Just a month ago, the marshaled conservative forces against Donald Trump seemed to have a foothold. Their man, whether they liked it or not, was Ted Cruz, and Cruz had just put up his strongest showing of the 2016 primary in Wisconsin, beating Trump by a shade over 13 points. #NeverTrump (the hashtag by which the movement came to be known) was gaining steam with the promise that mainstream conservatives wouldn't vote for Trump, should his followers follow through and make sure the real estate developer was nominated.
Trump's rank-and-file didn't care, and proved it, sweeping their man to victory in each of the seven contests that followed Wisconsin culminating in Trump's Tuesday night triumph in Indiana that knocked out Cruz and fellow straggler John Kasich. #NeverTrump was now going to have to show if it really meant never.
One of the most prominent local conservatives to come out early and often against Trump is former Dallas County GOP chairman Jonathan Neerman, who's had to face reality this week, joking to Time that he was handling Trump's nomination "with alcohol." Neerman talked to the Observer Thursday afternoon about how he's going to vote in November, why some Republicans might fall in line and why Hillary Clinton's winning might be the best thing for the Republican Party.
"If Trump wins, the 2018 midterm elections wouldn't be a wave, they'd be a typhoon. It'd be easy. If you're a Democrat running against a Republican, you just attack Donald Trump. Just like Republicans and Democrats have done for ages, you attack the incumbent president," Neerman says. "And that's scary, because in 2018 you could potentially wipe out some state legislatures, you could lose governors. You would undoubtedly lose control of the House and Senate, if Republicans don't lose control of the Senate this cycle and then you've got redistricting coming up. It's scary, real scary."
Neerman's not going to vote for Clinton, either. Instead, he says he'll leave the top line of his ballot blank.
"I'll never go so far as to say I'm voting for Hillary Clinton. That won't happen either," Neerman says. "I'm smart enough to know how to de-select a button or not fill in a Scantron in November."
The former chairman has the advantage of not running for office. Those who are, as demonstrated by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Thursday, will find an incentive to get behind Trump — at least in areas where Trump polls well. Those who aren't — or who aren't on the ballot this fall — will start to play for 2020 now, Neerman says. That's why Cruz dropped out of the race earlier than many expected, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he wasn't ready to endorse Trump, and rising-star Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse called for a third-party challenge to the Donald.
Trump's nomination, no matter what virtually everyone else says, isn't an instance of the Republican Party's racists coming home to roost in a way that will damage the party for decades, Neerman says. Trump has just tapped into an anger similar to that of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. His party will be back, Neerman believes, by 2020, win or lose in November — no matter how many racist tweets their 2016 standard bearer tosses out.