As Republicans across the country struggle to find their post-Trump footing, the most open question of all has three possible answers. What will the GOP look like when the 2022 and 2024 elections roll around? The party can either carry on the America First agenda of former President Trump, adopt some new hybrid ideology, or return to the default philosophy of the party before Trump came along.
That last option – returning to the old days – brings us to another question: What do Republican Senators Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), Pat Toomey (PA) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) have in common?
If you answered that all of them voted to convict President Trump in January’s impeachment trial, you would be correct. But here is one final question: What else do the GOP’s seven deadly sinners have in common? Here is where the rubber meets the road.
All of them are neoconservatives, wedded to the view that America should aggressively – and often militarily – expand our brand of democracy across the world. The America First movement is anathema to them. Sure, some like Romney have a personal obsession with Trump, but in the end, all seven find Trump’s so-called isolationism repellant to their default position which has so often set us to beating the drums of war. This is a movement – or loose alliance – of brazen elitists who have consistently advocated an interventionist foreign policy.
In some ways, though, this neocon repulsion to Trump is ironic, because even the dominant NeverTrump wing of the neoconservative movement should actually have embraced the Trump doctrine for one obvious reason: his massive increase in defense spending. After all, a generously funded military was long the indispensable mother’s milk of the neoconservative movement, the vehicle which made possible the application of their utopian vision of a world given over to American-style democracy – whether the world wants it or not.
These neocons could provide cover for their personal hatred of Trump by attacking him on philosophical grounds for his supposed isolationism. But they proved beyond all doubt that they were simply deranged by his personality and insincere to a fault when they refused to offer even faint praise for the 45th president’s filling of the defense coffers.
So now that Trump is gone, thanks in some part to organized groups of neocon TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) sufferers such as the Lincoln Project, can we safely assume that these Never-Trump neoconservatives have won the argument, and that we will return to the days when a neoconservative would become the party’s standard-bearer by default? In years past, it was only a matter of which neocon would reach the top of the ladder. George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney – all of the century’s GOP standard-bearers before Trump – were charter members of the neocon elite, so with Trump vanquished, they can safely return to the days of endless war together with their neocon brothers and sisters on the Democrats’ side of the aisle. Right?
Wrong. In fact, not even close. Neoconservatives walked the plank with Trump and are now lost at sea, with no home in either party. With their singular mission in life over the last half of the last decade – taking down Trump – now complete, they possess no unifying principles other than a curious lack of opposition to war. And they will be all but laughed off the stage by Republicans across the nation smart enough to realize the damage wrought by these neocons throughout this 21st century.
So sad. All dressed up, no place to go.
One wonders which of the two defining features of the neoconservative movement is worse. On one hand, there’s the reckless view of international order that led us repeatedly into military conflict culminating with the disastrous Iraq War, for which we paid a steep price – Barack Obama for eight years. On the other hand is their absolute refusal to admit the obvious, that they were wrong, or at least have the decency to slink away and out of sight, hoping the nation will forget who was responsible for the quagmire in Iraq. Instead, they have carried on as if they were right all along, and will yet lead us to enter and win a future war that will remove the foul stench of failure which surrounds them from the judgment of history.
Back in the halcyon days of Saturday Night Live, a skit which grew into a meme across the land revolved around the deceased leader of Spain, who had lingered long in illness before his demise: “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”
That may best depict the continuing state of the neoconservative movement. It was famously upbraided by Donald Trump’s America First agenda. And neocon thought leaders like Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and George Conway (husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway who apparently delighted in trashing his wife’s boss) so deeply afflicted by TDS that they abandoned their own lifelong principles to make bed with the left, have been discredited, disgraced and defrocked.
Or, as a prominent Washington newspaper summarized, complete with their usual explosive adjectives, the desperate situation for the George Will/Bill Kristol gang of Trump-deranged one-time conservatives and confirmed neocons who are now politically homeless: “Trump and his angry brand of demagogic right-wing populism has overtaken the neoconservatism that dominated the GOP during the George W. Bush era.”
The question now is whether such neoconservatism will ever return to the uniparty establishment which embraced, publicly or privately, the now-disgraced philosophy which ultimately animated the decision to prosecute the disastrous war in Iraq. It may be that stunningly self-satisfied and delusional neocons themselves are the only ones who don’t realize that the answer is no.
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