This letter, a week ago, would have been totally unnecessary, even to the point of hilarity and absurdity. But now things have changed. Donald Trump’s momentum has swung from six feet under to crawling out of the grave, and Hillary Clinton is doing her best to bury herself, which she really did from 2009-2015. Only the crimes have finally started to catch up with her.
If things continue to change at the velocity, vector and acceleration they have in the past week, it’s very possible we could have a President Trump. Now, possible doesn’t mean highly likely, but FiveThirtyEight’s “polls plus” model has Trump’s chances at 30 percent, up from somewhere in the teens last week. That’s a significant movement.
So let’s dispense with the guessing and get to the point here.
I’m a Never Trumper, and I’m writing to other Never Trumpers. We opposed Trump in the primaries. We opposed Trump as the nominee. We opposed Trump as a candidate for president. We’ve called him unfit. We’ve at times predicted his enormous loss. We’ve speculated about him losing every state (at least I have). We’ve flirted with a third party. We’ve supported the independent Evan McMullin as a sane alternative.
What will we do with President Trump?
First, back up a bit. What will we do with a President Hillary Clinton? Why of course, we will oppose her in just about everything. We will fight her agenda; we will hope she fails; we will hope her Supreme Court appointments are permanently shelved. We will criticize her, mock her, and work actively for her impeachment for corruption and gross negligence with classified intelligence.
If that previous paragraph doesn’t describe you, perhaps you should go read Slate. To hear from some of Trump’s supporters, one would think that every Never Trumper is a secret Hillary admirer, but let’s assume you’re like me and oppose Trump for ideological, spiritual, or simply commonsense reasons. If you opposed him simply because you thought he’d lose to Clinton, well, if he wins, you’re just wrong. Live with it.
Most Never Trumpers thought Trump couldn’t beat Hillary. That doesn’t mean we wanted Hillary to win–we just believed she would because Trump is who he is: a vulgar narcissistic cad with a streak of vengeance as wide as the stripe on the skunk’s back.
But now let’s consider him as our president, as a thought experiment, but not too hypothetical, since in 6 days we will know the answer. November 9th, Trump wins. Let’s assume there are no faithless electors (although if Hillary wins, I hope with all my heart there are). Let’s assume the election isn’t thrown into the House of Representatives (we can wish it, but it’s still a long shot).
President Trump is about to take office on January 20th, 2017. Do you support him? Is he your president–as in not the opposition? Do you actively work to see his agenda implemented and to do your best to influence his decisions? Or do you hope he fails and you can ride out the next four years to get to 2020?
This scenario isn’t new. The Democrats had a dark horse in 1976. Jimmy Carter wasn’t a celebrity billionaire who made his fortune in gambling, with a personal life surrounded by super models, beauty pageant queens, and numerous affairs. He was an evangelical in an increasingly secular party, an engineer in a glad-handing political world filled with larger-than-life characters. He was the opposite of Ted Kennedy. And they all hated his grit-eating, Billy Beer slugging, y’all go sit on the porch, slap-yo-momma guts.
Many will hate Trump’s guts. I can’t imagine he’ll get too many smiling meet-and-greets from Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz, or Sen. Kelly Ayotte. But as political allies (in party at least) they will have to work together. Will we work together with Trump for four years? Cruz’s seat will come up in 2018, will Trump back him or work to primary him?
Everything I know about Donald Trump tells me he’ll support most Republicans who go along with him. That’s how he is. If they work with him, he’ll work with them. But “working with Trump” means that Trump gets the credit for success, and never the blame for failure. It’s how he operates (is Obama any different?). I don’t believe for a second that Trump will do half the crazy things he promised as a candidate, half because he didn’t really mean them, and half because he has no idea how to do it.
So if Trump wins, he might be somewhat “malleable” as many of his early surrogates believed. At least he’ll be open to influence. Without having to win an election, Trump will be more free to operate at a political level versus a populist agenda. But he won’t stray too far from “the people” because he simply enjoys being worshipped too much.
Will we give him space to operate and grace to govern?
I think we should. I think it would be a mistake to oppose Trump as president. I think it would do egregious harm to the Republican Party and by extension to the cause of conservatives to oppose a President Trump on principle. But I don’t think he should get a free pass either.
Erick Erickson is famous for tagging President George W. Bush when he tried to appoint Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. This doesn’t mean Erick opposed Bush, but he did hold his president accountable as a conservative and as a Republican. We should treat a President Trump no differently. If Trump decides to use unconstitutional, authoritarian means to achieve his goals, we should call him out. If he nominates a bad choice for the Supreme Court, we should voice our opposition.
If Trump is a thin-skinned jerk in office who takes the slightest criticism as evidence of treason, and uses the levers of government as his personal revenge machine, we should favor the side of justice and righteousness. But he hasn’t done those things yet. Even if we think he will, we must give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
The torch and pitchfork brigades will be extra-vigilant, watching us for any signs of disloyalty. We should let them know that a President Trump is our president too, and that we support him as long as he stands up in the best traditions of Republican presidents. We might expect a Nixon, but we can’t whine and complain if he’s not a Reagan (he’s not, believe me).
If Trump wins, we have a much larger opportunity for healing and unity within our party. It’s better to have Trump in the White House with his wild-eyed, frothing cult members having to observe the decorum of the office than Clinton in the White House and Trump on the outside whipping up discontent in the media. How much better, we don’t know, but it has to be better in some degree, nuclear war being the great equalizer (let’s not go there).
So we’re now Never Trump. Assuming we have cast our vote elsewhere (I’ve heard Peyton Manning, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Adele–who isn’t even American, in addition to McMullin), and Trump wins on Nov. 8, we have to decide if we are Never President Trump or just Never Vote Trump.
I think it’s clear we have to move past that question and support him in office. If he wins, it was without us, but if he’ll accept us, we should accept him as president.
Tomorrow, I’ll ask a similar question to Trump supporters.