What Happens When NeverTrumpers Are Exiled From the Tribe?

A little over a month ago, neoconservative Bill Kristol tweeted this:

As a liberal, I have no illusions about agreeing with Kristol on much of anything, except that people like Donald Trump and Roy Moore pose a threat to our democratic institutions. But even as that tweet was probably written with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, it still tells us something about what is going on with some of the Republican NeverTrumpers.

Max Boot was even more explicit.

I think the ascendancy of Trump has revealed two very unflattering things about the Republican Party. One of which Eliot is referring to when he talks about the spinelessness and pusillanimity of the Republicans in Washington. But it also reveals something about the Republican grassroots, which is something even uglier, I think, because there is a lot of prejudice, racism, homophobia, all sorts of dark impulses out there, that I think were largely kept cloaked when you had leaders of the party like Mitt Romney and John McCain, who were fine individuals who did not appeal to the dark side of human nature.

But Donald Trump is not a fine individual and he appeals to that dark side, and he has shown how much of the support for Republican candidates around the country is based on some of these dark impulses. And frankly, to me, it’s been unnerving. It’s been deeply disturbing as somebody who was a life-long Republican, because what I see happening is that a lot of the criticisms the Democrats have made about Republicans—and which I resisted for years—have actually been vindicated.

I feel the need to remind Boot that Romney consistently used the dog whistle meme about Obama giving away free stuff to “those people,” and McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. But he has traveled a long way already, as is evidence by the longer version of his personal transformation in an article titled, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege.” As Boot made clear in that initial quote, much of this became clear to him with the election of Donald Trump.

Adam Serwer argues persuasively in the Atlantic that Trump’s election could not be explained by “economic anxiety,” because the poorest voters — those making less than $50,000 a year — voted predominantly for Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, “Trump defeated Clinton among white voters in every income category,” from those making less than $30,000 to those making more than $250,000. In other words, Serwer writes, Trump does not lead a “working-class coalition; it is a nationalist one.” That doesn’t mean that every Trump supporter is a racist; it does mean that Trump’s victory has revealed that racism and xenophobia are more widespread than I had previously realized.

I find these kinds of awarenesses among NeverTrumpers to be quite fascinating. That’s not because I feel any need to make heroes out of them, which is what Glenn Greenwald ridiculously suggested. Perhaps my interest is piqued in part because, at a much younger age, I went through a similar transformation as I began to examine the beliefs I had inherited from the family, church, and community in which I was raised.

But I think there is a broader lesson we could all benefit from learning. As an analogy, I have had the experience in my own personal life of defending someone out of a sense of loyalty, only to eventually have to face the fact that their critics were right. In other words, my loyalty blinded me from doing an honest examination of their faults. That is how tribalism works.

People like Max Boot and, to a lesser extent Bill Kristol, are finding themselves exiled from the tribe that calls itself “Republican” following the election of Donald Trump. Because of that, Boot can now take off the blinds of loyalty to the Republican Party and see things like this:

It’s been deeply disturbing as somebody who was a life-long Republican, because what I see happening is that a lot of the criticisms the Democrats have made about Republicans—and which I resisted for years—have actually been vindicated.

There is no way of knowing what is going to happen to the Republican Party after it followed the trajectory that inevitably led them to embrace Donald Trump. But coming to grips with an America that elected him (albeit via the Electoral College rather than the popular vote), has changed many of us—perhaps none more than the NeverTrumpers.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.