The party of Lincoln is now the party of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Southern slave owners who decided to kill fellow Americans so that they could keep men, women and children enslaved. The Republican Party, in other words, has obliterated its entire historical legacy and become the party of the Enemies of Lincoln.
And let’s be clear: Republicans cannot say, “That’s not us — that’s just President Trump.” They supported him, they elected him, they defended him and they gave him the aura of a normal presidency. They cannot be the party of Lincoln and be the party of Trump. In that vein, we can dispense with Republicans’ “outrage,” “frustration,” “anger” and all other meaningless expressions of internal sentiment. Unless and until they are prepared to do something — not just send tweets — to politically disown Trump, the party is toast and none of its members should be elected or reelected.
How would they do this? First, elected officials must deny Trump the audience he so desperately craves. They need not appear with him, nor invite him to the Hill. (The State of the Union can be delivered from the White House or in writing; he would besmirch the House by appearing there.) Lawmakers and state officials should not troop to the White House for photo ops. They can communicate with the White House by phone or through aides. In short, Trump must be shunned and ostracized. He is not fit for polite company, let alone the presidency. He has demolished the rules of civilized behavior, and therefore should enjoy none of the ceremonial niceties that are extended to normal presidents.
Second, beyond resolutions condemning Trump’s remarks, every member of Congress should do his or her utmost to remove the neo-Nazi iconography in their districts and states. Neo-Nazis have claimed the Confederacy as their own — and therefore have reminded the rest of us that the Confederate statues are not tributes to patriotism, gallantry or liberty but to treason, inhumanity and slavery. That is why neo-Nazis identify with these symbols of the Old South. That is why they have no place in a democratic society built on the principle that “All men are created equal.” State and local officials need to carefully examine school curriculum to make sure students are not confused as to the heroes and the villains in the Civil War. Every student should learn to spot and debunk the “Lost Cause” propaganda. Perhaps April 9 should be a national holiday commemorating the Confederacy’s surrender and the magnanimity displayed by President Abraham Lincoln and U.S. generals toward their defeated foes.
Third, Cabinet members, sub-Cabinet officials, staffers and outside participants on councils, commissions and committees must leave the administration. It’s not enough, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, to look on with a pained expression as the president declares that some of the white nationalists were “very fine” folks. He deceived you and others as to what he would say and he has shown himself unfit. You cannot serve in the administration of a neo-Nazi sympathizer. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, why stay in an administration in which you command so little respect and in which you must lend your own reputation to a disgraceful president? (Defense Secretary Jim Mattis should remain, a final backstop to prevent a military disaster.)
Fourth, Republicans must treat the president as they would someone not of their party — for he is not, to repeat, of the party of Lincoln. If Hillary Clinton refused to release her tax returns, hired unqualified relatives, kept business ventures that posed a conflict of interest and violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Republicans would commence hearings and pass legislation to put an end to all of it. It’s long past the time that Trump should be permitted to escape the kind of inquiry Republicans would insist upon for any Democratic president. By refusing to do so, the GOP is saying: “He’s one of ours. He’s a Republican, so we don’t rock the boat.”
Fifth, now would be a fine time for formation of a third party, one that can at the end of the Trump presidency repeal and replace the GOP. The Free Republican Party, the Appomattox Republicans (It cannot be said enough: The Confederates were losers) or whatever ex-Republicans in the center-right call themselves can endorse for office defectors from the GOP and reclaim Republicans who have disassociated themselves with the GOP thanks to Trump. Moderate Republican House members of the Tuesday Group, the new Centrist Project (dedicated to backing independent candidates), members of Stand Up Republic (founded by 2016 conservative independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin and his former running mate, Mindy Finn) and others have the chance to stake their claim as the true successors to the party of Lincoln. Those who have wrestled with the question as to whether the GOP could be reformed or whether it should be discarded in light of Trump’s GOP takeover have their answer. If they cannot disgorge him, they must start over.
In sum, Republicans’ words are insufficient and, at this point, insufferable. When we look back at this time, the only thing people will ask is: “What did you do?” Republicans will need a better answer than “I was outraged and gave tough quotes — on background.”