The Civil War keeps coming up for Republican candidates. It reflects tensions inside the GOP
DeSantis and Haley debate. Image via AP.

DeSantis Haley
Slavery, and the failure to mention (or teach) it, dog Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.

As Republicans make their case for the future, they keep getting stuck on the past.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spent much of the summer mired in controversy over new educational standards that call for teaching that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley failed last month to mention slavery as the root cause of the Civil War. And former President Donald Trump last weekend called the Civil War “so fascinating” and said it could have been “negotiated,” sidestepping the fundamental dilemma of slavery.

Such moments reflect tension inside the GOP — the Party of Abraham Lincoln that abolished slavery, won the Civil War and embarked on Reconstruction — with the first primaries of the 2024 election just around the corner. Some in the party’s conservative base, which is deeply rooted in the Deep South, are more willing to overlook unpleasant historical facts about the Civil War at a time when they feel under siege from the left during the movement to remove Confederate monuments and names from institutions. Others fear the controversy will hurt the party’s ambitions to make inroads with nonwhite voters who may be repelled by minimizing the historical atrocity of slavery.

On the eve of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, Republicans are increasingly frustrated by the dynamic and have sought to turn the issue back on Democrats.

“Quite frankly, I’m getting damn tired of the re-interpretation of history that I hear from Democrats,” Iowa Republican Party chair Jeff Kaufmann said at the state party’s annual legislative breakfast Tuesday. “The Republican Party emerged because Democrats would not give on slavery.”

The prominent role slavery and the Civil War have played in the GOP primary is notable at a time when the next President faces immediate challenges, including two major wars and a domestic economic recovery many voters say they’re not feeling. Some fear the party risks losing the chance to make inroads into President Joe Biden’s support, especially as Arab AmericanBlack and Latino leaders are increasingly vocal that the President is vulnerable among voters of color.

Biden and his fellow Democrats are eager to highlight the GOP missteps. Speaking Monday at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine Black parishioners were killed by a White supremacist in 2015, Biden said it was a “lie” that the Civil War was about states’ rights.

“Let me be clear, for those who don’t seem to know: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War,” he said. “There’s no negotiation about that.”

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Florida shortly after DeSantis enacted the new history standards to criticize the policies and accused Florida Republicans of being “extremists” who “want to replace history with lies.”

Republican leaders are conscious of the critiques and eager to push back on any characterization that the party has shifted from its abolitionist roots.

Republicans were founded “because somebody needed to take a bold, uncompromising stand on human rights and civil liberties. That is not woke. That is a fact,” said Kaufmann, the Iowa GOP chair. “We are the party of Abraham Lincoln. We have always been the party of Abraham Lincoln.”

While the controversies focus on the past, conservative opposition to broader accounts of American history are rooted in concerns over the social implications they open up, experts say.

“The Republican Party is very much in favor of an understanding of American history that we are a country that is exceptional, that we have brought freedom to the world, that we have overcome the challenges of the past and that we need to be proud of our past,” said Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.

Democrats, Peterson said, are “more likely to say there’s a lot in our past that we need to reflect upon and, and maybe apologize for.”

Republican candidates have traded barbs among themselves over historical issues for months. DeSantis and Trump have both criticized Haley for her Civil War comments. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, criticized DeSantis over Florida’s history standards, saying slavery was “devastating” and that he “would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for President — would appreciate that.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christiewho suspended his campaign on Wednesday, referenced the Civil War with a word of caution to Republican voters. Benjamin Franklin, Christie recalled, said Americans had been given, “a republic, if you can keep it.”

“Benjamin Franklin’s words were never more relevant in America than they are right now. The last time they were that relevant was the Civil War — which we know was caused by slavery,” Christie said.

The intra-party jabs echo a broader debate over the legacy of the Civil War for policymaking today.

“The Civil War was more than 150 years ago and we still haven’t fully come to terms with the consequences for this society,” said Eric Foner, Columbia University professor emeritus and author of histories of the Republican Party and the Civil War.

“I think there’s generally a feeling on the part of Republicans and conservatives across the board that the people who are trying to take down statues and trying to rename the streets are against American history and that everything about America that we used to believe was good in the past is now being cast as evil,” said Geoff Kabaservice, vice president of political studies at the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank.

Such sentiments are widely shared among Republican voters, who may react “with polarization and partisanship on these historical issues” in response to broader cultural shifts in the understanding of America’s central story, Kabaservice said.

The Civil War debate also highlights other realities about the GOP’s coalition, which is now based in the American South and not in the North where the party was founded. Democrats and Republicans “have essentially stolen the garb of the other party from the 19th century,” Foner said.

“I think, in fact, it’s very possible to acknowledge the sins of the country, even the atrocities committed in this country, and also its noble ideals and promises,” Kabaservice said.

“But this is not really a time that is generous toward complexity and nuance so that kind of thing gets lost in the politics that we have nowadays.”


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Michael K

    January 14, 2024 at 9:06 am

    DeSantis is essentially the new confederacy. His entire campaign and governance is based on division. It’s not about serving all people, it’s only about raw political power and the bidding of the wealthy oligarchs financing his private jet travel. It is indeed a civil war against decency, intelligence, and humanity. All under the banner of “states rights.”

