'Never Trumpers' Admit Trump Has Taken Over GOP, But They're Staying To Fight

The presidential election is over and the formal transition to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden has begun, even if President Donald Trump continues to decline to concede.

Yet even though Trump was defeated, it's clear that the president's brand of divisive tweeting and disparaging nick-name politics is here to stay.

Biden won by a popular vote margin of more than 6 million votes, but Trump still gained nearly 11 million votes compared to his 2016 victory. Besides Biden, the president received more individual votes than any other presidential candidate in history. Meanwhile, the vocal conservative opponents of Trump—dubbed "Never Trumpers"—are dismayed, but not surprised by the president's takeover of their party.

"You've got to approach what that says—that 11 million [more] people after four years of Trump still signed up for another four years," Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee who endorsed Biden ahead of the election, told Newsweek in an interview.

"I do think, yeah, that Donald Trump has successfully captured the Republican Party," Sarah Longwell, the strategic director of Republican Voters Against Trump told Newsweek. The GOP activist said her party needs "a new generation of leadership" to emerge going forward.

Trump rally with Trump 2024 shirt
Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer and hold a shirt that says Trump 2024 at a rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 19 in Phoenix, Arizona Caitlin O'Hara/Getty

Despite the frustration of anti-Trump conservatives, prominent Republicans are already suggesting Trump will run again in four years, and enthusiasm among the president's base remains high.

"He'll remain the most influential Republican in the country for the foreseeable future. There's no doubt about that," Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told Newsweek earlier this month, suggesting Trump would be the party's nominee again in 2024.

Longwell said suggestions that Trump will run again in 2024 is "a problem" for the Republican Party. "By him sort of freezing the field in that way, he will guarantee that he sucks up all the oxygen from any other Republican who wants to run," she said.

Steele and Longwell—along with a slate of other prominent Republicans that included current and former governors, politicians from throughout the country, academics and national security experts—strongly opposed Trump even before his 2016 win. Initiatives like Republican Voters Against Trump, Republicans for the Rule of Law and The Lincoln Project raised tens of millions of dollars to create anti-Trump ads in a bid to convince conservative voters to oppose the president in 2020.

Michael Steele
Former RNC Chair Michael Steele talks to reporters in the spin room following the CNN Republican presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada Ethan Miller/Getty

"We need a responsible center-right party in this country, but what we're looking at isn't it," Longwell said. She described "the vast majority" of Republicans in Congress as acting in a "deeply irresponsible" manner.

When asked about a 2024 Trump run, Steele cautioned the country about re-electing Trump. "Woe to the country," he said, asserting that his position against Trump is not in opposition to his political party. Instead, Steele expressed disgust with the president and his policies.

"This is not anti-Republican party," he said, noting that he still supports many GOP leaders. "What I do not support is Donald Trump. And I do not support the brand of bulls--t—I can't put it any other way—that he has brought into the party. Because it is not real. It is fake. The most fake thing of the last four years has been Donald Trump pretending to be a president."

Throughout Trump's time in office, Republicans have largely avoided criticizing his leadership, even when he challenged long-standing norms and ignored the Constitution. When the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives impeached the president at the end of 2019, not a single Republican Rep. crossed party lines to vote in favor of the articles of impeachment. Only Representative Justin Amash, a conservative who left the GOP prior to the vote and became an independent due to his opposition to Trump, sided with the Democrats.

After Trump's brief trial in the GOP-controlled Senate, only Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who was his party's 2012 presidential nominee, voted with Democrats to remove the president from office. That made Romney the first senator in history to cast such a vote against a president from his own political party, but the Republican lawmaker had already publicly clashed with the president on multiple occasions.

Ahead of the 2020 election, Romney asserted that he would not be voting for Trump, as did several other prominent elected GOP officials. Romney then became one of the first Republicans to congratulate Biden after he was declared the winner on November 7. In the weeks since, he has pushed back hard against Trump's unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and that he actually won the election.

"It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President," the GOP senator said in a statement posted to Twitter last Thursday. Romney has become a pariah to many Republicans, and has been dubbed a "RINO" (Republican in name only) along with other conservatives opposed to the president. A press representative for Romney declined an interview request for this article.

Longwell told Newsweek that she was a bit surprised at how long it has taken other Republicans in Washington to counter the president's baseless voter fraud claims. But Steele said it was just part of their normal pattern under Trump's leadership.

Sarah Longwell
Republican strategist Sarah Longwell speaks onstage during Teen Vogue Summit 2018: #TurnUp - Day 2 at The New School on June 2, 2018 in New York City Cindy Ord/Teen Vogue/Getty

"When have they ever come out against something the president has done?" Steele asked. He said it's not even news or surprising anymore that Republican lawmakers don't push back against Trump.

"It has been stunning to watch these Republicans allow the president to push these conspiracy theories," Longwell said, calling out lawmakers like Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who are "completely undermining confidence in our system."

Hans Noel, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who researches political coalitions and political parties, told Newsweek in an email that the tension between Republicans "in many ways" is "a tension within politicians, not between different politicians."

"Many Republican politicians may like to govern and campaign one way, the way they were headed in 2008 and 2012, and now they need to adjust. Trump tapped into a populist set of voters and exposed the limits of traditional conservative appeals to those voters," Noel said.

"Some politicians don't want to do this, and are particularly alienated from the more nativist, nationalist and racist elements in those appeals, and they want to push in a different way," he said. Noel explained that in previous eras, voting for a politician of a different party was more common. "But the parties were less clearly ideological then, so it's not the same thing," he said.

Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham
President Donald Trump pats Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) on the shoulder during a rally at Bojangles' Coliseum on March 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Regardless of the continued enthusiasm for Trump among Republican voters, Steele and Longwell still identify with the party. Steele asserted that Trump is not really a Republican, saying the president is only in politics for himself.

"I'm a Republican for as long as I'm a Republican and Donald Trump will never represent anything I believe in or stand for as a Republican," the former GOP chair said. "Because he's not a Republican. He's not a conservative."

Longwell's shared a similar perspective. "I still believe in limited government and personal responsibility and American leadership in the world," she said. "I believe all the things I believed four, five years ago," she said.

"But the Republican Party is now a party of Trump and I am not a Trump Republican," Longwell explained. The Republican strategist said "our role going forward is going to be about the country. It's not going to be about Republicans or Democrats. It's going to be about how we push through and break this negative partisanship."