Julie Kelly’s book, ‘Disloyal Opposition,’ ably documents just how tedious and unprincipled Donald Trump’s allegedly conservative critics turned out to be.
NEVER TRUMPERS ILLUSTRATE WHY LOYALTY IS AN IMPORTANT POLITICAL VIRTUE
After the dust continues to settle on last year’s presidential election with Americans slowly accepting Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, Julie Kelly’s polemic against the Never Trump movement may seem like yet another instance of a political writer getting it wrong. When Democrats occupy the White House along with the House and Senate, it seems like those writers who opposed Donald Trump won the argument. They can point to the results and claim they knew Trump and his populism would eventually lead to losses and relegate the GOP to their current political quagmire.
But Kelly’s book Disloyal Opposition: How the #NeverTrump Right Tried—and Failed—to Take Down the President is all the more relevant because of what transpired. She was right to take this movement seriously, and her thorough review of it shows exactly why Trump lost. It wasn’t that he had issues leading, but that his party and the conservative intelligentsia had issues following.
In too many cases during his administration, the real challenges to Trump came from his own side, even as he faced a second impeachment after he left office. Kelly shows this was not another typical instance of Republicans living up to their reputation as “The Stupid Party,” but of a group of influential Republicans allowing their intellect and pride to get the best of them.
What, at first, might come off as a book by a political junkie for political junkies ends up revealing deeper truths about politics and political culture, truths that conservatives would do well to internalize. The first truth is that the GOP and conservatism has changed significantly with President Trump.
The second is that politics is far more about people than ideas. And the third and final truth: those who suffer from moral and intellectual corruption all start resembling one another.
The Tedium of Never Trump
Kelly starts her book by giving her background in politics. Her story mirrors that of many conservatives. She was influenced by her father, the typical “country club conservative,” then became involved in political campaigns as she voraciously read conservative commentary from magazines such as Weekly Standard and National Review, and eventually became a political writer herself.
Originally, she had great admiration for writers like Bill Kristol and others like him who stood up to Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. She continued to follow him and other conservatives all through the terms of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but then had to “break up” with them when Kristol formed the Never Trump movement.
For those who follow politics, Kelly’s story brings up many memories of what the GOP and conservatism used to be. Far from being the populist, anti-globalist movement that it is today, conservatism was dominated by neoconservatives who advocated globalism and elitism.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, right-wing luminaries wrote endless articles on fighting terrorism, exporting democracy and free-market capitalism, and behaving decently. Like their godfather William F. Buckley, all of these writers held degrees from Ivy League universities and devoted their great learning to defending American institutions. “Establishment” was not the dirty word that it is today.
Although movements like the Tea Party sometimes broke from this thinking, the neoconservative consensus of Republican politicians and conservative intellectuals largely held all through Obama’s tenure. Hence, the GOP nominated for presidential runs those who would become the leaders of the Never Trump movement, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Both men were globalists, very much part of the establishment, and always gracious in defeat.
In past elections, National Review’s editors had no qualms about endorsing these candidates when they ran. However, as Kelly explains, National Review made a celebrated exception to Trump’s run for the presidency in their “Against Trump” special edition. Well-known conservatives took to the pages of the magazine to give their reasons for rejecting Trump—he wasn’t serious; he would wreck the party; he wasn’t really conservative, etc.
After Trump won the Republican primaries, many of these same people reluctantly threw their support behind him and over time grew to like him. Others, however, continued their crusade against Trump using Kristol’s Never Trump hashtag as their banner. It is these individuals on whom Kelly focuses her criticism.
Few might remember now, but the Never Trumpers were so desperate to unseat Trump that they tried running third-party candidates, including David French (who declined) and Evan McMullin (who went nowhere) and even went as far as supporting Hillary Clinton for president.
After supposedly making their peace with Trump’s victory in 2016, declaring that they would stay objective in their criticism, the Never Trump movement quickly forgot this and became Trump’s harshest critics. As Kelly documents, they unapologetically opposed Trump at every turn, from the Robert Mueller investigation to Trump’s first impeachment. Time and again, Kelly unearths opinions and statements Never Trumpers made against Trump. While Kelly deserves some credit for her thoroughness, it admittedly becomes a bit tedious and repetitive.
But that’s the point. The Never Trumpers were, and are, quite tedious and repetitive. Whatever principles guided them in the past were replaced by their obsession with the president. Their overwhelming pride (or insecurity?) caused them to turn against Brett Kavanaugh, Devin Nunes, and even the teenagers from Covington Catholic High School.
