Never-Trump Republicans have always worried about the president’s takeover of the GOP, but now they’re expressing concern that he’s exposed their life’s work as a lie.
A new book by political scientists Robert Saldin and Steven Teles examines the 2016 election’s effects on Republican elites, who were shocked that former reality TV host Donald Trump scooped up low-information voters as more traditional candidates like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush competed for high-information voters, according to The Bulwark.
“To buy into Trump,” said GOP strategist Stuart Stevens, “you have to believe that the essence of what the Republican Party stood for — personal responsibility, embracing of legal immigration, character counts, strong on Russia — you have to believe that all of that was just a marketing slogan and it didn’t mean anything—any more than, we say, ‘Chevrolet’s the heartbeat of America.’”
Stevens said that has proved “every critic of the Republican Party right.”
“[Those critics] said the Republican Party really didn’t care about people, that it wasn’t a party that was inclusive,” he added. “Just go down the list — ‘doesn’t respect women.’ He’s made all that true, and he made all the wrong people right.”
Saldin and Teles, whose new book Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites, argue that right-wing elites are essential to sustaining democracy by restraining and marginalizing extremists on their own side and persuading liberals or independents.
“This physical and social proximity can make them highly oppositional to liberalism,” the authors wrote, “but they also draw their sustenance and friendship networks from within generally liberal institutions and wish to preserve, while also comprehensively reforming, them.”
However, according to Saldin and Teles, some of those same never-Trump elites are just now beginning to recognize their own roles in promoting or ignoring the demonization of liberals over the past three decades, which helped give rise to extreme polarization and provided a safe space for racist extremists in their movement.
“It wasn’t entirely just with Trump,” said conservative columnist Mona Charen. “It had started before then, it started with the Trayvon Martin thing. [That made me] realize that racism wasn’t as fringey a phenomenon as I had thought it was. I thought it was just in the fever swamps — but I don’t think that anymore.”
Saldin and Teles noted that never-Trumpers had minimized or denied the extremism within their party until they could blame the president.
“The enthusiastic response that Trump’s cruelty, racism, and misogyny generated in a large part of the party base lent support to charges that those inclinations were in fact baked into the party’s DNA,” they wrote.