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Beyond the Pale

There Can Be No Saving the Republican Party

The pundits who insist that the GOP must be rescued from itself need to understand—that ship has sailed.

Erin Schaff/Getty Images

While this Summer of Indictments may stoke the hopes that our long national nightmare might be ended through judicial means, we should be realistic: The pathway to moving on from America’s MAGA mistake can, and must, be realized through democratic means. We shouldn’t pretend, in any event, that Trumpism and MAGA will might be blinked from existence, but discrediting its political future will take resounding losses to Democrat candidates in 2024. Voters of differing political beliefs must form unlikely, but necessary, alliances, to ensure that Republicans suffer vast defeats at the polls next year, up and down the ballot.

Is this a daunting task? Not unduly; numerous such alliances have occurred in our youthful 243-year-old republic. But the doing-so won’t just be critical for our short-term electoral circumstances: It is the necessary first step in our nation’s healing and reconciliation. And just as the Union did in the aftermath of Appomattox, those on the winning side—who’ve gathered on the correct side of history—will need to lead civic and communal renewals.   

I realize, and respect, that a not-small number of Democrats, Trump-disdaining Republicans, and purple-leaning voters might recoil at such a message, especially given the fact I’ve already renounced Trump and MAGA myself. But if a great nation deserves the truth, the truthtellers should have the necessary courage to pursue reconciliation.

This will take some forbearance. MAGA voters need to be shown that the vast majority of the elected officials and pundits they’ve followed have failed them, lied to them, mocked them privately, incessantly insulted their intelligence. Most of all, however, they’ve been traumatized in believing in parallel existences full of hysteria, phobias and paranoia. But these voters aren’t beyond redemption—for the most part, they are good and decent people who didn’t deserve to be dehumanized at the hands of the GOP. 

National reconciliation means that we can’t just leave MAGA voters to fend for themselves. That they’ve fended for themselves for years—generations, for some—is the biggest reason a corrupted GOP was able to prey on their concerns and fears—some of which had some valid, such as economic worries; and, some in dreadful abeyance of reality, such as the misbegotten fears of a tyrannical, hostile Democrat takeover of their lives, livelihoods, rights and families. I may not be able to offer a blanket endorsement of Democrat policies, but I credit the Democratic Party for not trafficking in the kinds of nefarious mythologies the Republican Party promulgates.

But we should be clear about one thing: It’s the voters who might be redeemed. The Republican Party is, in its current form, beyond redemption. If we hope to bring about the end of our MAGA madness, reconcile as a nation, and move on with our lives, we have to give up on the popular idea that we have to “save the Republican Party.” Giving up on this fruitless pursuit might be the best first step toward healing. Here’s a secret: If you scratch the surface of a dedicated MAGA voter, more often than not, you’ll find someone who already who already, deep down, loathes the GOP. Let’s make use of this.

Much of our national, centrist/center-left press tend to express that they have something different in mind. Whether or not, they want to acknowledge this, they clearly believe that MAGA voters are uneducated and uncouth. They think this because they haven’t lived this life, as I once did—politically traumatized and fully convinced that the Democratic Party posed an existential threat to our country. Yes, the press may understand MAGA voters in the abstract, but they aren’t hip to the ethos that’s been beaten into them at the hands of the Republican Party—or they’re embarrassed to admit they missed the story. 

There is a pretty obvious tell, by the way: Not a day goes by in which I don’t read a tweet, editorial, column or pontification yearning for someone to save the GOP. However well-intended, this is counterproductive and delusional. The Republican Party cannot be saved; the media needs to accept that a mercy-killing of the GOP is necessary for a valid and responsible conservative party to rise in its place. Perhaps it’s too much to ask the press to relentlessly editorialize in that direction. Make no mistake, however: The Republican Party that so many want to save is relentless in their aims. 

It often seems as if MAGA voters are adept at choosing party over country. But the good news is that I don’t think it would take much to cleave these voters from the GOP—for most Trump voters, party affiliation isn’t what is driving their fealty. As one who was once deep down the Trump/MAGA rabbit hole, I can tell you that Trump voters actually despise the GOP nearly as much as they do the Democratic Party. They only believe that Republicans were always preferable to Democrats because they were, sadly, paralyzed by blind partisanship—not because they think the GOP offers innovative solutions to complex challenges. 

I often congregated with affluent, financially comfortable Trump voters who lived those age-old Thoreauvian lives of quiet desperation. In between their Biblical quotes on social media and their myriad pursuits of pleasure, they saw a less White, less Christian, less heterosexual, less-zealous-about-the-Second-Amendment nation as one in decline. The quietly desperate often want a quasi-dictatorial party to emerge on the right because they’ve been made to believe that this is what Democrats are. The GOP, in pursuit of raw power, stokes little beyond these vindictive impulses. And so while voters from the left and right might reasonably agree that the government cannot ameliorate every ill in our country, what MAGA voters have come to want is a retaliatory government—mirroring what they think the Democrats are. 

There’s no better example of this phenomenon than what’s happening here in Florida, at the hands of Governor Ron DeSantis. His reign is all-revenge-all-the-time—and it’s in many ways unrecognizable from what previous political generations understood to be conservative. But as the shadow primary season has wended on, DeSantis has largely failed to catch fire as a Trump successor. It is to be hoped that this is a sign of vulnerability.  

I am loath to offer prognostications, but I’ve started to wonder if GOP officials aren’t in some way anticipating a round of massive federal, state, and local defeats to the Democrats next year, thanks, in no small part, to a record number of single-issue voters. Voter apathy is driven by the lack of a compelling reason to go to the polls; this election is shaping up to have several substantial motivators. And whether it’s abortion, firearms, education, voting rights, climate change, or the U.S. Supreme Court, it all lines up well for Democratic candidates. 

And a nation of conservatives is likely to further splinter into the factions that began to take shape during the past presidential election cycle: MAGA Republicans, centrist conservatives of the Mitt Romney vein, and “liberal” Republicans—whose policy commitments will be a redder shade of purple (if only because they actually have a bona fide interest in policy). I cannot support the GOP in its current form. Irrespective of my reservations about the Democratic Party, I cannot—I will not—support a party that formally declared the January 6 insurrection as “legitimate political discourse.” That’s just one more lie that no member of the Republican Party elite believes but which they force upon their base, much like the many similar myths about the encroach of socialism and Marxism that they use to traumatize their own at the expense of millions of Americans.

Having recently visited Gettysburg, what came into focus was Lincoln’s insistence that Americans appeal to the better and braver angels of our nature, and put behind them a war that remains the deadliest in our history. It is one of history’s saddest twists that Lincoln did not live to see the fruits of his impassioned advocacy and efforts to mend civic bonds. Just as the Confederacy needed to be defeated, so, too, does the GOP; calls to “save” this Republican Party should cease in favor of saving something that’s actually worth preserving.

It is to be lamented that our current epoch mandates sides be taken. I am, admittedly, reticent about an “us versus them” message of mercy-killing the GOP; us versus them, in perpetuity, is unhealthy—perhaps fatal—for any democracy. “Democracy,” as John Adams wrote in 1814, “never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself.” My personal and political journey out of MAGA is living proof that while healing is not painless, it is possible—and liberating. For the MAGA supporters in your life, be patient. Remember that MAGA has made many forget that our nation is a forgiving one. It is astoundingly easy to fall prey to right-wing mythologies; let us not forget this when engaging with the MAGA voters in our lives. And have faith that the effort is true to our history: The never-ending, regularly frustrating toil of perfecting our Union mandates unlikely, but necessary, alliances.