The “war for the soul of the Republican Party” turned out to be a pillow fight where not a feather was shed. And Donald Trump won.
So much for that. It was a Grand Old Party. Now it’s gone. Date of death: on or about January 28, 2021.
On Tuesday, January 26th, long-time Republican strategist Whit Ayres told NPR, “January 6th was the opening battle in the war for the soul of the Republican Party.”
By Thursday the war was over. Mitch McConnell, who had made noises about considering a vote for convicting Trump, voted instead for a move to dismiss the case without a trial. Then Kevin McCarthy traveled to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring. If the words, “forgive me, Godfather,” weren’t spoken in their meeting I’m sure that something very close to it came out of McCarthy’s mouth.
With the quick capitulation of the two most senior Republican office holders it was all over. What Ayres described as the “governing wing” of the GOP is now once again a wholly owned subdsidiary of what he called the “populist wing,” which is to say it’s still Trump’s party.
The fact that Ayres, a grizzled veteran of the GOP establishment, could have been so naive as to believe that there would actually be a protracted war over this is one more piece of evidence that the old guard is gone, out of touch and irrelevant.
Gorilla actions are still possible. Maybe a handful of renegades will cut deals with Biden and the Democrats now and then. Senators like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio are retiring and so have nothing to lose. Susan Collins of Maine comes from a state that voted for Biden and so she has a political interest in looking reasonable. Mitt Romney may actually be a man of principle. Liz Cheney is just tough. You can add Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ben Sass, a governor like Maryland’s Larry Hogan and a few others here and there.
But there’s a legitimate question about how long that small group will be able to hold up under what will be withering attacks (and quite possibly threats to their personal safety) from the Trump populists — and now they’ll have to find a way to hang on without any cover from their leadership.
About Wisconsin legislative Republicans, I wrote last week that they were morally bankrupt for voting to repeal Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate. We can now add the national party to the same description. Frankly, I’m not surprised by that, but I had some hope that maybe it would take longer to reach that conclusion. At least they didn’t waste our time.
For four years Donald Trump directly attacked our constitution, our institutions of government, the free press and every rule of behavior and common decency that we had come to expect of our neighbors, not to mention the president of the United States. It never let up. And, finally, it built to its violent crescendo: an insurrection in the halls of Congress, sparked directly by Trump and fueled by four years of complicit behavior by most of Ayres’ “governing” Republicans.
If that wasn’t enough for McConnell and McCarthy to take a stand, nothing will be. There was, for all of about ten days, a faint glimmer of hope that the old principled conservative GOP could reestablish itself in the wake of Trump. We now know that the Republican Party as we knew it is officially dead.
It’s time for principled conservatives to escape the rotting hulk of a thing they don’t even recognize anymore. It’s dead. It’s gone. Toss in a handful of dirt. Step away from the grave.
Build something new.