President Donald Trump still has vocal Republican detractors. But they are laboring under two problems. The first, which has received a lot of attention, is that there aren’t a lot of them. In the latest Gallup poll, Trump has the approval of 82 percent of Republicans.
The second, which has received less attention, is that this minority of Republicans is divided.
It’s divided on policy issues. Bret Stephens, Max Boot and Charles Sykes are all right-of-center commentators who want Republicans to dump Trump. But they also want gun control, sometimes of a sweeping nature. Other frequent Trump critics on the right, such as Erick Erickson and David French, want no part of that agenda.
Immigration is another dividing line. Jennifer Rubin says that calls to reduce low-skilled immigration are bigoted and demagogic. Fellow anti-Trump columnist Ross Douthat leans to the other side. Rubin is a sharp critic of the congressional Republican tax bill. The Weekly Standard, which has an anti-Trump editorial line, lauds that bill.
Or take health care. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who refused to endorse Trump, was wary of the main Republican bills because they did not go far enough in repealing Obamacare. Governor John Kasich of Ohio, another non-endorser, opposed them because they went too far in repealing it.
Should Republicans moderate on social issues? Embrace a more populist message on economics? Reject nationalism or try to ennoble it? You’ll find conservative anti-Trumpers on both sides of each question. Republicans who generally oppose Trump don’t even agree on what to call themselves. Many of the people who embraced the Twitter hashtag #NeverTrump last year think the term is obsolete, since it referred to never voting for him and the election is over.
Conservatives who generally oppose Trump don’t agree on how he got the nomination, either. Some of them think he got it because Republican politicians had betrayed grassroots conservatives by not fighting hard enough for their causes. Others think he got it because too many Republicans encouraged unrealistic expectations among conservative voters. Yet others point to a Republican agenda that was too focused on rich people and big business.
One thing that uncontestably helped Trump get the nomination: the division among his Republican opponents. Moderate-right anti-Trumpers were unwilling to leave Kasich for Ted Cruz, and hard-right anti-Trumpers were unwilling to leave Cruz for Kasich.
These divisions continue to impede practical cooperation among conservative Trump critics. The more conservative anti-Trumpers want to maintain what influence they have left among conservatives. They want to prove that a conservatism independent of Trump exists.
They worry that the more moderate anti-Trumpers are making it seem as though the opposition to Trump isn’t all that conservative. The conservative anti-Trumpers generally also think that it is important to praise Trump when he takes actions with which they agree, both as a matter of fairness and to avoid being written off as knee-jerk critics.
A group of conservatives and libertarians recently released a statement opposing the dismissal of special counsel Robert Mueller or the issuance of pardons to shut down his investigation. Some on the right who agreed with the sentiment declined to sign it because the statement was associated with the more liberal faction. The statement, they feared, made support for the investigation seem like part of a project of moving the Republican Party left.
The major point of agreement among Trump's conservative critics is an important one: They think that he doesn’t have the character to lead the country well. But that agreement is not a substitute for having a clear and unified sense of where they want the Republican Party, and the country, to go. They don’t have that, and they don’t even seem to see how quixotic it makes their dream of wresting the party back from the man who is their common enemy.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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