What is the Future of the Principles First and Never Trump movements? Weighing the Options

Recently, Heath Mayo put out a Twitter poll questioning where Never Trump voters would like to see their efforts: Influencing the Democrats, Reform the Republican Party, Join a Third Party, or Start a New Party. There are obvious merits and challenges facing all four possible options, and through this article we’ll examine them in order to help Never Trump and Principles First voters discern the best option moving forward.

Option 1: Join the Democrats as the new right wing of their coalition

This is the option that I believe is the least tempting for a Principles First voter. Many of us are currently in a political alliance with the Democrats because Trumpism is perceived to be an existential threat to the welfare of the republic. However, that does not mean that many, if any of us, have subscribed to liberal tenets or policy. It’d be tough to see some Principles First and Never Trumpers supporting issues such as abortion, gun rights, or protectionist trade.

However, there is merit to the idea of being a conservative wing of the Democrats. The Principles First movement is largely a mixture of true constitutional conservatives in the vein of Justin Amash, and the moderate wing of the previous GOP, in the vein of Romney or Jon Huntsman. Politicians like these might be too liberal for some state GOP’s, like those in Texas or Alabama, but they would be great fits for regional democratic wings in the South and Midwest. Strategically, a Principles First/Never Trump wing might be able to win more political seats and therefore political influence by earning seats as Democrats in conservative regions of the country, or even as Democratically aligned Republicans in the liberal regions of the country.

There’s also the ascendancy of the social democrat left to consider. Much like the Tea Party in the GOP, there’s large discontent with the state of the Democratic party for being insufficiently ideological on the left-side of American politics. Should they choose to leave and form their own coalition, a Principles First wing of the Democrats could move the party to the center of American politics. If they remain within the Democratic party apparatus, however, a Principles First Wing could act as a counterweight to the social dems pulling the party too far to the left.

No matter what happened, the Principles First wing of a Democratic party would be a small power, but one that could play a pivotal role in regions of the country, and continue to wield its influence in the crafting of policy. The Principles First movement would wield less power, but that power would remain relatively consistent from the short term to the long term.

Option 2: Seize control of the Republican Party

This is the option I believe is the most tempting for a Principles First or Never Trump voter. By and large we are disaffected Republicans, Ex-Republicans, or conservative-leaning independents. The Republican Party has been home to most of us for all of our political lives, and we largely saw our values in line with the party. It’s tempting to believe the Trump era was just a four year aberration, and that we can correct the ship. But there are significant challenges with looking to reintegrate with the party.

The biggest hurdle is that of loyalty. The current, Trump voting Republican Party views us as traitors who left the ship in its most dire hour against the socialists and the deep state. Hell, some of us voted for Hillary Clinton, the archenemy of the GOP, over the Republican nominee. That perceived betrayal will not be forgiven. The Bushes and Romneys are considered no better than Democrats now for similar reasons, no matter their conservative policy or ideology. Now, Principles First and Never Trump voters obviously felt their loyalty was to the country over the GOP, but for many GOP voters, being loyal to Trump and the GOP IS being loyal to the country, and that betrayal will not be soon forgotten.

That means Never Trump Voters would have to build a hostile takeover of the GOP to course correct it, and we simply don’t have the numbers for that. We have the intellectual infrastructure, but no one in the current party apparatus. We’d have to convince the Trump voters that they were wrong to support him. Conversely, we’d have to look at our own failings as a political coalition that allowed Trump to remove us. Admitting the fault in one’s political choices is a tall order, even among the most humble people. We’d also have to contend with fighting the Trump media apparatus, from OANN to Fox News, who would have unrestrained media assaults on the Principles First movement every day. In other words, there’s no way this option bears fruit by 2024. This would, in a best case scenario, be a ten year project. And we’d have to contend with being a minority power in the Trump-dominated GOP for the duration of most of that.

This is the what would yield the least fruit in the short term, and minimal results in the medium term, but could potentially yield great results in the long term should the Priniciples First movement successfully endure.

