Politics & Policy

Patriots Must Win the GOP Civil War

Audience chants and gestures “four more years” as President Trump attends a campaign the embattled GOP senators in Dalton, Ga., January 4, 2021. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
The future of the Republican Party is not in yielding to anti-institutional passions.

Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republican Club, writes for American Greatness that “MAGA Patriots Must Win the GOP Civil War.” His argument is that “the grassroots need [sic] to remain in the GOP, destroy RINOs in primary contests, support Republicans in general elections, and make sure establishment traitors cannot escape the specter of Trump for generations to come.” Here’s how the New York Young Republican Club described its mission at the time of its founding back in 1912:

To promote and maintain the principles of the Republican Party; to foster within the Republican Party and make practical in service of the municipality, state and nation, the idealism characteristic of youth; to correct in our own party that tendency of all parties to make organization an end rather than a means; to develop sound principle and public spirit in party politics; to promote honest and fair electoral methods, to the end that the expression of the popular will by whatever party or body, shall be as free, untrammeled and equal as possible; to resist and expose political corruption; to advocate merit rather than partisan service as entitling to public office; to watch legislation and to encourage public attention to and efficiently criticize the conduct of government.

How far it has fallen.

Wax says that

Trump has staked his claim successfully as the Ronald Reagan of his era among Republicans, throwing a wrench into the uniparty’s schemes. He is the most popular Republican leader in a generation who has delivered in ways traditional politicians could never dream of doing. If a GOP Mount Rushmore were to exist, Trump’s visage certainly would be etched upon it.

The Trump administration has had its policy successes, some of which — such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — are unique to Trump. But also unique to Trump are character flaws that led to a less productive and more damaging tenure than any other 2016 GOP candidates would have had. And whatever his apparent popularity among Republicans, it was outweighed by the revulsion he generated in the rest of the population — which is why Joe Biden will be sworn in as president in about two weeks’ time.

Of course, Wax would object to this last point. He believes that the Republican “establishment” (whatever that is) is so desperate to move on from the Trump era that its members “will happily surrender political victories to regain control over the party.” The proof is this establishment’s behavior during what Wax calls “the vote steal” (he opines that “Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and his Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger would be worthy of a tarring and feathering in the days of the Founding-era revolutionaries.”) Much like Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell, however, he does not provide evidence for a vote steal, preferring instead to just assert that it occurred.

As mystifying as Wax’s invented vote steal is his perception that there is a GOP plot to unjustly rob Trump of the presidency. Eighteen attorneys general and 126 congressmen signed on to a dangerous and irresponsible lawsuit led by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to overturn the election. Twelve U.S. senators have announced their intention to object on Wednesday to the certification of the results of last November’s presidential election. Even a group of House Republicans, whom Wax surely disdains, rejecting a proposed objection to congressional certification of the Electoral College results, do so acknowledging that their actions “may frustrate our immediate political objectives.” But their commitment to American institutions and to the Constitution itself matter far more to them. That’s real patriotism.

Who, then, are the “MAGA patriots” that Wax wants to see prevail? It’s Texas GOP chairman Allen West, who, Wax notes with apparent approval, “talks of secession.” Nothing says love of country quite like suggesting that it be torn asunder. It’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, the congresswoman from QAnon, whom Wax characterizes as merely “the bane of neocon warmongers.” It’s also celebrities such as Dave Portnoy, Kanye West, and Matthew McConaughey, for reasons he does not disclose. As much as I enjoy Portnoy’s pizza reviews, Kanye’s music, and would enjoy a McConaughey Lincoln car commercial–style political ad campaign, I don’t believe they would make more effective operators than Mitch McConnell and Liz Cheney.

There are two different axes upon which the battle for the GOP’s soul is presently and perpetually being fought. One is over policy, and pits traditional Buckleyite fusionism against a more populist, nationalist conservatism. On this axis, there is room for compromise, and for the development of an updated fusionist party that leaves the Right’s myriad constituencies mostly though not wholly satisfied. The other axis pits constitutionalism, restraint, and procedural conservatism against a visceral, power-addicted, paranoid style — one that talks proudly of secession and that takes its cues on democratic norms from former California senator Barbara Boxer and would-be Georgia governor Stacey Abrams.

Wax would likely agree with me that there is far less room for compromise in this latter fight, but would disagree with my side of allegiance, which is the first. Perhaps this is because he sees the role of institutions such as the Young Republicans Club differently. To Wax, Trump’s popularity mandates adherence to his exact policy agenda and to an unquestioning belief in whatever conspiracy theory he might push: Might makes right. To me, it is the responsibility of conservative writers, thinkers, pundits, and politicians to speak the truth. Right now, that means accepting that Trump lost the election, acknowledging that Marjorie Taylor Greene and Allen West are not assets to the party, and unequivocally denouncing the president for asking elections officials to “find” the exact number of votes needed to flip a state into his column — an act that is not only unpatriotic, but impeachable.

Like every other Republican, I have my own opinion of what exactly the party should look like policy-wise. And like every other Republican, I expect to be disappointed and frustrated in some issue areas — this is the plight of every member of a political party from time immemorial until the end of human affairs. But it is imperative that the party establishment and grassroots ignore voices such as Wax’s while working toward a productive conservative party that listens and responds to its constituencies, but does not allow the mob to dominate it.

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