If the election were today and the choice was Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I would either not vote for president for the first time in my adult life or do a write-in vote. But the election is not today and that is one of the problems with #NeverTrump.
As I understand it, #NeverTrump is an attempt to concentrate the minds of Trump voters. The theory is that if Trump voters see early in the process that a large enough number of Republicans will sit out the election if Trump is the nominee, that it will throw the election to Hillary, they will reconsider their support for Trump and back a different candidate.
That is ridiculous. It assumes Trump voters can be reasoned with. Where is the evidence for that assumption? The people who make it are either not talking to Trump voters or are not listening to what they are saying. If anything, #NeverTrump, much like Mitt Romney’s anti-Trump intervention, will serve only to confirm all the worst suspicions Trump voters have of an incompetent self-interested Establishment.
But #NeverTrump has another problem, identical in a way to the problem with pro-life/pro-family voters who preemptively announce that “of course” they will support Trump if he is the nominee.
In a brief debate with Crisis columnist Austin Ruse on EWTN News Nightly, I asserted that Trump cannot be trusted on social issues. The reasons are best articulated in An Open Letter to Donald Trump to which I was a signatory. But having watched the EWTN broadcast, I believe the winner of my debate with Ruse was … Ben Johnson. It was Ben, an Orthodox priest who writes for LifeSite News, who said that if Trump is the nominee and he wants to win in the Fall, he will have to deal with pro-lifers.
When you are already saying in the dead of Winter “#NeverTrump,” you are throwing your cards on the table and saying “That’s it! I’m out!” When you are already saying, eight months in advance, “We’ll put Trump signs on our lawn because the thing we fear most is Hillary’s SCOTUS appointees,” you are already showing your hand to a man for whom everything is a negotiation. The pro-life movement should be smarter than that.
The fact is, if the choice is Trump vs. Hillary, pro-lifers have been dealt a very weak hand. Social conservatives in Connecticut know a thing or two about how to play a weak hand. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why I have been so passionately opposed to Donald Trump. Conservatives on the national level always played a stronger hand. Conservatives nationwide should not so easily acquiesce to the New England-like Dhimmitude that will be their lot in a Trump-led GOP. If you knew what awaits you, what it is like for us in Connecticut, you would fight like hell to prevent it.
But the answer is not #NeverTrump. Note that the smartest anti-Trump voices are not saying #NeverTrump. Robert P. George, for instance, co-authored an appeal signed by several Catholic luminaries declaring Trump “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States.” But according to a Facebook comment by Austin Ruse, “on radio Robby said the question of the general will come later and would depend on who the candidates are and if there is a ‘credible third party candidate.'” And Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s eloquent cri de coeur did not say “#NeverTrump.” What Sasse wrote was “Given what we know about him today, here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate…” (emphasis added).
I hope that either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio can still be the nominee. But if it is Trump, Ben Johnson is right. If Trump wants to be president, he will have to deal with the pro-life movement. We should negotiate from a position of strength. The possibility that we might walk in November must be real, it cannot be an empty threat. And to keep us from walking, Trump should answer now the most important question of all: Who will be his nominees to the Supreme Court?
But if we tell Donald Trump in advance either that he will never have our vote or that he already has our vote, pro-lifers will have already lost, no matter who wins in November. That is no way to play a weak hand.