They cheered on McCain who, out of spite, voted against ending Obamacare, and Romney, who voted to impeach the man who had helped him win his Senate seat. As for their leftist colleagues, politics became personal for Never Trumpers and the few arguments they made were weak and largely emotional. To her credit, Kelly avoids the term “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” (TDS) but this phenomenon definitely comes to mind.
As Trump gained supporters during his presidency for his surprisingly consistent conservatism and for enduring unfair attacks from all sides, the Never Trump movement gradually disintegrated. Kelly asserts that the two great blows that ushered the decline were McCain’s death and the end of The Weekly Standard.
After this, those who identified as Never Trumpers either went on to form smaller publications like The Bulwark and Dispatch, or they continued playing the role of “court jester conservatives,” as podcaster Michael Knowles calls them, for legacy media outlets, touting their conservatism as they denounced Trump and his supporters. By the end of 2020, the leading Never Trumper, Kristol, completely shook off his conservatism and sold his soul to a leftist billionaire activist.
Nor surprisingly, the reviewer David Bahnsen at National Review took issue with Kelly’s decision to lump all the Never Trumpers together: “If you seek to put Rubin in the same category as, say, Jonah Goldberg, you’re either being lazy or dishonest.” He then goes on to defend French, whom he considers a personal target of Kelly’s “deeply personal” hatred.
This criticism would be valid if Kelly didn’t have 45 pages of endnotes to back her claims and didn’t differentiate in her analysis. Kelly is painstakingly specific in the wrong positions adopted by each and every Never Trumper mentioned in her book.
Tyrants vs. Saints
Whether it’s the sanctimonious French, the reptilian Kristol, or the unstable Jennifer Rubin, a common pattern emerges that goes beyond their opposition to Trump. Based on the evidence Kelly lays out, all of them seem to suffer from a strange solipsism that prevents self-awareness. Besides Trump being wrong all of the time, they are always right — no matter what position they take or how much reality contradicts them.
As C. S. Lewis once said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.” The same could be said of the Never Trumpers who continued their attack against Trump even after he has left office. Either they sense an opportunity in retaking the Republican Party or they have run out of anything else to say.
In either case, Kelly is justified in completely discrediting this crowd. Even if they seemed to fail in their mission to take down the Bad Orange Man (Americans and Democrats can thank the Chinese Communist Party and their lovely virus for that), they betrayed their followers and the principles of conservatism.
They were like Brutus killing his friend Caesar, except they were far less justified and didn’t succeed. The only thing they killed was their credibility. To think that they might return to their posts of conservative thought leaders at this point is nothing short of delusional.
In other words, they were, as their favorite president would poetically put it, “losers.” Not only should American conservatives dispense with these voices and recognize them for what they are, but they should make sure they never arise again.
Kelly’s book serves as a reminder of why loyalty is such an important political virtue. When it goes, so does everything else.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in humanities and an MEd in educational leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for The Federalist, The American Conservative, and The Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter.
Disloyal Opposition: How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President Hardcover – July 7, 2020
by Julie Kelly (Author)
From the cover jacket:
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 didn’t just shock the country, it jolted the Republican Party and forced an overdue reckoning between rank-and-file Republicans and party leadership. Long-held beliefs promoted by the Republican Party establishment were smashed in real time as Republican voters, and millions of Obama voters especially in the Midwest, rejected the bi-party consensus on illegal immigration, international trade pacts, and losing foreign wars. The GOP―and the conservative movement―was upended by a brash Manhattan mogul who connected with coveted working-class voters in a way no other Republican presidential candidate had in three decades.
Stung by his ascendancy as Republican voters rejected one establishment candidate after another during the presidential primaries, exiled conservative leaders banded together to form what is known as “NeverTrump.” This cabal of self-proclaimed conservatives includes two former Republican presidential nominees, former Republican lawmakers and Bush administration officials, campaign consultants, and editors and writers at top conservative publications.
After failing to stop Trump in 2016, NeverTrump became part of #TheResistance, a crusade primarily organized by the Left to sabotage Trump’s presidency. The very same people who had used the Republican Party as their vehicle for power, fame, and influence are actively working to destroy the party’s leader and punish Trump-supporting Republicans in Washington. NeverTrump helped deceive the public about nonexistent Russian election collusion and supported impeaching the president. Some jumped on the Left’s mob against Brett Kavanaugh and the Covington Catholic High School students. NeverTrump opposed nearly every Trump policy without offering any alternative to what they derisively called “Trumpism.”
