Remember: #NeverTrump was a primary season bluff gone bad

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Monday September 12th, 2016

And now that it's failed, the bluffers don't know how to back away from their foolishness.

Mark Levin is no ideological guru to me, but he is to a lot of conservatives, and some of them were upset with him this past week when he abandoned his prior #NeverTrump position and acknowledged that stopping Hillary is simply far more important than continuing to cling to that hashtagged hysteria. This brought Levin no shortage of blowback from other #NeverTrumpers, and he's not the first to catch heat for caving and advocating the only action that has a chance of stopping Hillary.

As you observe this phenomenon - #NeverTrumper folds, other #NeverTrumpers fly into a rage - it's important to remember something about #NeverTrump that explains why all this is happening. #NeverTrump was a determined and desperate attempt by some (though certainly not all) movement conservatives to bully other Republican primary voters into opposing Donald Trump while the primary season was still going on.

The gambit worked like this: We the #NeverTrump movement conservatives will never vote for Trump, not even in the general election against Hillary, so if you rubes go ahead and nominate him, Hillary will win, and that will be on you and not on us, because we warned you.

The objective of this was obvious: Level such an extreme threat against anyone who would consider voting to give Trump the nomination, that they would back away and support Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or someone else out of fear that nominating Trump would ensure Hillary's election. And in order for the threat to have teeth, the #NeverTrumpers had to leave no doubt that they meant it and would not back down even if would-be Trump backers called their bluff.

It's sort of like holding your breath to get something you want, only to have the person you're trying to threaten just go ahead and ignore you anyway. Do you keep holding your breath and suffocate just to prove that you meant it, even after all hope of getting what you want with the threat is lost? Or do you acknowledge reality and take in some air for goodness sakes?

The #NeverTrump threat failed. Trump won the nomination, the threat notwithstanding. Maybe the Trump voters didn't care about the #NeverTrumpers' threats. Maybe the threats angered them and made them all the more determined. Or maybe Trump voters don't pay that much attention to conservative media pundits and never heard about the threats. Whatever the reason, #NeverTrump failed. And once it failed, there was no point to following through on the threat - as it could do nothing at this point but actually help to elect Hillary.

But! No! Never! Bluffers who admit they were bluffing can never get away with a bluff again!

We go all the way!

It's like Sarah Connor imploring Miles Dyson that no matter what happens, they're going after Skynet. Rationality be damned. Except that Connor and her cohorts actually still had a chance to take Skynet down. The #NeverTrumpers cannot stop Trump from winning the nomination because he's already won it. All they're doing at this point is helping Hillary, which is the last thing any conservative should want to do. But because they can never back away from their bluff, even after it's become completely pointless, they must concoct rationales - however absurd - for the belief that Trump is not the lesser of two evils and in fact is no better than Hillary.

How can you possibly make that case? Using actual logic, you can't, but your fellow #NeverTrump bluffers are counting on you. You have to honor the solidarity of the now-pointless movement.

This brings us to the estimable David French, a fantastic writer and a smart guy who went all-in as a #NeverTrumper early - gaining so much prominence within that movement that he even briefly considered running as an indepenent conservative alternative to Trump. French has insisted all along that Trump is no better than Hillary and is possibly even worse, usually falling back on the insistence that Trump is "a liberal" and a vulgarian.

How can you defend that position now, even as the depths of Hillary's sleaze become clearer than ever? It's not easy, but you have to stick with the bluff, so you come up with the likes of this:

Applying the same methods Campbell does, I can easily draft comparisons where Trump looks less favorable than Clinton. Is lying about Benghazi equal to risking global peace by torching our NATO alliance? Is giving canned speeches to Wall Street fat cats worse than launching trade wars that ruin the economic prospects of millions of middle-class and working-class Americans? Is failing to give press conferences as bad as instituting national security policies that could literally fracture the civil-military relationship?

Neither major-party candidate is conservative, neither candidate has the character to be president, and both advance policies that I believe are deeply harmful to the country. Trump would be better on judges, the Second Amendment, and (maybe) immigration. Clinton would likely be better on national security, trade policy, and deficit spending. Clinton promises a continued unacceptable status quo (with perhaps some small foreign policy improvements). Trump carries with him the possibility of some better policies — but also the possibility of truly catastrophic failure. They both will bring a traveling road show of lies and scandal to the Oval Office.

Some Christians bizarrely ask me to choose the “lesser of two evils” as if the choice is obvious. It’s not. Not one person has made a convincing case that — on balance — Trump is better than Clinton or Clinton is better than Trump. The only convincing case is that they are both unfit for our nation’s highest office, and I won’t — and will never — vote for an unfit candidate.

If French thinks no one has made the case that Trump is superior to Hillary, he can go here on character, and here on policy. But even if French were to read these pieces, it would make no difference to him. He has constructed an unfalsifiable argument, one in which no issue position Trump takes can be believed because Trump never means anything he says. This allows French to ascribe pretty much any issue position he wants to Trump by claiming that any Trump expression to the contrary is simply a lie.

Yet look at how French has constructed the comparisons above. In every case, he has compared things Hillary has already done or is actively doing to things French thinks Trump would do if elected. Hillary lied about Benghazi. That actually happened. Trump has made some statements about the NATO alliances that leads some people to think he might do undesirable things regarding it, but Trump has not proposed to "torch" it, nor has he said we should. Yet French presents these two ideas as if they are apples and apples. Hillary has already given canned pay-for-play speeches to Wall Street. This is a fact. Trump believes some things about trade that might not be so wise (and on policy here I'm probably closer to French than I am to Trump), but it is a gigantic extrapolation to say Trump will be "launching trade wars that ruin the economic prospects" of millions of Americans. Yet again, French has presented Hillary's Wall Street corruption side-by-side with his worst-case scenario of Trump's trade thinking as if the one is the equivalent of the other.

And French does it one more time: Not holding press conferences? This is an established Hillary pattern of behavior, and we all know why. She doesn't want to have to answer any questions about what she does. Trump "instituting national security policies that could literally fracture the civil-military relationship"? Trump has proposed no such thing. That is French's most hysterical outlook on what could result from statements Trump has made, but it is not an actual Trump proposal, nor is it an established pattern of behavior like Hillary's ducking of questions from the press.

In every case, French puts things Hillary already does against things he fears Trump might do, and presumes to call this a valid way of comparing the two.

But this is the kind of twisted logic you have to deploy when you back yourself into an intellectual corner and you can't defend your position, but you're completely unwilling to admit you were wrong. Donald Trump a very flawed candidate? Clearly. Donald Trump as bad as Hillary Clinton? That's completely insane. For a smart guy like David French and many of the other #NeverTrumpers to continue clinging to this position can only be explained in one way: They bluffed, they got called on the bluff, and even though it's plain that they were wrong and overplayed their hands, they can never admit it because they made a pact to take this all the way. No matter what.

The good news is that the #NeverTrumpers are far less numerous than they are vocal, and I don't think they're very influential at all. The other good news is that rational people can see just how horrible Hillary really is. And even if the #NeverTrumpers of the world are prepared to let her become president just to prove they will never back down, logical and rational people are not.

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