Cynics would, of course, argue that virtue-signaling has always been the purpose of the movement, and its forerunner, #NeverTrump. (Remember how vocal the #NeverTrump crowd was on Twitter — and how impossible they found it to get anyone to carry their banner in the actual presidential race?) And it’s fair to posit that in some cases, the cynical explanation is correct. Although none of us are mind readers, public-choice theory alone is sufficient to justify questions about the motives that lead to participation in high-profile, hash-tagged causes.
But that’s not the case for Trump’s more credible conservative critics. Republicans like Dowd — or ex-Republicans, in Dowd’s case — opposed Trump consistently during the election, despite the GOP’s collective efforts to browbeat everyone on the right into toeing the party line. “Unite To Win!” was the theme of Texas’ state GOP convention last year. But by publicly rejecting the “binary choice” framework that so many Republican leaders deployed to rationalize their support for Trump, “country over party” conservatives helped create space for voters to do so, too. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried Texas by a roughly 16-point margin; in 2016, Trump whittled that margin to nine. Texas was closer than Iowa. Had more “country over party” conservatives spoken up in public, perhaps we, as a nation, wouldn’t be in this predicament.