Byron York's NeverTrump Fixation
"It's over, Johnny," says Colonel Trautman after glancing through a window at a dozen police cars parked outside. "It's over!"
"Nothing is over! Nothing!" Rambo shouts in anger, pointing his finger. "You just don't turn it off!"
It was a memorable scene from 1982's First Blood, the Sylvester Stallone action movie that spawned a film franchise. On the heels of a long, violent battle with a small-town police force, troubled veteran John Rambo explains to his old commander that — for him — the Vietnam war still rages on. The enemy is still everywhere, his countrymen continue to betray him, and he just can't move on with his life.
That exchange sometimes comes to mind as I take in today's political commentary, specifically from the political right, whenever the discussion turns to those vile "NeverTrump" dissidents who are supposedly hellbent on "taking down" the Trump presidency. According to a number of pro-Trump commentators (and more than a few ardent Trump supporters), these people are members of an organized conspiracy campaign, and are actively plotting to oust our Commander-in-chief.
Sounds pretty serious, doesn't it?
The reality, however, isn't nearly as exciting. NeverTrump was never organized, nor was it even really a group. More importantly, it ceased to exist more than a year ago.
It's over, Johnny. It's over.
In truth, NeverTrump was simply a voting stance — one adopted during the 2016 campaign by a relatively small number of righties who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Donald Trump in either the Republican primary or the general election. Their reasons varied from Trump's lack of character, to his unfitness to serve as president, to fear over what he would do to the conservative movement and the country. NeverTrumpers had no leader and no common purpose. They were united only in their decision not to vote for the man who now sits in the Oval Office.
In the end, Trump won the election, the Right collectively accepted the results, and NeverTrumpers went their separate ways. Some have remained quite skeptical of — and unimpressed by — the president. Others have warmed up to him. Regardless, the term "NeverTrump" should have vanished from our political vocabulary as quickly as a campaign sign from a front yard.
Only...it didn't. A year later, it's still very much with us — artificially preserved by people like the Washington Examiner's Byron York, who likes to keep his readers apprised of the latest "NeverTrump" developments:
Those were samples from just this past week alone. York, who's been deriding NeverTrump since way back when it was still a real thing, won't stop doing it, even as it requires him to put forth the equivalent of fan-fiction.
This is particularly strange because York's not one of those slobbering Trump sycophants from talk radio or the hosting chair of a Fox News prime-time show. He's a respected journalist. In fact, when he's not fixated on torching NeverTrump straw-men, he produces some good work. He's smarter than this, and should definitely know better, but he continues to push the false narrative anyway, while his peers do their best to correct him.
It's over, Byron. It's over. But the solider can't turn it off.
One can only speculate that, like the Hannitys of the conservative-media world, York discovered long ago that the new Republican base flocks to stories of Trump being undermined, especially by people on his side of the aisle (who are expected by many to demonstrate unconditional loyalty to our president). It keeps coming back to this theme that Trump's failures and unpopularity are not his fault, but rather the fault of "the establishment" or "RINOs" or the "Deep State" or the "globalists" or whatever the term of the day happens to be. If the Democrats held majorities in Congress, things might be different. But with the GOP in control, the blame must be spread closer to home. And what better foil, under such circumstances, than those ungrateful NeverTrumpers who wouldn't help Trump defeat "Crooked Hillary" last November, when he needed them the most?
That's not to say that there aren't a handful of former NeverTrumpers who've let their personal distaste for Trump override their political sensibilities. As has been pointed out by fellow former NeverTrumpers, folks like Jennifer Rubin (of the Washington Post) and David Frum have allowed their Trump Derangement Syndrome to turn them into reflexive Trump adversaries, even going as far as to abandon previously embraced positions just for the sake of opposing Trump.
These people don't represent NeverTrump. NeverTrump was a principled voting stance with a clear expiration date, not a vow of eternal opposition.
It's over, Johnny. It's over.
If we really need a term for people like Rubin and Frum (I don't think we do), maybe we can call them Trumptagonists, or something of that nature. But continuing to present their point of view as "NeverTrump," and pretending it's an organized movement, does a huge disservice to many good, reasonable people.
The reality is that former NeverTrumpers in the media have been among the most fair and honest individuals in evaluating the Trump presidency. Rejecting the allure of lucrative partisan-hack commentary, people like Ben Shapiro, Guy Benson, S.E. Cupp, Jonah Goldberg, and Mary Katharine Ham (among others) have continued to demonstrate intellectual consistency in their analysis. When Trump screws up, they say so. When he does the right thing, they give him credit. When he's unfairly attacked by people in the media, they call out the shenanigans. What they haven't done is compromise their principles to carry Trump's water.
Purely from a career perspective, this isn't an easily maintainable practice. The political landscape has changed dramatically since Donald Trump entered the arena, and those who have refused to change who they are, to accommodate how their news organizations prefer to cover the era, have paid a price.
Erick Erickson (a former NeverTrumper who was recently let go by Fox News) described this predicament in a recent piece:
"...but it has been harder and harder to put me in the appropriate contributor box. I am neither anti-Trump nor pro-Trump, but a conservative who does not think he is, but thinks he is advancing some things commendably. All news shows on all networks tend to favor a straight R v. D panel and I'm not in those boxes anymore."
Sadly, that "binary choice" we heard so much about during the election never really left — at least not as far as some news organizations are concerned.
Earlier this month, Jim Treacher explained why he's no longer with the Daily Caller:
I lost my job this year, in large part, because I wouldn't jump on the MAGA train. But I have too much respect for myself to go the @JRubinBlogger/@DavidFrum route.
It's been awhile since I flipped pizzas. Maybe I could go back to that. — Jim Treacher is a dumb pseudonym (@jtLOL) December 20, 2017
National Review's Jonah Goldberg also recently touched on this topic:
"Indeed, one could argue that it is much more difficult, costly, and risky to not get swept up in either movement. For instance, unless trends change, I suspect that when my Fox contract is up, I’ll be going the way of Erickson."
It's hard to imagine that commentators as insightful as these individuals would be kicked to the curb for being insufficiently partisan, and stating what they truly believe, but that's the gist of the situation. I don't know any of these men personally, but I've talked to other people in similar positions who've either seen their platforms cut back, or have felt inclined to silence their dissent on certain topics...because it's safer.
And when Byron York perpetuates the notion that conservatives who didn't vote for Donald Trump are actively conspiring against him, he's further marginalizing credible individuals and honest analysis, while contributing to a tribal political environment that hasn't made anyone any smarter.
You might recall that at the end of First Blood, John Rambo finally comes to accept the reality of the situation, and puts down his weapons. Maybe York will eventually do the same, but don't count on it. Good box-office results tend to prologue stories that would have otherwise concluded.