For One Prominent N.H. Conservative, 'Never Trump' Means 'Never'

May 5, 2016

With Ted Cruz and John Kasich pulling the plugs on their presidential campaigns, it's a big week for backers of likely Republican nominee Donald Trump.  

And that's got some conservatives in New Hampshire coming to terms with a new reality: Donald Trump is now the official face of their party.  

Drew Cline is a writer and communications consultant, and the former editorial page editor for the Union Leader — he's also pledging not to support Trump in the general election. Cline spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello about the rationale behind his opposition. 


What do you make of this?

Well, he’s the worst possible nominee out of the entire field that the Republicans could have chosen to go up against Hillary Clinton. His own weaknesses essentially counteract a lot of her weaknesses. And they are gonna be creating a race that’s nasty and negative, and it’s going to be a terrible race.

In the name of party unity or for any other reason, would you support him?

Well, I am not a registered Republican, have not been for a couple of decades. No, I will not support Trump under any circumstances that I can foresee at the moment. I don’t think he’s fit to be president.

What do you think this means for the Republican party ideologically?

Well, that’s the more interesting question to me. So, political parties exist for a couple of reasons. One is to promote ideas, and the other is to promote groups of people – to take care of your own. And a Trump win really deals a big blow to the ideological underpinnings of the Republican party.

So activist Republicans, folks who came to the party because they believe in the ideas and ideals of the party, find themselves with no candidate to vote for right now. And the people who are going to vote Trump because he’s Republican are the sort of people who are with the party for its group advancements – not necessarily for its ideological advancements. And those are two very different groups of people. So it takes the ideologically committed core, and tells them: We don’t want you. I mean, Trump has actually said that: We don’t want you; we’ll build a bigger party, we’ll build a different party.

For Republicans here in New Hampshire, what’s that going to mean for them – candidates running for election or re-election this year?

It’s a big complication for anyone running for election as a Republican in 2016. You already saw it this morning. The New Hampshire Democratic Party was out tying every Republican to Trump. Their narrative is, Trump is the leader of the Republican party now. So if you’ve branded yourself as a Republican, you are going to henceforth be branded as an ally for Trump. And that’s a big problem for a lot of Republicans.

It seems like it’s a big problem in particular for Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Her position seems to be: I will support the nominee, presumably that’ll be Donald Trump, but she says she’s not endorsing Donald Trump. That seems to be a tough line to walk.

Well, it is. And I see what she’s trying to say. When you endorse someone, you’re calling for others to vote for that person – it’s more of a collective action. And she is saying: I’m going to be a loyal Republican, I’m going to support the Republican party’s nominee. There is a difference there, but I think it’s going to be lost on a lot of your average voters.

Former Gov. Sununu says Donald Trump would doom the party and those other candidates running on the ticket. But other Republicans say that he may bring new people into the process. Where do you fall on those two opinions there?

I think a lot of the folks who voted for Donald Trump, and you see this in the exit polls, voted for him not because of any policy position. I mean, the idea that he won on immigration is not true. He won because he is perceived to be a political outsider who will get on his horse and his white hat and ride in to fix things. And that is entirely personal. It’s entirely related to Trump himself.

I don’t think those voters necessarily see Trump as a Republican. In fact, majorities in primary after primary, have said we feel betrayed by the Republican party. They don’t feel any loyalty to the Republican party. So those folks will come out and vote for Trump himself as president. Whether they will vote for any Republican, I think that remains to be seen. I don’t know why they would necessarily vote for Trump and then vote Republican all the way down the ballot when they’ve told exit pollsters time after time that they don’t like the Republican party, they feel betrayed by the Republican party. Why would they then support all of the party’s nominees all the way down the ticket?

How do you encourage your Republican friends, or maybe your independent friends who may not like Hillary Clinton, to handle this?

I’m still trying to deal with this right now myself. I don’t know that I’m at the point of encouraging other people to do Strategy A or Strategy B, because I think – my friends and I who are in the “Never Trump” camp, we’re still figuring out what we’re going to do. We cannot bring ourselves to vote for either Trump or Clinton, for ideological reasons. So that leaves us without any good options at this point. And I think a lot of us are still trying to figure out, how do we deal with that?