Throughout the actual American Civil War, the Confederate states were roiled by factionalism. It wasn’t until after Appomattox, and after Juneteenth, that the South was really united—in shared defeat. Then they could move onto the next critical phase, mythologizing the “lost cause,” assigning blame, and, of course, installing a new corrosive networks of racism to replace the one they had lost.
The Republican civil war didn’t really end with Liz Cheney being booted from her seat—that was more in the order of a mopping up operation. The surrender came when Republican “leader” Kevin McCarthy traveled to Mar-a-Lago and officially handed over the GOP’s jellied spine to a man who had just lost the House, lost the White House, and lost the Senate.
In short, McCarthy looked at the party in front of him, pondering the difficulty of rebuilding a coalition that was sinking into a mire of authoritarianism, racism, and conspiracy theories. He pondered what it would take to put the GOP back on course, and to revitalize the party into something that could attract enough new voters to make it truly competitive. And then he simply decided that rebuilding is hard. What’s not hard? Surrender. So he did.
The GOP is past the point of advocating for any policy; this is a party whose official platform is that it does not have an official platform. It’s past the point of trying to repair its battered tent, uninterested in doing the work required to expand its appeal, and utterly done with that whole … whatever it was they used to believe in. Or at least pretended to believe in.
Instead the party is just pitching itself to Trump, united in defeat.
Which doesn’t mean they’re going quietly. Just like the last time the forces of white supremacy lost a civil war, they’re working at the state level to build a new and improved Jim Crow 2.0. Republican dominance at the state legislature level is being used to erect barriers to voting that make a poll test seem like a minor inconvenience.
That threat is absolutely real. Had the just-passed Georgia laws been in place previous to the last election, it would have likely blocked access for enough Black voters in the state that Trump would have won Georgia, and Republicans would still control the Senate. These changes are no joke, and the threat they represent to democracy cannot be overstated.
At her departure, Cheney sounded a warning that her colleagues were playing into the hands of hostile powers. “Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure,” said Cheney. And that’s why “We must speak the truth: Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.”
It’s a valid concern. But one of the things Republicans have surrendered is the idea that they will ever again actually enjoy the support of a majority of Americans. They’ve given up that fight. For them, the future isn’t to be decided by democracy, but by how much democracy can be denied. If that means throwing in with autocratic strongmen who have no concerns except holding power … well, that’s their whole new brand.
Republicans fought most of the battles of their civil war over the last five years, but really they had been skirmishing at Fox News and across the AM radio dial for decades. By the time they started losing major battles to Trump, it was clear they were already a hollowed-out organization, with neither logistics nor strategy on their side. For the whole of Trump’s term, they lost fight after fight, most without a shot being fired. Anyone who showed any resistance is quite easily defined as a former Republican official.
Still, 2020 gave the ragtag survivors of a once powerful party an opportunity to reform and regroup. In a very real way, Jan. 6 only increased that opportunity, providing them a perfect time to declare “this far, and no further” while marching away from Mar-a-Lago. They won’t get that chance again.
When Republicans surrendered to Trump, they ceased to be. Ceased to be Republicans. Ceased to be a political party in any way that makes sense. The Republican Party is 100% dead. And 1000% dangerous.