Where Do NeverTrumpers Go?
Do they return to the GOP with a NoTrump/Trump-Lite Candidate, and will the GOP accept them? And my take on Episode 3 of The Last of Us
As it stands right now, Trump has a clear lead to be the GOP nominee. He has 100% name identification, a strong hold on the GOP base voters who always show up in primaries, and can grift and scam his way to $400 million in contributions before the primary season is over. Trump also bent the party apparatus to his will and those structural aspects are still in place.
But all is not wine and roses in Mar-a-Lago. His early entry into the race was a sign of weakness, hoping to clear out competitors before they got in, something that did not happen as the usual names size up a run. His lackadaisical campaign after that exemplifies a lack of seriousness and energy he never showed in 2016. He’s also a known commodity at this point and even a lot of GOP voters are going shopping for something better; after all, he lost to Joe Biden and if there is anything Trump seeks to avoid, its the title of “Loser.”
There were many in the GOP ecosystem who fled after Trump wrangled control of the nomination. Many saw the writing on the wall early and tried to align behind John Kasich or even *gulp/SMH* Ted Cruz to prevent catastrophe, but to no avail. They had a hard time voting for Hillary but may have reluctantly held their nose and voted D if only to save America and Democracy (I suspect most didn’t vote praying for a Clinton win). After Trump became President, even more sprinted to the exits when they saw how he actually governed. Still others that were included into the circle quickly realized they were effectively the guardrails before authoritarianism. Some have affirmatively voiced their perspectives (whether through legitimate news stories or opportunistic book deals) while others receive their subpoenas and the stories of how ridiculously awful Trump was as leader of the free world slowly come out. The GOP is now a hollowed out shell containing nothing but Trump supporters and apologists.
Which begs the question— if Trump WEREN’T the nominee will those that left the party return? It’s a serious question. I think a lot who were previously within the Fox News/GOP bubble before have different perspectives now that they are outside of it. Others are still hoping for “conservative” governance again and will hop on the first chance they get the minute someone else looks likely to defeat Trump. A lot of it has to do with what these individuals did before and what they do now. Nonetheless, I’ve broken them out into separate groups.
The Bulwarkers/Media Butterflies
Charlie Sykes is very much an old school business conservative. As a Wisconsin Republican, he has close ties to Paul Ryan, Reince Preibus, Scott Walker and the whole WIGOP crew. More than anyone with Trump, he had probably the biggest and earliest “come to Jesus” moment back in 2015 when he saw Trump rise and started ringing the alarms. His subsequent book (“How the Right Lost it’s Mind”) is a quintessential historical synopsis of everything that led the party to Trump (not the other way around). Sykes, a fixture of the Right Wing Media Bubble, left it to become a sound of reason on more mainstream news outlets.
But Sykes did something more; he CREATED a separate media organization this time fixed on the center-right of the electorate, for other apostates and conservatives without a home. It has proven a huge success, garnering a following even among Democrats and represents a more midstream approach. It has attracted the likes of Tim Miller, Will Saletan, Bill Kristol, Mona Charen and many others, and attracts people for its smart articles, sensible editorials and entertaining podcasts across the political spectrum.
Still others like Nicole Wallace,Alyssa Farah Griffin, and Ana Navarro have made comfortable homes outside of the GOP media bubble by hosting shows on MSNBC and ABC, and being fixtures on news channels like CNN. Mainstream news media, always anxious for a conservative voice to balance out the coverage have found these women amicable and experienced pundits who can bring in viewers.
To me, it seems these kind of figures will just eschew changes to the GOP altogether. They’ve adequately built homes outside the GOP sphere of influence and now that they see how toxic and horrid it really is they intend on staying closer to the center where it is much more profitable and where their opinions matter. They may talk up GOP candidates or flirt with Republican governance again, but I doubt any of them will ever fully return to that select narrow audience ever again.
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Rick Wilson, The Lincoln Project and the GOP Campaign Class
Rick Wilson coined the perfect phrase when he named his book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” or #ETTD for short. Wilson supported Marco Rubio in the 2016 primaries through his PAC, but once Rubio was out he spent as much time as possible attacking Donald Trump. He and other campaign managers and GOP establishment figures started “The Lincoln Project” as a group to raise money and attack Trump throughout 2016 and the early part of his Presidency. They hated Trump, what he was doing to the party, what he represented and how Trump was single-handedly ruining electoral prospects for other candidates (potential clients).
With the start of this election cycle, you can bet Wilson and other campaign workers are already angling for prime positions in other campaigns against Trump. As another Floridian, it would not surprise me at all if he was already helping DeSantis on his campaign, or maybe even Rubio again if he runs. Wilson and the others are all going to line up working for other candidates, and if Trump loses, it likely means their candidate wins, since they’ll all line up against Trump this time when they drop out. It seems extremely unlikely to me that they will leave the GOP in any meaningful way, even if they have no problem throwing bricks at it when Trump is running the show.
Should Trump win the nomination, I suspect you’ll see more of the same from them; namely bashing Trump, voting for a second Biden term, and starting with a clean slate for 2028.
