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A House Divided
Different factions of Republicans and former Republicans are engaged in a contest for the party’s soul.
Welcome to the Self-Evident newsletter. Last week, I penned what (I hope) was the last “Trump rant” I would ever write. Now, that’s not to say I won’t write about Donald Trump or Trumpism ever again. But I hope it’s the last time I write exclusively about Donald Trump and air my grievances with a politician who, I feel, has seriously led many of my fellow conservatives astray.
While my gut tells me that Donald Trump is fading fast as a national figure, there is still a lot to be said, and to write, about Trumpism, its impact on the conservative movement and the GOP, and what’s going to happen moving forward.
I’ve written before about my opinion that the conflict within conservatism and the Republican Party does not constitute an intellectual civil war. That is, Trumpism does not represent a coherent perspective on ideology or philosophy, and neither does it represent a coherent set of unchanging policy and legislative initiatives.
Caesar’s legions followed him across the Rubicon, not because he had presented them with a new philosophy on governance but because Ceasar had obtained their undying loyalty, and they would follow him to whatever end. They did not reject the Roman Republic; they just embraced Caesar. The same can be said of Donald Trump.
Prepped by a cultural revolution that left them feeling left behind and beyond the power to alter the direction of their country, a significant portion of Americans embraced Donald Trump as their leader, as the avatar of their fears, as the embodiment of their anger, as the one who would fight for them...as their president. They have chosen to follow him, and his influence, to whatever end.
So, while the Republican Party and the conservative movement are truly about to enter into a period of “civil war,” it’s important to understand where the lines are drawn. In this newsletter, I will offer my view of the different groups within the Republican Party as it currently stands.
(note: these observed categories are not neat, there’s definitely some crossover, and, full disclosure, I’m a Republican with skin in this game. My perspective and biases inform my observations)
The Ride the Bomb Caucus
Let’s start with the most visible segment of the Republican Party. I call it the “Ride the Bomb Caucus” because, as I watch significant portions of rank-and-file Republican voters, talk show hosts, pundits, and politicians continue to sing praises to Donald Trump despite the ruin he has brought upon the Republican Party, the image that keeps coming to my mind is Slim Pickens gleefully riding an H-bomb to his doom.
As I pointed out last week, Donald Trump has led the Republican Party to historic losses at all levels of government. The federal court system is a worthy exception, but I would argue this victory belongs more to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell than it does to Donald Trump. Given that the courts so thoroughly rejected Trump’s assertion of fraud, despite his belief that they “owed” him something, I don’t think even Trump considers the courts a win for him anymore.
But despite everything I and so many others have laid out in retrospect to where Donald Trump has taken the Republican Party and the conservative movement, there’s an amazing level of staying power to Trumpism within the ranks of the GOP. And, Republican politicians are demonstrating an extreme wariness to going against Trumpism’s lingering power. In fact, new figures are rising within the Republican Party that not only channel the essence of Donald Trump’s performance but are doubling down in ways that would make even Donald Trump blush.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the most visible and blatant examples. Her head is an apparent stew of conspiracy theories, and her strange pronouncements on everything from giant, jew-funded lasers to whether or not a plane ever actually hit the Pentagon on 9/11 have become headline news.
But, even though she makes the Squad look mild-mannered and reasonable in comparison, it isn’t she who has gained the ire and focus of talk show hosts and their followers. Instead, anger is directed at Representative Liz Cheney for daring to vote for impeachment and suggesting Donald Trump deserves responsibility for an insurrection fueled by his campaign to discredit the presidential election.
Indeed, just as Slim Picken’s character in Dr. Strangelove was ecstatic to be riding a bomb about to destroy a Russian ICBM site, this Trump-enamored segment of the Republican Party is ecstatic to sit astride a Trump Train they still think is driving “the libs” nuts and is still poised to destroy the Democratic Party and open the door for a resurgence of their America.
Whether it’s Don Jr., Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump himself, the Ride the Bomb Caucus is making no course correction whatsoever and is prepared to fight anyone who attempts to wrest the GOP from its hands.
The Burn It Down Exiles
On the other end of the spectrum are those who’ve turned their #NeverTrump determination into a #NeverGOP vendetta.
While no longer Republicans, I include this group in this discussion because they still have a stake in the GOP's future, given that they want the GOP to have no future at all. Their animus is predominantly negative partisanship, and they have decided to make the underlying thrust of their political engagement to check the Republican Party at every possible turn.
Their perspective is that Donald Trump has so thoroughly denigrated the Republican Party that it must be completely removed from American politics. Trumpism, in their view, has so infested the Republican Party and the conservative movement that only out of the ruins of its ashes can anything rise that would be a worthy vessel of conservative values.
