Resolute Square

The New Lost Cause: Republicans

Like ignoring the monstrous fact that the Civil War was fought to defend slavery, Republicans who believe the party can simply return to pre-Trump business as usual must pretend party fealty to Trump and all the ensuing damage never happened.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Published:January 5, 2023

“The South shall rise again!” That was the cry I heard over and over growing up in Mississippi in the 1960s. It symbolized the essence of the great Lost Cause, the movement determined to romanticize a war fought over the right to own human beings. It denied the role of slavery in the Civil War, ignoring the fundamental truth that every Confederate state explicitly referenced slavery in its Declaration of Secession. The need to believe triumphed over even the reality of a war that killed 2% of the American population.
Today another Lost Cause has taken hold of the hearts, if not brains, of those wishful thinkers, desperately trying to convince themselves that there is some glorious past to which the Republican party can return. Like the fantasy of a resurgent Confederacy, it is a means to live in an alternative universe cushioned by the conviction of lies, to cling to a hope that the difficulties of today will end with the restoration of a once glorious period in which their cause was just, uniting good men and women in the struggle for a better world.
These new Lost Cause disciples are those who believe the Republican Party of their dreams can return to a role as a center-right governing party in the world’s oldest democracy. Like the Confederate Lost Cause, this comforting delusion is dangerous and destructive. Living in this alternative universe of non-truth makes it possible to evade the necessity of confronting the ugly truth that is reality.
At the root of the Republican Lost Cause is the illusion that somehow Donald Trump hijacked the party they loved. Like ignoring the monstrous fact that the Civil War was fought to defend slavery, this belief requires ignoring that the party nominated Trump twice and even knowing everything that has been revealed about Trump’s attack on the American experiment, only a handful of Republican leaders have said they will refuse to support Trump if he is the nominee.
The current riff of disenchantment among Republicans with Trump is driven by the fear that he may have become a liability in their quest to acquire and maintain power. There is no concern over the existential threat to democracy he leads, no worries about having a United States President actively supported by the foreign intelligence arm of a murderous dictatorship in Russia. The DeSantis Republicans are like the Russians fleeing their country to avoid conscription. It’s not that they have any problem with Russians murdering Ukrainian women and children in a genocidal war. They just want other Russians to do the killing.
There is one power center in the Republican Party: Donald Trump. Every element of the Republican universe revolves around his sun. The grotesque humiliations Kevin McCarthy is willing to endure in his pathetic quest for joint speakership with Marjorie Taylor Greene is just another proof point that there is no controlling sane center to the Republican Party. If McCarthy does make it to Speaker, he will be controlled by Donald Trump through his proxies.
Look ahead to the Republican presidential primary. It will play out along the lines of the Kevin McCarthy spectacle. There are three possible scenarios. 1) Donald Trump will effectively clear the field and be the de facto nominee by this time next year. 2) A crowded cast of candidates will enter, resembling 2016, with Ron DeSantis and Trump leading. A bloody primary battle ends with Trump once again winning the nomination. 3) A crowded field and Ron DeSantis manages to defeat Trump.
The Lost Cause Republicans who need to believe that DeSantis is somehow more of a serious governing figure because he knows which fork to pick up don’t understand, or won’t admit, that a DeSantis nomination ensures the re-election of Joe Biden. Why? Because Donald Trump will spend every moment of his Diet Coke-addled long days with one goal: ensuring that Ron DeSantis is not President of the United States. His path to this goal could not be easier. If Don Trump, Jr. or Ivanka Trump ran as an independent in Florida, that would likely be enough to throw the race to Biden. (I’ve sat in those rooms staring at Electoral College maps for five presidential races. Without Florida, the Republican path is very, very difficult.) Or, with one phone call, he gets Doug Mastriano to run as an independent in Pennsylvania. Likewise, with Kari Lake in Arizona. That’s it. Lights out. President Biden will walk back into the Oval Office.
When the Republican Party embraced Donald Trump, it donned a suicide vest and handed the trigger to Trump. That was true in April 2016 and will be true in April 2022. The only option for those who believe there is a Republican Party worth saving is to accept they have one option: fight and destroy Donald Trump and Trumpism. That would be a battle driven by conviction, not the probability of victory.
Which is why it hasn’t happened and never will. There is no conviction or courage in the Republican Party, only ambition for the sake of power. The Republican Party, as a serious governing party, will, like the South, never rise again. All of the so-called “moderate” Republicans who still harbor some restitution fantasy are enabling the most extreme elements of the MAGA movement. Until they face the truth that only by destroying the current Republican party, which requires voting for Democratic candidates, will there ever be a chance for a sane center-right party to emerge. A party with no room for a Liz Cheney is not worth saving. That hated figure of my youth, General William Tecumseh Sherman, understood what it took to win: burn it all to the ground. So it is with the Republican Party.