Never Trump? Never DeSantis? Never Republican?
The proper response to American illiberalism.
Mark it down: On Thursday night Mona Charen and Bill Kristol will join me on the livestream to talk about the shape of the 2024 primary field and the next phase of the war in Ukraine.
Thursday night. 8pm in the East. Only for Bulwark+.
1. Root Causes
I want to run head-on at two questions I’ve been fencing with over the last couple weeks:
Should people who view Trump as an illiberal threat be working to help the candidacy of Ron DeSantis?
If not DeSantis, are there other Republicans who Never Trump types should be pulling for?
In other words: Never Trump, Never DeSantis, or Never Republican—pick one. So let’s talk about each in turn.
The key assumption implicit in the theory of “Never Trump” is that Donald Trump represented/represents a unique threat to American democracy and if Trump the man goes away, then the threat is diminished.
I am not certain this is correct. I tried getting at this point on Thursday Night Bulwark
It is not incredibly comforting to me to be told that the way to get tens of millions of Republican voters to turn away from Donald Trump is to present yourself as saying: “Donald Trump was a pussy. I know how to use the power of government to hurt people really bad.”
That is concerning to me.
And I think the assumption in . . . our circles is that DeSantis doesn’t mean any of that stuff. He’s really just a normie. He’s not different from Mitch McConnell. This “I want to be Viktor Orbán” thing is just the thing he’s saying because he needs to say it to get elected.
And maybe that’s true. But none of us know that it’s really true.
And the other problem is that, even if it is maybe true, once he’s in power, the people who voted for him—his people—they want the Orbán stuff. Is he going to stand there and say, “No. I’m not going to give it to you.”
He does not strike me as a guy who has ever told his supporters, “I’m not going to give you guys the candy you want.”
There is an argument in conservative circles that using DeSantis as a lever to pry Republican voters away from Trump is an unalloyed good which everyone in America ought to support.
Maybe it is. I’m open to that possibility.
But I am not as committed to it as the people in the anti-anti-Trump space seem to be.
Also: I'm open to the possibility that DeSantis could, either by accident or design, wind up amplifying the illiberal desires of a significant chunk of Republican voters.1
Here is the most important question about Trumpism: Was Trump a cause or a symptom? His takeover of the Republican party coincided with a large segment of the party explicitly embracing illiberalism. Was this coincidental or causal?