#NeverTrump is dead. Long live #NeverTrump.
Less than a week ago the major players in the “Never Donald Trump” movement were boasting to reporters about their big ad buys in Indiana—at least $3.2 million in the state—as evidence of their might and will. By Monday, some were sheepishly confessing to MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that they already knew they had failed, in advance of the Indiana results. But they failed way bigger than any of them dreamed: After Trump carried Indiana, the last official standard-bearer of #NeverTrump hopes and dreams, Senator Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race.
That followed what might have been the most brutal 12 hours of the campaign to date, as Trump accused Cruz’s father of having a hand in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and Cruz branded Trump an “amoral pathological liar” and said that unless he was stopped, “this country could well plunge into the abyss.” Such histrionics don’t jibe with dropping out of the race hours later, but nothing has gone predictably in this 2016 GOP presidential primary.
Of course, #NeverTrump never should have been necessary: GOP leaders have boasted since 2012 about the “deep bench” of contenders that would vie for the nomination in 2016. But all 16 of the non-Trumps—senators, governors, and ex-governors; Tea Partiers and moderates—have fallen. (Ohio Governor John Kasich, who won only 8 percent in the state that borders his home, is in a horror movie where he’s dead but he doesn’t know it yet.) Once a “Stop Trump” movement came to seem necessary, it was already doomed, because its hopes rested with Cruz, who vies with Trump for the title of the most hated man in the GOP today. With his silly Ted tricks, faux filibuster, and actual government shutdown, Cruz made himself the leader of culturally conservative Christian evangelicals, a large bloc within the GOP. Yet “Two Corinthians” Trump often outpolled him among evangelicals in states he won, including Indiana. (It may turn out they are less pro-Jesus than anti-Obama.)
Cruz dropped out unexpectedly, but for the same reason Senator Marco Rubio did—he’s looking at making another run in 2020. That was the other problem with #NeverTrump: Many of the GOP candidates seemed to dislike one another as much as they dislike Trump, and rivalry made it impossible for them to coalesce behind the strongest candidate in the group.
But the biggest problem with the futile effort to stop Donald Trump was this: He’s giving a large plurality, if not a majority, of Republican voters exactly what they want, a simplistic, say-anything, nativist tough guy who channels their rage and their fear. Watching the call and response at his campaign rallies—“What are we gonna build?” “A wall!” “Who’s gonna pay for it?” “Mexico!”—has been an alarming window into the angry magical thinking that animates Trump’s base. Trump’s shocking political positions—banning Muslims from entering the United States, deporting undocumented immigrants—are now supported by large majorities of GOP voters.