Why the Republican Never-Trumpers Will Fail (Hint: They Won’t Do Their Own Job)

Tom Ridge? Christine Whitman? Another boring statement? That's the best these guys can do?

By David Mills Published on May 26, 2021

What do names like Tom Ridge, Christine Whitman, Charlie Dent, and Bill Weld mean to people nowadays? Basically nothing. You might not have heard of them if you’re under 50. Even if you’ve heard of them, you don’t care about them, you don’t care what they say, and you really don’t care what they want you to do.

Trust me. You don’t. And that tells you pretty much all you need to know about anti-Trump Republicans.

If it is a Movement

They and a lot — over 150! — of other self-identified “Republican Party reformers” recently launched an anti-Trump group, with as much fanfare as they could manage, which was almost none. 

The movement, if it is a movement, seems to be run by former pointless presidential candidate Evan McMullin and someone named Miles Taylor. The “reformers” want to start a third party, or a kind of third party, or a dissenting group within the Republican party, or something. 

The announcement appeared as an article in the Deseret News, a worthy newspaper, but many, many miles from the center of things. A few of the founders published an article the same day in the Washington Post, always happy to give Trump’s conservative enemies a platform. A few days later so did The Economist, about which ditto. The political sites like CNN and The Hill ran stories because they had to say something, but told pretty much the same story in a few hundred words, because there wasn’t much to say.

The group even has a “manifesto.A Call for American Renewal doesn’t promise anything very concrete or specific. As manifestos go, it’s pretty vague. It’s on the conservative side of the middle, but not on the right in a way to offend liberals. The spectre of Donald Trump haunts it. The key to reading it is to assume that every claim they make isn’t so much a claim to do something as the declaration that they will not do what Trump did.

The Has-Beeniest of Has Beens

Back to those significantly irrelevant names. Remember that these were the names the founders chose to leak ahead of time, as a kind of teaser. They thought these names would get your interest.

Weirdly, they didn’t mention better known names like the columnist Mona Charen, foreign policy analyst Max Boot, and politician Joe Walsh. Or George Conway, who became famous for despising Trump while his wife worked for him, or professional publicity hound Anthony Scaramucci. Maybe they thought these names would scare some people off.

Good grief, Ridge etc. have been the most has-beeniest of has beens. They were once kind of famous and powerful. Now they and most of the other signers are off somewhere in that grubby world where ex-politicians make money off their names and influence. 

Ridge was the governor of Pennsylvania and then ran the Department of Homeland Security under Bush II. He resigned at the end of 2004. Seventeen years ago. Whitman was the governor of New Jersey and then ran another federal agency. She resigned in 2003.

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To be fair, they included Barbara Comstock. She’s a two-term congresswoman who’s now (surprise!) a lobbyist. She lost her seat in 2018 when Trump lost the House. But, and here’s the thing, she’s just as obscure and irrelevant as the others.

Ridge etc. have no power, no constituency. They bring nothing to the table. They’re a bizarre choice for the teaser. And the rest of the list doesn’t do much better. 

Still, those names do tell us something. They tell us the whole effort’s absurd. This group of anti-Trump Republicans don’t understand politics. Trump does. He knows what he’s doing and so he wins. Not the election, but control of the Republican party and first place in the race to be the party’s candidate in 2024.

Parties and Power

Like it or not, party politics is about power. You have to be able to bring out a lot of people who will vote for you and your people. You have to take away votes from the other guys by swinging the votes in the middle. Most importantly, you have to be a man people want to follow or have a vision they want to embrace.

Does anyone want to follow Tom Ridge? Christine Whitman? Evan McMullin? George Conway? Does anyone want to charge into battle to defend the lofty platitudes of A Call for American Renewal? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? 

Trump knows this. He knows what moves masses of people. He knows how to control a political party. The businessman understands politics better than the politicians. You may dislike him, but you can’t blame him for winning. Everyone knows the rules of the game. Trump just plays it better.

No party should be dominated by one figure or one point of view. (That’s true of the Democratic party as well. The nation would be better off if its leadership included the people Democrats for Life represents.)

A party needs powerful leaders fighting for influence. It needs leaders speaking for as many different groups as possible. It needs a range of beliefs criticizing each other and making the case for doing things their way. A party needs its rightwing, its leftwing, and its center.  This would be true were the head of the party St. Francis of Assisi or Billy Graham.

So go for it, moderate Republicans. But for heavens sakes do it politically. Fight in the political trenches. Put out winning candidates and a moving vision of America as it could be. Go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. But another broad statement signed by a lot of irrelevant people, don’t do that. The party of Ridge etc. is not going to beat Donald Trump. You guys signed up to be politicians. So try actual politics.


David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. He writes the monthly “Last Things” column for the New Oxford Review.

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