This goal largely manifests itself as support for the Democratic Party or, at the very least, ending their membership in the Republican Party. These joint thrusts are designed to “punish” the Republican Party as much as possible, robbing them of support and electoral victories. Their view is that the Ride the Bomb Caucus' enchantment with Donald Trump can only be broken through absolute and clear-cut defeat at the ballot box. Only after blue wave after blue wave after blue wave crashing into the GOP and its voters will they wake up from the spell of Trumpism.
The greatest impact this group will have on the present “civil war” in the Republican Party and the conservative movement will be that it robs one side of participants. Encouraged by various leaders and figures currently operating in organizations such as The Lincoln Project and Stand Up Republic, many conservatives who would be members of the Good Faith Caucus or the Restore Caucus (discussed below) have instead been convinced that the Republican Party can’t or isn’t worth being saved, that their names will be sullied by any continuing connection to the Republican Party, or that the Republican Party must fix itself before they will engage with it again.
The National Conservative Caucus
I hesitate to suggest there is a reasonable portion of the Trump-enamored Right, but it would be unfair to say that all Republican voters, politicians, and pundits that have supported Donald Trump and largely continue to do so belong in the Ride the Bomb Caucus. Suffice it to say there is a portion of the Right that is more reasonable or, at the very least, is less unreasonable.
This is the group that has been and continues to make a serious effort to turn the unhinged nationalism and populism of Trumpism into something coherent, either in an attempt to redirect its energy towards traditional conservative goals or to craft a new nationalist manifesto.
These are the likes of Marco Rubio, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and to a lesser extent such figures as Mike Lee, Scott Walker, and Mitch McConnell. These are those who likely never cared for Donald Trump as a person and many of whom initially opposed his nomination in 2016. They are those who jumped on the Trump Train, not as true believers but in the belief they could steer it towards a direction reflecting their own political goals, whether those are based on actual values or simply the attainment of personal power.
Some of them probably hope Donald Trump does fade away, opening the door for them to steer the ship in a different direction. Others likely believe that Trump had the right idea but was too flawed in style and temperament to see the new direction through.
The National Conservative Caucus will be the most flexible group within the GOP and will, oddly, be the group trying to bring everyone back together. They want to pick the pieces up in a way that secures the “advantages” they believe Donald Trump and Trumpism have brought the Republican Party but manages to correct the “image problem” that they view as the only real problem that Donald Trump had.
However, similarly to the Burn It Down Caucus, this group of “move on” Republicans also robs one side of the internal conflict of participants. The National Conservative Caucus is a safe space for conservatives and Republicans who admit privately that Donald Trump led the party to ruin but who are convinced nothing good can come from saying so publicly. Many Republicans who would otherwise belong to the Good Faith Caucus and the Restore Caucus are drawn into the National Conservative Caucus or, at the very least, support politicians and pundits who occupy this position.
The National Conservative Caucus is filled with those who feel it’s far more important to maintain a united front against the Left than to deal with the issues presented by the Ride the Bomb Caucus. But their silence is ultimately assent and fuels the present trajectory of the Republican Party. If the conflict widens, this group of Republicans will likely split. Their weight may ultimately tip the balance.
The Good Faith Caucus
Like the National Conservative Caucus, this group of Republicans wants to re-unify the Republican Party as much as possible with as little conflict as possible. However, they feel the best way to do it is to denounce Donald Trump and Trumpism but then go about the process of governance in the hope that, as Trump fades away, the rest of the party eventually follows them.
This group is small and generally reflects the more traditionally moderate segment of the Republican Party. It’s best reflected by Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. It seeks allies from all the different factions of Republicans but the Ride the Bomb folks.
The Good Faith Caucus is trying to skip over the “civil war” altogether. I’ve called it the Good Faith Caucus because, except for the most virulent of Trump supporters, it views all the other segments of the Republican Party, and even the Democratic Party, as acting in good faith. It believes that if it acts in good faith towards everyone else, the Republican Party can slowly but surely heal itself and move on from the Trump era.
If the internal conflict deepens, this group of Republicans will likely shed membership and fuel the ranks of either the Restore Caucus, the Burn It Down Exiles, or just move on altogether, creating a new Center-Right segment of the Democratic Party or just become jaded but ultimately non-hostile independents.
The Restore Caucus
This last group of Republicans are those who are all-in for a conflict against the Ride the Bomb folks. They believe that Donald Trump and Trumpism represent a cancer within the Republican Party that’s killing it, but they believe it’s a cancer they can fight.