At the same time, NeverTrump became what they claimed to despise about Donald Trump: petty, vengeful, bombastic, reactionary, and abusive. As a result, it’s imperative that those associated with NeverTrump never hold a place of influence in the GOP again.
“Disloyal Opposition is a deft exposé of NeverTrump, a small group of former conservatives, nearly all of them occupying posts in Washington, who never came to terms with the election of Donald Trump and have spent the last three years working against everything they once believed. Julie Kelly names names in this rapid-fire account, describing how these formerly influential conservatives joined with Democrats and left-wing philanthropists in a campaign to bring down the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan.”―James Piereson, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and president of the William E. Simon Foundation
“Julie Kelly offers a bombshell description of the descent of the so-called NeverTrump Republicans from initial opposition to Trump to bitter and often ugly derangement―ending, as she points out, in political irrelevance, echo-chamber banality, Beltway neuroticism, hypocritical renunciations of most of their own prior positions, useful idiocy in service to the billionaire Left, and careers reduced to Twitter obsessions. Throughout her entire j’accuse exposé, Kelly names names and pulls no punches in a lively, carefully documented, and damning anatomy of one of the strangest cases of collective political suicide in modern memory.”―Victor Davis Hanson, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
“Rarely have dismalness of subject and liveliness of treatment come together in such a delightful way. Julie Kelly gives us a blow-by-blow treatment of the Washington Generals’ team bus catching fire, spinning out of control, and speeding off a cliff. The spectacle is horrible, yet you can’t help feeling that the people on board deserved it.”―Michael Anton, lecturer and research fellow, Hillsdale College
“It’s no surprise the Left wants to destroy President Trump. But some people who call themselves ‘Conservatives’ have the same objective. Find out who they are and what they’ve done by reading Julie Kelly’s Disloyal Opposition. President Trump broke the establishment, including fake Conservatives like Bill Kristol. Julie Kelly’s Disloyal Opposition is essential reading for all who believe in Making America Great Again.”―Sebastian Gorka, host of America First and former strategist to President Trump
Julie Kelly shows how many Republican publicists have masqueraded their growing identity with America’s leftist ruling class by pretending mere opposition to Donald Trump’s peculiarities. Disloyal Opposition performs a valuable service by demonstrating that the Never Trump movement opposes not one man, but rather the American people’s priorities – in short, that politics has consequences. —Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University
Below: a review from a reader on Amazon
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2020 Verified Purchase – by Scott Delaney
Julie Kelly presents the definitive chronicle of the NeverTrump phenomenon – it’s too small to be called a movement – from its inception in the calumnious “Against Trump” issue of National Review in January 2016 to the declaration by the ever-shrinking group’s putative leader that “we are all Democrats now” at the outset of the 2020 campaign.
Well written and clearly sourced, Kelly paints an accurate portrait of the craven, smug, and often hysterical machinations of this small group of malcontents fulminating with impotent rage on Leftist cable news programs and social media.
Using direct quotes presented in context, Kelly exposes their charade of “standing on principle” as a thin veneer to mask their contempt for President Trump and the roughly 90% of the Republican voters who support him and his agenda.
Once considered the brain trust of Republican policy, they now occupy themselves promoting every Democrat and Deep State scheme to take down President Trump. From the creation of the Steele Dossier, to the corrupt Operation Crossfire Hurricane, to the Mueller probe and the persecution of Gen. Michael Flynn, to the impeachment fiasco, Kelly documents, in their own words, NeverTrump’s unwavering defense of Obama era abuses of FISA and the weaponization of the Department of Justice, first against the Trump campaign, and then the Trump administration itself.
And they don’t confine themselves to scheming against President Trump and his administration. In Disloyal Opposition Kelly recounts, again using their own words in context, NeverTrump’s vicious attacks on Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Covington Catholic kids, and evangelical Christian supporters of President Trump.
Eventually President Trump will leave office, the Republican party and the conservative movement will have new leaders, and the NeverTrump will seek to reclaim their positions as conservative opinion makers; Julie Kelly’s Disloyal Opposition will be a bulwark against that.
About the Author
Julie Kelly is a former political consultant in suburban Chicago and a stay-at-home mom. She is a senior contributor to American Greatness. Her past work can be found at the Federalist, National Review, the Hill, and the Wall Street Journal. Kelly wrote about food policy, agriculture, and climate change before covering politics in the Trump era. She lives in Orland Park, Illinois, with her husband and two daughters.