Not all the resistors are scions of the Republican elite, of course. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have refused to countenance this myth about Trump having won an election he clearly lost, and neither of them had politician parents.
But since the election, the most notable resistance in Washington has come from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose father, Dick Cheney, was probably the most powerful Republican who didn’t serve as president in the past century, and from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whose dad, the Michigan governor George Romney, was a political giant of the 1960s.
Then you have Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the daughter of Frank Murkowski, a former senator and governor who was a towering conservative figure in both Alaska and Washington. She’s now the most likely Republican senator, along with Romney, to break with the party’s new orthodoxy.
And don’t forget George W. Bush, who was among the first Republicans to congratulate President Biden in the days after the election. The entire Bush family — a line of ruling Republicans going back a half century — has made no secret of its opposition to everything Trump embodies.
A lot of people, myself among them, tend to disdain this kind of dynastic politics. But in Republican Washington, where even an armed insurrection against the government can’t arouse much moral courage, what little integrity remains seems to have been inherited.
What are we to make of this?
For one thing, it probably tells you what it takes for an independent-minded Republican to hold a seat in the post-Trump moment.
Plenty of conservatives spent the past four years shaking their heads in disgust, and most of them are well aware that Biden was duly elected. But they’re far too fearful of primaries to stand up for what’s true.
The only Republicans who feel safe bucking the trend, by and large, are those whose family brands are bigger than the party’s. Look at Murkowski, who lost a primary in a conservative uprising in 2010, but kept her seat when 101,000 Alaskans wrote her in on their ballots. (They had to spell her name correctly, too.)
When you’ve pulled that off, you’re pretty much the political version of the undead. You can take any stand you want.
But what it also tells you is how little demand there really is for a more thoughtful concept of conservatism in the party right now.
You’d think that at a moment such as this one, with Republicans out of power and the former president banned from social media, younger conservatives — governors, legislators, even veterans or CEOs — would be calling for a restoration of thoughtful leadership.
If there were any real energy behind that kind of conservatism, then I promise you, a younger generation would be rushing in to embrace Lincoln’s ideal of tolerance, Teddy Roosevelt’s good-government reforms, Reagan’s view of limited government and expansive engagement in the world.
But no: The only strong voices for those policies are those whose notion of Republicanism is rooted in their pasts. They channel not some rising Republican constituency, but rather the sentiments of their childhoods — nostalgia for a party that used to be, rather than a vision for the party that exists.
When you hear a Romney or a Cheney calling out Trump’s lies and condemning his anti-American rhetoric, it’s like you’re seeing the collapse of a star in the night sky — an event that seems to be happening in the here and now, but that’s actually just an afterimage of something dying long ago.
I will admit: I didn’t think that’s how it would turn out after Trump left the scene. I still believe that most Americans live in a center-right space on the political spectrum, and I expected that Republican Washington, having writhed its way through the Trumpian plague, would set about reclaiming them.
But the modern primary system makes a loser of reason, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would take a new movement, most likely independent, to revive anything like traditional conservatism in the years ahead.
Until then, we have only these aging scions of Republican royalty, refusing to stay aboard the Trumpian vessel, floating on a lifeboat to God knows where.