Many NeverTrumpers disliked what they saw as Mr. Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, but what really cleaved them from their former friends who made peace with the president was their obsession with what they referred to as “character.” This concern was dismissed by most Republicans as moral preening or a Pollyannaish unwillingness to recognize the distinction between private morality and realpolitik.
But NeverTrumpers feared that Mr. Trump’s own cruelty, narcissism and sexual incontinence would make the job of remoralizing the country that much harder, a goal they prioritized over tax cuts, deregulation and judicial nominations. As the controversial conservative social scientist Charles Murray told us in the summer of 2019: “You can’t have a successful limited government unless you have a population that itself is virtuous. And so, that means character in the leaders is important, not just so they can perform a job effectively. It’s extremely important as an emblem of what the country’s all about.”
Many NeverTrumpers who held important positions in previous Republican administrations agreed. These conservative critics of Mr. Trump recognized — if only in outline — that the president’s personal pathologies that would lead to something like his disastrous management of the Covid-19 crisis. While most Republicans focused on Mr. Trump as an ideological and cultural bludgeon with which to pummel their enemies, NeverTrumpers foresaw that his character and governing instincts would have unpredictable and terrifying consequences.