    • The Dude

      January 14, 2024 at 9:32 am

      What a bunch of carbon based hot air you spew. You criticize our fine Governor for the use of a private jet yet are okay with our climate envoy, John Kerry, jetting around and telling all of us to be more green efficient. Well he is resigning now, thank God. He can now rest comfortably in his mansion with multiple zone cooling and probably heating with oil. He is as phony as Al Gore.

      • Trump’s Howler 🙈 Proud Bois of FL

        January 14, 2024 at 9:55 am

        The Dude needs to abide. Slavery is over Dude.

        • The Dude

          January 14, 2024 at 10:41 am

          The Dude definitely gets it. Slavery is loooooooooong gone but yet this is the standard Demo strategy every election cycle. Repubs are racist. They are coming for your social security. They are coming for your Medicare and Medicaid. Of course the Demo cultists eat this up even though it is completely false. I am surprised that Gancarski didn’t write this. The AP is certainly an extension of the Demo party.

          • Tom

            January 14, 2024 at 1:09 pm

            Strategy wise, whatever works, works I guess. The repo’s with their playing the victim and their dystopian vision of the country is pretty ridiculous as well but that’s pretty much all you have to offer. Go figure. Welcome to 2024.

          • rick whitaker

            January 14, 2024 at 1:44 pm

            the dude, did you not get the email? racism is now uncool. so now you can’t claim you didn’t know. i don’t hang with racist’, they’re not cool.

      • Phil Morton

        January 14, 2024 at 3:16 pm

        Kerry resigned to work for the Biden Re-election campaign. I don’t think he’ll be resting anywhere but on the road getting his boss re-elected.

        • Impeach Biden

          January 14, 2024 at 3:30 pm

          Flying around in his private jet and campaigning in between his Botox injections. What a fool.

    • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

      January 14, 2024 at 9:37 am

      Warning America Warning America:
      As you may have noticed what we have here is yet another A. P. opinion shaper article.
      Well firstly, thank you for asking as it shows you are not a “Dyed In The Whool Dook 4 Brains Leftist”. The term “Opinion Shaper” means “Fake News” the terms are one in the same.
      In the future when your “Sage Eye” sees that it is an A. P. article you are now henceforth armed with the “Sage Knowledge” that its “Fake News”.
      Now, just to be clear, America, I’m not telling you “Not To Read The Article” no not at all ….. go ahead and read it.
      What I am doing for you, America, is fore-warning you that, since you now know [Thanks to Earl] that the A. P. articles are all 100% “Opinion Shaper Fake News” GUESS WHAT?:
      Now, going forward you wont go into work and make a blithering fool out of yourself by repeating any “Fake News” to your boss or coworkers, many of whom are “More Sage” then you.
      It only takes one such slip-up for your boss and coworkers to write you off as an “Un-Promotable Dook 4 Brains Lefty”.
      Once you become a “Dook 4 Brains Lefty” in your “Sage Boss and/or your Sage Coworkers Sage Minds” your carreer ….. just like that has come to a screeching halt. You will always either retain your “Entry Level Position or Be Demoted” to such a lowley position for ever and ever. And when your current boss retires, he or she will always, as a porfessional courtsey warn the incoming Boss that you are a Dook 4 Brains Lefty and un-promotable.
      You are welcome,
      Earl Pitts American

      • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

        January 14, 2024 at 9:45 am

        Remember America,
        Public displays of “Dook 4 Brains Leftism” in the work place fall into the same catigory as public displays of “Masturbation” in the work place.
        Just dont do it.
        Thank you America,
        Earl Pitts American

      • rick whitaker

        January 14, 2024 at 1:46 pm


        • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

          January 14, 2024 at 3:09 pm

          Rick is back – Back again – Rick is back -Tell a friend !!!
          Thanks Rick I’ve put your time off in as vacation time so you remain an active employee of The Earl Pitts American Fan Clubs Political Science Division in good standing.
          Missed you Big Guy,
          Earl Pitts American

    • PeterH

      January 14, 2024 at 12:42 pm

      Exactly….well written!

  • Uncle Tom

    January 14, 2024 at 9:19 am

    Why are we talking about the Civil War? I thought all the liberal wokesters were going around the US and google searching every statue they come up on. Of course most of them have no idea who these people were but by God if this was Civil War related it must come down. Does this slavery thing come up on election cycles in Europe?

  • Trump’s Howler 🙈 Proud Bois of FL

    January 14, 2024 at 9:54 am

    Folks, slavery IS NOT coming back; move on.

  • blaming whitey

    January 14, 2024 at 10:47 am

    I am sick and tired of hearing about blacks and slavery. its been over 160 years, and they are still blaming slavery for their problems in society. is slavery why they kill each other at alarming rates. blacks are still blaming Whitey for all their problems. go back to Africa or South America, that is what the great emancipator wanted to do with blacks after the war

    • The Dude

      January 14, 2024 at 10:55 am

      The mayor of Chicago is talking about reparations. None of us whitey’s are current slave owners. Are they going after the whitey’s in Europe as well?

  • My Take

    January 14, 2024 at 10:59 am

    The neoConfederates used to fuss over the term “Civil War.” No, “War Between the States” they would say. “The Sinful South’s Sordid Struggle to Sustain Slavery” others might say.

    After tne Democratic Party supported Civil Rights, culminating in the 1960s, the segregationist most conservative wing of the party moved wholesale over to the vote-welcoming Republcan Party. Later they took over.

    • Trump’s Howler 🙈 Proud Bois of FL

      January 14, 2024 at 11:27 am


Comments are closed.


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