Should we understand the conservative elites of #Never Trump as homogeneous and united? Failed renegades? Moral guardians of republicanism and values?
In their new book Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites (Oxford University Press, 2020), Robert P. Saldin (Professor of Political Science at the University of Montana) and Steven M. Teles (Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University) analyze the strategies and motivations of the Never Trump conservatives to paint a vivid picture of the movement that Liz Mair called “the political equivalent of a doomed species.” Their nuanced analysis of the professional and intellectual circles of the extended Republican party network who made up the Never Trump movement, concludes that conservative elites who opposed Trump did so for varying reasons, using disparate methods.
Based on interviews with 62 elites (and provided emails and other communications), Saldin and Seles portray the foreign policy elites as a professional class -- zealous moderates and reluctant partisans -- who nevertheless stepped forward to isolate “crazies.” They objected not only to the issues but Trump’s temperament: the lying, cruelty, narcissism, and flagrant norm-violations. On the other hand, political operatives -- the pollsters, campaign consultants, fundraisers, and media experts -- were far less willing to publicly take a stand given their self-interest in employment with Republican campaigns. But Saldin and Teles’s analysis demonstrates that even within this self-interested group, renegades pursued actions that would make them outcasts such as Joel Searby and William Kristol’s attempt to woe an independent candidate such as Jim Mattis or Mitt Romney. Chapters include an analysis of the institutional and material factors that influenced conservative public intellectuals, how identity -- especially being Jewish or Mormon -- factored into the level of fear of authoritarianism, the quid pro quo that made lawyers more likely to look the other way, and what Saldin and Teles call the “marginal value” of economists who showed little attempt to organize collectively against the nomination and election of Donald Trump.
Benjamin Warren assisted with this podcast.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013) and, most recently, “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” in the Journal of Politics (August 2020).
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