump” conservatives, the real reason we are hated has far more to do with the subconscious weaknesses of Trump supporters than with our own failings.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.