They stand with Trump.

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Trump Fans Size Up #NeverTrump Republicans

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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There are the die-hard Republicans who are so appalled by Donald Trump that they would not vote for him if he were the party nominee. And then there are the die-hard Trump supporters who are appalled by these #NeverTrump Republicans.

The supporters' outrage surfaced on Twitter and elsewhere: Don't they understand that this would mean electing Hillary Clinton? Don't they understand that a Clinton presidency would do less for traditional Republican goals than a Trump presidency would? Don't they understand that this year's Trump voters had, in years past, held their noses and voted for a succession of candidates they hated in the name of party solidarity?

My sense, from reading e-mails from Republicans who say they can't vote for Trump, is that yes, they understand that this means Clinton is more likely to be elected, and they accept that. They range from a position of neutrality, genuinely believing both to be so awful that the choice is irrelevant, to actively preferring a Clinton administration for a variety of reasons.

Trump supporters have a variety of explanations for this:

  1. Of course they won’t vote for him! Trump is smashing their cushy establishment control over the party!
  2. Of course they won’t vote for him! Trump is going to actually force the party to do something about immigration and make them move their companies back from China!
  3. Of course they won’t vote for him! Trump is going to stop their obsessive focus on tax cuts and Obamacare to focus the party on the issues that Real Americans actually care about!
  4. Of course they won’t vote for him! They’re neocon hawks who would be more comfortable with a Clinton presidency!
  5. Of course they won’t vote for him! They’re exactly the sort of crypto-Democrats we need to run out of the party!
  6. Of course they won’t vote for him! They’re too afraid of the liberal media calling them racist, and it’s exactly this sort of craven capitulation we need to fight!
  7. Actually, they will vote for him. They’re just having a bit of a tantrum now.

The first five are dead wrong, based on my (admittedly unscientific) sample.

  1. The bulk of the responses came from one iconic Republican constituency or another: evangelicals and Catholic pro-lifers, military, Tea Party. So they might be "establishment," but not the elites in control. Very few of them were sufficiently involved with the party to be deriving any economic, or even psychic, benefit from its current operation.
  2. I can’t recall a single writer who said he or she had owned a business or been a high-level corporate executive.
  3. (See 2, above.)
  4. (See 1, above.)
  5. (See 1, above.)

What they cared about was, very broadly speaking, character. The bullying, the authoritarian instincts, the lying, the erratic behavior, the lack of any interest in policy, the lack of impulse control, the misogyny, the brutal xenophobia. These are issues that are rarely issues at all in a political campaign, because most politicians who become serious contenders for the nomination pass the basic threshold of not behaving as Trump has. (I'll say more about that in a future column.)

Trump fans should know that the #NeverTrump Republicans who wrote to me are not rejecting you, or even your issues. They are rejecting Donald J. Trump, because they think he is a bad person, so incompetent, aggressive and shamelessly unprincipled that they do not trust him with the Oval Office, or the helm of their party. You could have chosen any other standard bearer to talk about immigration and trade and national security, and if that person had won the nomination, most of these #NeverTrump types would have fallen in line and voted for the nominee, allowing you a good chance at the White House in 2016.

You may be supporting him on the immigration or trade issue. But if party fracture costs Republicans the general election, you will have lost not because you supported him on immigration, but because you supported him.

The Trump fans are at least a little bit right in two of their explanations about Trump abstainers. Some who shout "#NeverTrump" today probably will vote for him, when it comes down to it in November. And some #NeverTrump Republicans are afraid to stand with him because they'll be painted with the same brush as the KKK.

Here’s the concession you really wanted to hear: The media is liberal, it does like to scrutinize conservative politicians for the slightest hint of racism and misogyny, and conservative politicians are hypersensitive to that label. Or at least, most successful ones are. Trump has gotten this far by wearing those labels proudly, and it's not a viable long-term strategy. More on that in the next column.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net