Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) well-timed surge in the early Democratic primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire is striking panic into the hearts of one of America's most irrelevant political demographics.
The Washington Examiner reports that so-called Never Trump Republicans are freaking out about the possibility of Sanders winning the Democratic nomination. For some Trump opponents who still consider themselves politically conservative, supporting an avowed socialist candidate would be a bridge too far. Some fear a Sanders victory in the primary could make the Never Trump movement even more irrelevant than it already is.
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Sanders is surging days before the Iowa caucuses and a couple of weeks before the New Hampshire primary, leaving Republican operatives avowedly opposed to Trump worried and perplexed. Most are convinced swing voters in key battlegrounds would reject Sanders, paving the way for Trump’s reelection. They are also convinced the Vermont senator, 78, is simply too liberal to earn their vote. With a Sanders nomination, Never Trump Republicans are unsure of what comes next.
"I don't know where the anti-Trump movement goes from there," said Jennifer Horn, a Never Trump Republican and former New Hampshire GOP chairwoman who is affiliated with the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans who have pressured GOP senators to support impeachment.
"It's a really tough question," added political strategist Sarah Longwell, a Never Trump Republican at the center of an unsuccessful effort to recruit a formidable candidate to challenge the president in the 2020 GOP primary.
The Never Trump crowd's failure to mount a serious primary challenge to Trump was inevitable—the president has an approval rating of around 90 percent among Republicans. But it has left the movement with few options apart from openly supporting the Democratic nominee in 2020.
The Lincoln Project, launched recently by a group of failed Republican strategists and Kellyanne Conway's husband, stated explicitly that its goal was to "ensure a victory in the Electoral College" for the Democratic presidential candidate.
They hoped that candidate would be former vice president Joe Biden, who still has a shot at winning, but a Sanders nomination is looking increasingly likely. Trump has already caused many of his former-Republican opponents—Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, and Matthew Dowd, among others—to lose their minds. There would be a certain poetry to watching them become shills for a socialist who spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union.
The Examiner already found at least one Never Trump Republican sufficiently dedicated to the cause that he'll support the Democratic nominee no matter what—even if it were Sanders. "I would not feel particularly happy about it, but I would swallow hard and pull the lever," said Jerry Taylor, president of the D.C.-based Niskanen Center.
What, exactly, are their other options? Perhaps Evan McMullin can run again and try to top his 2016 performance, which amounted to 0.5 percent of the popular vote and zero electoral votes.
Most likely they'll just keep whining and writing columns about how Trump's withholding of military aid to Ukraine was worse than the Trail of Tears. The mainstream media will continue to employ them in numbers that far exceed their actual proportion of the American public. A Sanders-Trump general election would, at the very least, highlight the extent of their irrelevance.