Politics

North Carolina Is a Test for #NeverTrump Conservatives

Was their fight to save the GOP about one man, or was it about democratic principles?

Remember when?

Photographer: Luke Sharrett

Here's a good test for the Republicans who opposed Donald Trump because they saw him as a threat to democracy: Will they also condemn the Republican power grab going on right now in North Carolina?

The Republican Party that Trump took over was already dysfunctional. If it had been healthier, it would have had little trouble repelling him. Republicans in many cases had given up on taking public policy seriously at all; this was well before Trump arrived on the scene. Some Republicans rejected compromise altogether, and many were so eager to attack deviations from conservative orthodoxy that they wound up driving some very conservative politicians from office.

Some Trump opponents simply didn't trust him to be an orthodox conservative, and wanted to keep the Republican Party on the path it had been on. 

But at its best, the #NeverTrump movement distinguished itself by drawing attention to Trump's violations of basic democratic norms. These voices included some politicians such as Mitt Romney, Senators Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, and Representative Justin Amash, as well as a number of conservative thinkers and pundits.

Some in the group even took a critical look at the party itself, criticizing those who "refused to accept evidence that came from outside their bubble" and wound up in a "full-blown alternate reality silo of conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda," as described by retiring conservative Wisconsin talk-show host Charlie Sykes.

Of course, the resistance to Trump utterly failed in the Republican nomination fight, and while most prominent #NeverTrump allies remained opposed to him up through the November election, some since then have been open to working with him.

That doesn't mean we should dismiss their significance. Parties change because participants are willing to stand up and fight the current coalition and its preferences and priorities -- whether it was Bernie Sanders for the Democrats or Donald Trump for the Republicans. The fact that some Republicans are still willing to take on Trumpism is important. 

But opposing the anti-democratic tendencies of just one boorish outsider is only one step. 

This brings us to North Carolina. Democrats in the state won the governorship and a state supreme court majority in the November elections. But before those candidates assume their positions next month, the Republican-majority legislature is meeting in a special lame-duck session to strip the power of those offices, especially over elections. The defeated outgoing Republican governor will presumably sign those bills. 

This is the Republican majority that was elected in districts so flagrantly gerrymandered to suppress the voices of black voters that the courts have struck them down. The state was forced to schedule off-year elections in 2017 with new, constitutional district lines.

Right now is a good a time for the #NeverTrump group to speak up and reaffirm its commitment to democracy and democratic procedures. Why? After all, there's nothing necessarily wrong with a party fighting over the basic rules of the game. And I don't consider partisan gerrymandering as inherently undemocratic.

But what's happening in North Carolina goes way over the line. Republicans there are trying to rewrite how the state's government works before the newly elected officials take office in order to nullify what the voters have done. 

Maybe #NeverTrump's support for democracy was limited to opposition to one man. But if it was a stand on principle, then the group should oppose the North Carolina power grab. Only then can they begin the patriotic movement to reclaim their party.

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:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE
    Comments