Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

At least in #NeverTrump land, things have already reached the pre-autopsy report stage, where they begin discussing the worst elements of Trump and Trumpism. Over at the National Review, there’s been an interesting back and forth between Noah Rothman and Peter Spiliakos. That Trump will lose and lose “bigly” (costing them both houses of Congress) is now taken for granted in these circles, so I can be absolved of accusations of hubris for meeting them where they stand.

There’s something appealing about these conversations, perhaps because they involve the admission of guilt and a desire for redemption. At least, they normally do. But Rothman thinks that this can be done globally by all parties, without finger pointing or assignations of blame. At least, that’s what he recommends.

Reviving the heated internecine squabbles of 2016 and earlier is a dead end. Whatever anyone did in this annus horribilis must be forgiven. Did you endorse Trump? Did you oppose him? Did you rail against his program? Did you find merit in the nobility of the outrage into which he tapped? None of that matters. All is water under the bridge. Reuniting the coalition and focusing on stymieing Hillary Clinton’s legislative objectives matters far more now than self-righteousness and the pursuit of retroactive vindication…

…Relitigating the presidential-primary process that yielded a candidate who will likely lose a winnable race for the White House, and perhaps take the GOP’s congressional majorities with him, is precisely what I contend we must avoid.

Spiliakos immediately seizes on this aspiration as unrealistic.

There are several problems with this. First, trying to get Trump supporters to admit that they and their ideas are the reasons for losing the White House, losing Congress, and basically ruining America is going to go over badly. Second, it is galling to do this under pretext of not wanting to relitigate the 2016 primaries. Third, and most important, this condemnation of Trumpism (as distinct from Donald Trump) is not obviously true.

To which Rothman replies that he is not demanding that Trump supporters express “repentance,” and that:

“…the only amnesty I’m advocating is of a blanket sort for Republicans, almost all Republicans, with the understanding that perpetually revisiting past battles is unproductive. When it comes to Trump’s rise, no one on the right or left is faultless. All must take stock of our roles in leading the GOP into this cul-de-sac. They should not have to fear the Star Chambers in doing so.

To a certain degree, these conversations have the character of whistling past the graveyard because they assume that the shattered eggshell scattered along the base of the wall can be glued back together satisfactorily provided that the right epoxy is found and utilized. But Rothman, in particular, is advocating something that manifestly will not happen. Trump’s own actions in the past few days assure it will not happen because he’s aggressively pursuing a preemptive “stab in the back” strategy to explain his defeat. His supporters are now primed to blame fraud on the left, sabotage from the “globalist” media, and disloyalty and betrayal from Speaker Paul Ryan and dozens of Republican lawmakers, pundits, and operatives who have spent their time flaying him and his campaign rather than fighting Hillary Clinton.

The war within the Republican Party is only getting started, and fighting over why Trump lost will be the first pitched battle of the war.

The #NeverTrump folks are engaged in two main prewar strategies. The first is this delusional idea that defeat will chasten their enemies and make them open to making common cause in a coherent opposition party. The second is that they’ll just have to go create a new party for themselves made up of people who aren’t fueled on rage. But if you take the contemporary Republican Party and subtract the Trumpistas from it, you don’t have anything more than a third party. It would splinter the right where it competes against the GOP and it would never be a serious contender in national elections. Moreover, even if they could win a few seats here and there, their elected officials would have to caucus with Trump’s legacy GOP once they got into office. Or, perhaps they wouldn’t. Perhaps they’d caucus with the Democrats instead, as a coalition that rejects budgetary nihilism and still sees a role for America to play in international affairs.

This whole spectacle really does look a bunch of people gathered around the corpse of someone who just jumped off a skyscraper. But instead of having an appropriate discussion about what a tragedy this is and how messy it is going to be to clean up, they’re acting as if they can reanimate the jumper like Lazarus.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at