John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and the GOP Governing Class
This is probably the most interesting group. Some have already begun firing up fundraising and interest in the hopes of making a run AGAINST Trump. That alone will be worth watching, particularly how they attack Trump but keep themselves above that fray. Those that do run against him are likely on the outside of the GOP apparatus should Trump win. If he loses however, they’ll be prime figures in the GOP campaign regardless of which one wins the nomination. They would be ties between the old GOP guard and the up and coming potential Presidency. Someone like Haley would be a star in a campaign like that. Long story short, if they succeed in wrestling the nomination from Trump, they will all be seen as the future Republican Party.
A common complaint about them is just how politically craven they were to Trump. The way they turned a blind eye to his worst behaviors, the way they genuflected to every imbecilic thing he did, the way they claimed afterward to be the voice of reason in an otherwise chaotic shambolic White House; that alone is almost disqualifying for winning in 2024. However, it’s a much easier swallow pulling a lever for Rubio or Haley than it is for Trump, and the GOP would want to capitalize on that not just for the national race, but for downballot races as well.
As for John Bolton, he’ll always be the gadfly on conservative media, and will suck up to any Republican in the White House. Sooner or later, that administration will hire him and when he’s either exiled or flat out fired will be the first to put into a book how he alone tried to steer the President in the right direction and was denied.
Former GOP Voters
This is the biggest question mark. Have they seen the light and recognize how corrupt and poisoned the GOP bubble was? Do they fall back in line behind a rival campaign in the primaries and for the general election? Do they go back home to the GOP or have they found a new home in the center/center-left? I suspect a lot of this will have more to do with who the Democratic candidate is rather than which, if any, GOP candidate can take it from Trump. If the candidate is Biden or someone from the center they may still be OK being outside of the GOP for now. However, if it isn’t Biden, they may feel uncomfortable with other alternatives.It remains to be seen whether there even is someone in the Democratic Party who could appeal to this group on a national level.
In any event, this may be the biggest “getable” votes out there for either side, and may be the swing voters that give the White House to one party or the other.
PurpleAmerica’s Recommended Stories
I started writing this today and was about halfway through when Jonathan V. Last’s newsletter came into my inbox. If you don’t subscribe to Bulwark+ or see Last’s newsletters, you are really missing out, because he seems to have his finger on the pulse on issues well in advance of other outlets. Today’s was about how Trump is already losing the fundraising and “GOP Grifter Class” to DeSantis. Its a must read.
To show even more how Last is thinking ahead, here was yesterday’s about how if Trump leaves the GOP for a Third Party bid, how much that royally screws the GOP.
PurpleAmerica’s Obscure Fact of the Day
You know how we referred to President Obama as “44” and Trump as “45,” representing which President they were? Well, in actuality, Obama is the 43rd different person to be President, and Trump is the 44th? So why are they off?
Because Grover Cleveland is the only President to return to office after being voted out, and is considered both the 22nd and 24th Presidents.
PurpleAmerica Cultural Criticism Corner
I’m really tired of dystopia. I want more optimism. Cinema has been bleak for far too long and television has been since The Walking Dead came along. I’m so tired of zombies that its all just a colliding cavalcade of crappy cliches now.
Which is why when a friend suggested “The Last of Us” on HBO I was reluctant. The tropes have all been done before and I’m just tired of the same old hellish landscape. I told him I’ll watch the first three episodes and if I’m not impressed I’m quitting.
The first episode (actually the first 10 minutes of it) were quite interesting, but it lost my interest from there. Same old same old.
The second episode added some to the story but was everything I had seen before on the Walking Dead. There was nothing new here.
The third episode absolutely GUTTED me. Not only was it hard, rough and what you would expect from a zombie apocalypse, but it was also beautiful, encouraging, poignant, and yes, optimistic. It was an emotional hour in which I had witnessed one of the finest acting perfomances (from Nick Offerman of all people) of the last decade. By the end, I was sobbing, and for a guy like me, that’s a very difficult thing to admit. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. Don’t worry, you don’t need to watch the first two episodes to really grasp it. It is so worth your time. A recap that hints/spoils some points appears below, but I would recommend you go into it without knowing a thing, just as I did. And dammit #HBOMax, you won me over for now.
I will be on vacation for the next week, so no posts, but please do yourself a favor and look back at some of my previous posts and let me know what you think.
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Sykes has also often criticized many of his fellow Wisconsin Republicans, including Paul, Walker and WI Senator Ron Johnson for what he sees as a lack of leadership and craven partisan political decisions.
Who had an even BIGGER and MUCH EARLIER come to Jesus moment when she was tasked with helping Sarah Palin for the McCain campaign in 2008. For that story, read “Game Change”
I doubt they would vote for Harris, and Warren, AOC, Booker and the rest are out of the question. It remains to be seen whether Buttigieg or Klobuchar or someone else can emerge from the middle.
Joe Manchin or Jon Tester would, but the chances either have in a Democratic primary are slim to none.