The idea of the “Never Trumper” entered the American political lexicon in 2016, when a small group of prominent U.S. conservatives—including veterans of Republican campaigns and administrations—started publicly opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the White House. They denounced Trump as immoral, illiberal, and unfit to lead—not to say, as a heretic on traditional Republican beliefs. Never Trumpers obviously failed to stop the 45th U.S. president. But they did win many new admirers by trying—and by maintaining their opposition—especially among Democrats who loved seeing their frequent commentary in the news media and political work in the 2020 election through groups like The Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump. Some left-wing critics began to warn that conservatives were trying to infiltrate the Democratic Party and pull it to the right. Is that happening?

Bill Kristol—a leading Never Trumper and a founder of the political group Defending Democracy Together—describes the Never Trump cohort as divided. Some are committed to staying Republicans. Others are flirting with third parties. But Kristol has started talking with like-minded colleagues about ways to “build up infrastructure” under moderate Democrats and Republicans, strengthening the center from both sides. “We’re trying to avoid a nativist party and a socialist party,” Kristol says, “and I’m a little more optimistic about avoiding a socialist party at this point.”

Graham Vyse: What did Never Trumpers achieve in the Trump era?

Bill Kristol: It’s probably hard to judge one’s own effect. Our organization, Republican Voters Against Trump, helped with one or two percentage points of the vote in some key states in 2020, which may have been crucial. We helped hold Trump to one term.

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