The #NeverTrump movement -- made up of a small cohort of Republicans who refuse to support President Donald Trump -- is a revealing phenomenon in American politics.
During Trump s presidential bid in 2016, Mitt Romney made a huge splash by delivering a blistering speech condemning Trump s candidacy. "He s playing members of the American public for suckers: he gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat," Romney said, describing his party s standard bearer as a "fraud."
But once Trump was elected, Romney kissed the ring in hopes of becoming the next secretary of state and the Republican Party coalesced around the new President. Now a Utah senator, Romney saw the light in February 2020 and voted to convict the impeached President for abuse of power. This election cycle he has announced once again that he won t support Trump s reelection bid. And now more prominent Republicans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, are joining him.
But the question remains: can this movement make a difference beyond publicly disavowing Trump?
After all, most Republicans rallied around Trump in 2016 and voted for him. More importantly, they stood by him in the years that followed. Even Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, once prominent detractors, turned into his most important foot soldiers on Capitol Hill.
While some conservative pundits such as David Frum and William Kristol have continued to fight against Trump with both their words and actions, many #NeverTrumpers have simply shared their disapproval of the President. This allows some #NeverTrumpers to distance themselves from the President when it s convenient, while still benefiting from being part of the GOP. Sen. Susan Collins, who has repeatedly spoken out against the President, has in many instances voted in favor of Trump and his agenda after much hemming and hawing.
Is it possible for this faction to become more substantive in 2020 and actually take steps to help Joe Biden win the election? Of all the figures who are defining the new wave of #NeverTrumpism, George Conway, a conservative attorney who is married to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, leads the pack. Conway knows Trump better than most, and he has made it clear that this commander-in-chief poses a threat to our democracy.
Conway and his allies at the political action committee Lincoln Project are producing hard-hitting ads against Trump, while releasing pro-Biden ads in swing states. "Joe Biden is a strong, caring leader who can guide us out of the hell Americans find ourselves in. It s imperative Joe Biden wins this November," said John Weaver, a co-founder of the group.
Besides producing ad campaigns, there is another way the #NeverTrump movement can take action. The Lincoln Project has shown the way by directly supporting Biden s candidacy. Elected officials in the GOP need to announce, in public and on the record, that they will vote for Biden. This is the only real measure of where one stands on the current presidency. Choosing to abstain from voting for Trump (Romney said he wrote in his wife s name in 2016) is simply not enough. Biden will need every possible vote to achieve victory, especially if the pandemic threatens turnout.
Reporters should also pressure these politicians and ask who they will vote for in 2020. The #NeverTrump movement can make a difference -- and prove the GOP can change course — by producing a long list of powerful Republicans who will vote for Biden. Given the recent New York Times and Siena College poll that shows Trump s support among white voters is waning, a number of prominent Republicans who will publicly throw their support behind Biden could help turn the tide.
Most politicians are unlikely to take a public stand out of fear they might anger Republican voters who by and large still support the administration. They understand, more than they are willing to admit, that Trump is a reflection of the modern Republican Party rather than someone who has distorted it. As Republican political operative Stuart Stevens, a member of the Lincoln Project and the author of a forthcoming book, "It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump," writes: "The reality is that President Trump is a symptom, not the source, of the disease that is ravaging the Republican Party."
It remains to be seen whether the serious dysfunction and failed leadership that we see every day might prompt more Republicans to admit that something has gone profoundly wrong with their party and that the only way to start a new era is by making sure Biden defeats Trump.