Welcome back to Evesplaining, politics writer Eve Peyser's column about why everyone else is wrong and she's right.
Donald Trump has the unique ability to bring people together through their sheer dislike of him.
The unending, agonizing failure of his administration has spawned a new generation of spirited activism. Anyone who opposes his regime has been lumped into a singular Resistance—from old-school liberals to the growing young socialist movement to recovering Republicans a la David Frum to relative centrists like New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand who have reinvented themselves as progressive crusaders. With liberals aghast at the continuing Republican support for a president who brags about his "great intel" to senior Russian officials, it's only natural that any time a conservative deviates from the pack, he or she is lovingly welcomed into the arms of the righteous. Everyone is always talking about how bad partisanship is—but what if anti-Trumpism wasn't partisanship but a moral imperative that all Americans, Republican or Democrat, could embrace?
No one has capitalized on the Resistance's appetite for Never Trump conservatism as fiercely as Evan McMullin, a Mormon former CIA operations officer who ran as an independent in the 2016 election in an effort to appeal to conservatives too disgusted with Trump to vote Republican. Winning less than 1 percent of the national vote, McMullin's campaign was largely unremarkable—the Atlantic's McKay Coppins aptly described his speeches as a blend of "the unbridled idealism of a West Wing episode with the unremarkable delivery of a high-school social-studies teacher."
Predictably, his campaign had no effect on the larger political scene (though did win a little over 20 percent of the vote in Utah). Nevertheless, the 2016 election catapulted him into a new role as a Resistance leader.
On his wildly popular Twitter account, he warns of the impending threat of authoritarianism in his epic threads, implores Republicans to dump Trump, and laments the disintegration of the United States government. He's appeared on liberal podcasts like Pod Save America and Slate's Political Gabfest to sound similar notes.
The McMullin love makes sense on some level—the mythical principled Republican is a liberal's wet dream. Patriotism FTW! Come together to fight Trump! Heck yeah norms!
But venerating Never Trump conservatives is a mistake. Yes, Trump is a bad president in part because of his blatant disregard for the rules, his "alternative facts," and his erratic, typo-laden tweets. But the worst aspects of Trump's presidency are the policies he's pushing that will change people's lives—and on that score, he's governing as a regular Republican.
The current crisis facing the country has nothing to do with Trump's unapologetic corruption and incompetence but rather the healthcare bill being written in secret that stands to take away coverage from millions of Americans. Trump says he wants to make sure it's not "mean," but given everything we know about him, it's more likely that he doesn't give a shit and will sign whatever Republican leaders put in front of his questionably sized hands.
Never Trump conservatives aren't dismayed by Trump's stance on healthcare, nor are they bothered the threat he poses to the climate, the economy, or women's rights. So before you kneel at the altar of the Upstanding Principled Republican, ask yourself: What about Trump don't you like? An effective resistance movement should have a broader focus than the president's potentially illegal and treasonous behavior—it has to protest the policies and ideology he furthers.
In a recent interview with the Atlantic, McMullin explained, "When authoritarians come to power, it can reshuffle the political spectrum. Instead of having the traditional right versus left, you end up with a dynamic in which there are those who decide they are supporting the authoritarian regime, and then you have a group that opposes them." But the shift toward authoritarianism has as much to do with the Republican Party as it does with Trump. The GOP's attempt to push the healthcare bill through the Senate without having hearings can't be separated from the authoritarianism McMullin is referencing.
The horror of Trump has reinvigorated American political protest, but focusing the movement solely on Trump is a mistake—his ascent to power was made possible by the Republican Party, and he continues to be propped up by Republicans at every turn. Even McMullin's campaign, however principled, was ultimately hollow, a way for conservative voters to distance themselves from the ugliness that their own party had birthed.
Not everyone who shares a dislike for Trump is your friend. McMullin is certainly preferable to pro-Trump conservatives, but if you're looking for allies in a fight against this administration, maybe you should find people who share similar goals, not right-wingers mourning an administration that has showed conservatism for what it really is.
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