In their view, there was only ever a very small segment of conservatives and Republicans who became truly converted to nationalist populism and that most Republicans are honest bread-and-butter conservatives who’ve fallen for the lies of a con-man and his enablers. They seek to wake up their fellow conservatives and renew the Republican Party as a vessel for conservative values.
This group is best represented by Ben Sasse, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain, and Adam Kinzinger. (And, yes, this is the group I would place myself in).
In many ways, this group faces the steepest climb and the most difficult fight, since it is essentially waging a three-front conflict against the Ride the Bomb folks who they’re fighting directly with to regain control of the Republican Party, the National Conservatives who worry they’ll chase too many Trump supporters out of the GOP, and the Burn It Down Exiles who are robbing them of support. There is coordination between Restore folks and the Good Faith folks, but it’s an uneasy alliance since one group is trying to avoid the “civil war” that the other is beating the drums for.
But the Restore Caucus argues that their path is the only one that can end well, however difficult. From their view, the Ride the Bomb folks are completely out of control and tanking the party's viability, and the National Conservatives can never hope to steer the party towards anything productive if Trumpism remains the animating influence within it.
However, the Restore Caucus recognizes the staying power of a major political party and that such a rooted political institution does not die easily. From their perspective, abandoning the Republican Party wholesale to the Trump-enamored elements only assures that each election in the foreseeable future becomes a flirt with disaster as America is forced to choose between whoever the Democrats put forward and increasingly unhinged Trumpists.
They shake their heads at the Burn It Down Exiles who, to them, represent an inverse of the negative partisanship that fuels the Burn It Down folks as opposed to a cure for their influence. The Burn It Down approach could very well lead to a slow and dangerous death of the Republican Party, and what rises from the ashes could be far worse.
The Restore folks are natural allies with the Good Faith folks and, ultimately, probably agree more than disagree with many of the National Conservatives. The challenge for the Restore Caucus is to win over sufficient numbers from these other two groups to challenge the power of the Ride the Bomb folks and the National Conservatives who will be unwilling to surrender the power and influence that they see as available to them from Riding the Bomb.
Consider this newsletter a rough draft of where I see things currently. Prognostication, at this point, is the prerogative of a fool.
Trumpism has become seriously enmeshed within the conservative movement and the Republican Party, especially within the Right-wing Media Complex. If Donald Trump escapes conviction in the Senate, it will likely be trumpeted as vindication and could very well be a springboard that launches a successful 2024 nomination for the presidency. Riding the Bomb could go on for a very, very long time.
On the other hand, Donald Trump may become content with simply becoming a kingmaker. The torch of Trumpism could be passed on, either to another family figure like Don Jr. or similarly disposed bomb-throwers like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley. This would likely still end in disaster but would be less immediately catastrophic.
Everyone could still be surprised, and Trump and Trumpism could actually just...fade away. Four years from now, this whole saga could shrink to a historical footnote. The 2024 Republican Primary might look much like 2016 did before Donald Trump came down the golden escalator.
But, as I've intimated, my view is that the Republican Party is at a final crossroads. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand. A political party cannot endure with one segment reasonable and another unreasonable, one portion conservative and another increasingly nationalist, one group hopeful and another forever cynical. I don’t expect the Republican Party to dissolve, I do not expect the party to fall anytime soon, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will either become all one thing or all the other.
I lay out the difference between censorship and de-platforming
I ask the Democrats what their endgame is for Trump’s second impeachment
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Now, for the real controversial topic, I was on Team Cap in the other Civil War. Here are my points:
Stark was clearly emotionally manipulated by the Secretary of State.
The accords were assembled remarkably fast, which suggests the powers that be were waiting for the Avengers to screw up so they could thrust an extremely arbitrary international law upon them without any deliberation or compromise.
The Avengers were given an ultimatum, show up at the accords and sign or retire, without any opportunity to speak for themselves or even consider the full ramifications of signing.
The very first post-accords operation was a green light to essentially assassinate Bucky Barnes without due process. So, were the accords anti unchecked unilateral authority, or just anti-superhero?
Captain America was never manipulated by anyone over the course of the narrative, he simply reacted based on his convictions and tried to do what was right. Stark, on the other hand, was manipulated by everyone from the Secretary of State to Zemo and his emotional instability was the underlying catalyst for the entire conflict.
After his experiences with Shield/Hydra, should Captain America really have been expected to trust any kind of government oversight, especially when he’s given such a severe ultimatum, when Wanda is treated like a dangerous criminal, and when his best friend is hunted down by a kill-squad?
Stay Free My Friends,