Option 3: Add our weight and influence to an existing Third Party

There are a number of existing third parties in America that would be greatly bolstered in the national eye should the Principles First and Never Trump infrastructure and voter base choose to officially join. We’re a big enough movement that while we’re still dwarfed by the Republicans and Democrats, there’d be a legitimate viable third party in select regions of the country immediately. Should the elected representatives of said party govern effectively, it would be resolute proof that one does not need to vote for a Republican or a Democrat for serious governance.

The closest party one could see of the existing third parties is that of the Libertarian party. Certainly, a significant faction of the Principles’ First and Never Trump movements is that of our libertarian brothers and sisters. The problem I see, however, is in the reputation of the Libertarian party itself, which has struggled with building credibility as a respectable party to match that of the respectable ideology of libertarianism. While men such as Bill Weld, Justin Amash, and Gary Johnson are respectable public servants, they are not top tier political figures, nor have they been consistently members of the Libertarian Party. Previous members of the Libertarian party also have floated some fundamentally unserious ideas, such as revoking the requirement of seat belts in cars. The next election cycle would have to be focused on polishing up the party to a more respectable status, and one that is not easily caricatured into a group of Ayn Rand devotees.

Finally, Never Trump and Principles First voters would need to meet with the intellectual leaders of the Libertarian party in order to do the labor of recrafting the ideological tenets of libertarianism into a serious governing ideology that not only would appeal to Never Trumpers and Principles First voters who are not libertarian, but to a broad coalition of voters in the country. At the very least we’d need to gain 15–30% of the popular vote in local regions and in national elections to start to be taken seriously as a third party.

This option I believe would allow for great potential short term and medium term games, but a smaller window to actually earn the long term gains to be a serious political force. I believe we’d have to accomplish this by 2028 at the latest before the window of opportunity is closed.

Option 4: Form a new political party

This is by far the most challenging option facing Principles First and Never Trump voters, but the one with the greatest potential payoff.

To start off, we’d have to build a political infrastructure from the ground up. Principles First and Never Trump voters would need to coalesce a coherent set of governing principles, create unique policy solutions to problems of governance, build a financial network to support direct competition with the Democrats and Republicans, build a media infrastructure that both educated the public on the new political party and directly competed against the conservative media infrastructure and potentially the mainstream media, field candidates in local, state, and national elections, have enough grassroots support to staff competitive elections, win said elections to gain official representation in government, and then said representatives would have to be popular, effective politicians.

No matter how you slice it, that’s a monumental task, and one that the movement currently could not do by 2022 barring some seriously miraculous organization in the next two years. Moreover, this type of political party would have to build a new voting coalition, most likely built of moderate democrats and republicans in areas where they currently do not have much political weight. This would accelerate the ideological polarization of the Democrats and Republicans in the process of building our own coalition. However, that very polarization might also prove to be the biggest boon of a new political party should it prove itself to be a serious governing force.

This would also require effective media surrogates and national figures to join the movement. Principles First and Never Trump voters and political thinkers would have to manage to effectively court political figures with clout, as well as celebrities, scientists, businessmen, entertainment figures, and foreign policy experts. As anathema as it is to many of us, there’s a reason that political parties rely so much on celebrity to build excitement in the grassroots: it works. And it’s tough to imagine a new party earning the support of cultural figures such as a Killer Mike or a Kid Rock the way Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump did.

This is by far the option with the worst short term and medium term payoff. However, should this prove successful enough to displace a broken Republican or Democratic party, or become serious enough to break the duopoly in American politics that has existed for hundreds of years, the long term payoff to the health of the national discourse and politics could be immeasurable.

Conclusion

There are no easy answers facing the Principles First and Never Trump voters. No matter what, there is a long road ahead for the future of our movement to build the resources necessary to be a serious political power after the Age of Trump is over. Hopefully, however, this article has given you something to think on regarding the challenges facing all four courses of action, and can help the Principles First and Never Trump movements decide on the most prudent course of action.

Christian Thrailkill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, musician, and columnist. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @Wolvie616

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Writer on the intersection of Art and Politics

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Christian Thrailkill

Christian Thrailkill

Writer on the intersection of Art and Politics

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