#NeverTrump seems poised to end, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Amid the post-Indiana hysterics, some vocal members of #NeverTrump were interviewed and asked the inevitable question: Where does the countermovement go from here?
Their responses were, by and large, underwhelming.
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It appears that, for all the bluster, leaders of the #NeverTrump initiative failed to plan for the possibility that Donald Trump would actually win the race he was dominating at the time of its inception.
Which is a real shame, because the breadth and depth of the opposition to Trump within the GOP provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fundamentally restructure the political landscape of the nation.
My social media feed has been chock-full of conservatives and lowercase-libertarians publicly announcing their abandonment of the GOP in reaction to the eventuality of a Trump nomination.
One can hardly blame them, given their perpetual abuse at the hands of the GOP establishment and the fact that the Trump clown car just sideswiped the entire conservative coalition into the ditch of political irrelevance, just as the anti-establishment fervor they helped foster was reaching fever pitch.
But if the rise of Trump can be attributed to anything, it is blind rage and empty reactionism – and those are precisely the things #NeverTrump seems set to adopt as its hallmarks in the coming election.
If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.
Most of these folks spent the year telling others “I understand you’re angry, but Trump isn’t the answer!” They have to know that switching their party affiliation from Republican to independent isn’t the answer, either.
Political independents are like civilians in a war zone: They can pick which side to cheer for, but they are ultimately irrelevant to the outcome of the battle.
There’s a reason that nearly every elected official in the country belongs to one of the two major parties. The duopoly has calcified for over two centuries here in the United States, and maintains a stranglehold on American politics, despite the lip-service offered to independent “swing voters” every four years.
Though they perennially form the largest single bloc of American voters, independents get little say in the political process. Rather, they are stuck choosing from the post-primary dregs of both parties.
They don’t dictate any solid narrative or subscribe to any singular platform, and thus are continually redefined by the media to suit the needs of the particular cycle, with little hard data to contradict any supposition made about them.
Independents are the distant deity of political squishes - the nebulous rationale for anything that moderates of both parties need to justify.
Registering as an independent drops you into political limbo à la “Inception” – your own hypothetical dreamworld where there is no risk, no reward, no investment and no impact.
It’s a haven for condescending folks who prefer to do their complaining from exclusively moral high ground – the hipsters of political bellyaching.
Unaffiliated voters can lob bombs anywhere, criticize everything, and condemn everyone, safe from the reciprocal accusations of hypocrisy that form an integral part of interparty warfare.
Clearly, not everyone fits that bill. Some folks switch just to make a statement, and then switch back as soon as another primary rolls around. Some simply don’t want to deal with the headaches of involvement beyond the general election. Some truly just don’t understand how the system works.
And all of those people will continue to be ignored by those running our government, who know they have exactly nothing to fear from these angry but apathetic masses.
For the most part, the folks switching their registrations today already know that. But for many of them, fatalism has become a cover for laziness and apathy, just as party loyalty often serves as a cover for political expedience and personal ambition.
To validate this point, all we need do is ask the obvious question: What good will you accomplish by joining the horde of quadrienniel voters registered as Independent?
Are Republican officials going to fall on their knees and beg you to return?
No, why would they? You just lost terribly to a man you despise, and who literally ran against everything you believe in.
Is the GOP establishment going to be driven back toward conservatives by a November loss?
Absolutely not. Trump proved that conservatives are no longer the defining bloc within the GOP – that we are replaceable, and therefore expendable.
Is Trump going to move further right in hopes of picking up disaffected conservative votes?
I think we all know the answer to that one. If he can win the Republican nomination while praising Planned Parenthood and promising to raise the minimum wage, he knows he has nothing to fear from dissenting conservatives.
There is plausible benefit to switching from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party or Constitution Party and casting a protest vote, but there is no realistic benefit at all to jumping from Republican to Independent.
There’s no question the Republican Party is currently a building on fire, but when making the jump, registering third party versus registering Independent is essentially a choice between landing in the pool and landing on the pavement.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the frustration.
I, along with decent people across America who refuse to support either a felon or a fool, hunger for courageous leadership. I, also try to leverage courage of conviction in a way that actually makes a difference in national governance.
And that’s why I think it’s imperative that the floodwaters of the #NeverTrump movement be channeled toward the one dam it seems uniquely capable of destroying: the crumbling levee of the Republican and Democrat parties.
This movement has - by definition - ruled out reconciliation with the Republican nominee - a boon for those tired of conservative pundits who talk a good game but fold like wet cardboard under pressure from party leaders.
But that only matters if disaffected conservatarians find a new vessel in which to pour their dedicated activism.
The third-party option is explored every election, usually by disgruntled folks whose first choice had no path to the nomination. But never before has such a discussion taken place in the shadow of a well-funded, well-organized campaign coordinated by a who's-who of national conservative leaders.
Trump is evidence that American political dynamics have shifted, and that while conservatives may not have a home in the GOP any longer, crossover Democrats do.
Thus, a third major party would not ensure defeat for conservatives - but might actually put the Right on equal footing with our moderate and leftist counterparts again.
#NeverTrump can still be the defining movement of this election, but only if we stop reacting to the immediate, and start looking beyond the nearest election.
I can't say whether the best path forward lies within or without the structure of the Republican Party, but what I can say with certainty is that, for the first time in my life, both options are viable.
And that's an opportunity that must not be wasted.
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