Why have a group of conservatives who not many years ago were prepared to happily vote for the likes of Ted Cruz come to embrace a cause that few of them displayed any interest in? For political elites, Trump’s unconcealed desire to follow the path of figures like Orban, Erdogan, and Putin became the primary stakes of the era’s political conflict. Their activism put them in touch with scholars of authoritarianism and democracy who studied democratic backsliding, and the insights of those thinkers became increasingly evident in the Never Trumpers’ polemics.
The denouement of the Trump presidency was a series of hyperbolic lies that Democrats had stolen the election via systematic voter fraud. That idea, in turn, merely echoes claims that were circulating on the right long before Trump came along. But Trump’s exploitation of Republican voter-fraud paranoia made it perfectly clear to anybody not in his thrall that the entire Republican agenda of restricting ballot access is part and parcel of Trump’s authoritarian ambition. The connection has grown more obvious still, as Republicans seized on Trump’s vote-fraud propaganda as a pretext to enact vote-suppression measures across the country.
Anti-Trump conservatives have a second motive for embracing democratization. Many of them hope to reclaim and reform the Republican party as a sane vehicle for center-right governing. They won’t have an opportunity to do so until the party realizes Trumpism is a political dead end. The tilted field of American government, however, allows Republicans to cater to their Trumpist base without needing to win a majority of the electorate. Democratization, and its promise of forcing Republicans to compete for a majority or something close to it, is the most potent tool to force the party to the center.