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Is the Republican Party a Lost Cause?

And if so, should it be?
July 14, 2020
Is the Republican Party a Lost Cause?
(Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Is the Republican Party a lost cause?

Let me be definitive and unequivocal: I don’t know.

On the one hand, with embarrassingly few exceptions at every level, the Republican party is Donald Trump’s party. So in many ways it deserves to be a lost cause.

On the other hand, after November 3, the GOP may stop—more or less suddenly, and more or less convincingly—being Donald Trump’s party. It might even stop being the party of Trumpism.

On the third hand, it will still have been Donald Trump’s party. And that moral and political stain can’t, and shouldn’t, simply be wished away.

On the fourth hand: It would be good for the country if there were a conservative party that wasn’t a nativist / proto-authoritarian / nationalist-populist party. This would be the case for not giving up on the GOP, but rather fighting to save it.

But on the fifth hand, wishing for a sound conservative party won’t make it so. And even fighting for one may not make it so, either. It may be that American conservatism has been so damaged that a “new center”—whether as a party or some sort of cross-partisan coalition—is a better way to go than trying to save the GOP.

On the sixth hand (I know, we’re in octopus territory here): Maybe we should root for the GOP to be salvaged, while acknowledging it won’t be saved by us people like us. After all, if the GOP is to be rebuilt, it will likely have to be done by people who have been complicit in Trumpism. Because one thing that is certain is that the Republican apostates will never be forgiven by their erstwhile colleagues. Not because we were wrong about Trump, but because we were right.

So Never Trumpers will be personae non gratae. The only people who will be afforded the opportunity to save the GOP are the ones who helped wreck it. Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen, of course. But it may suggest that the attempt is less likely to happen. And perhaps less likely to succeed.

Who knows? So many hands, so little clarity!

Such is politics sometimes; such is life sometimes. In these cases, often the best one can do is to stop planning for a triple-bankshot inside-straight at some point in the unspecified future, and instead simply to fight for an outcome that is right and just in the short term. While at the same time keeping an open mind for the medium and long term.

I will admit that my heart, today, is with “the Republican party is a lost cause” faction.

But then my still somewhat conservative mind remembers the admonition of T.S. Eliot:

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.”

On the other hand, maybe Pascal trumps Eliot: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”

Heart or mind? Lost cause or worth trying to save? I don’t know.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.