Why Did #NeverTrump Fail?
For multiple reasons, but if you had to boil it down to two variables there would be 1)collective action problems and 2) the alternative candidates were lousy:
The persistence of coordination issues at this stage suggests a key facet of Republicans’ predicament. Failures in the nomination stage can be attributed to slow movement, incorrect interpretation of what the Iowa results meant for Rubio, and, later on, an overemphasis on being against Trump rather than for another candidate. But the overarching theme here is that bargaining has broken down because, in many cases, no one has anything that anyone else wants.
This is the principle that unifies several of the different coordination failures. First, elites’ inability to successfully signal to the voters that they were supposed to line up behind Jeb, then Rubio. Elites coordinated, and voters didn’t care, as one of my party politics students observed. Second, this helps explain the inability of candidates to coordinate to stop Trump.
You could probably pinpoint the start of the #NeverTrump movement as the publication of the National Review issue dedicated to declarations against the candidate. The NeverTrump folks really got going after Super Tuesday, when Trump swept the contests and Rubio had an especially disappointing night (sorry, Minnesota caucuses).
In a lot of ways, the #NeverTrump effort looked the most like a coordinated movement within the party of anything that happened in this nomination season. But it forgot something: a candidate. Rubio stayed in the race for two more weeks, and the elephant in the room (no, I will never tire of that pun) was that the polarizing and widely disliked Cruz was the most viable alternative. Furthermore, what did the NeverTrump movement have to offer potential supporters? What kinds of credible threats could it make?