Is the Party Over for Republicans?

English: Wigwam
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time a major American political party fell completely apart, it did so over the expansion of slavery. The split between the Whig Party’s northern and southern factions resulted in the party’s dissolution, the ascendance of the Republican Party (the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was a former Whig), and the Civil War. Between 1854 and 1856 the Whigs faded from the second largest party in Congress to non-existence.

The last time a major American party came anywhere close to falling completely apart, the divisive issue was racial segregation. Several southern state Democratic Parties split off to form the States’ Rights Democratic Party (the “Dixiecrats”), running Strom Thurmond instead of Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential election, carrying four states and racking up 39 electoral votes. Truman won anyway.

The Dixiecrats were more or less an historical footnote by 1952, although a “National States’ Rights Party” persisted for awhile. Alabama governor George Wallace appealed to the same constituency in his independent presidential campaigns, and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr tried to dog-whistle up a Dixiecrat resurgence.

Next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland may be ground zero for America’s next great partisan implosion.  The issues involved are both more numerous and more nebulous — foreign policy, immigration policy, trade policy, gun policy, tax policy, what have you — than in similar previous episodes.

In the past a few of those internal policy disputes could be kicked down the road every four years for the sake of party unity and political victory. This year something’s changed. The rise of Donald Trump has brought all of them to a single head in one moment. In addition, the man himself scares the bejabbers out of the party establishment with his garish, faux-populist, medicine show style.

For that establishment, the closest thing possible to victory is for Trump to lose, either to revolting delegates in Cleveland or to Hillary Clinton in November. The party can’t win the White House with Trump, then go back to being the party of George W. Bush, let alone Ronald Reagan. If Trump wins, the establishment loses and the GOP becomes, more overtly than ever and probably irreversibly, the party of banana republic nationalism.

For Trump’s supporters, victory looks like … well, like winning with Trump and making the GOP, more overtly than ever and probably irreversibly, the party of banana republic nationalism.

That signpost reads “all downhill from here.”

In this election, the functional equivalent of the 1948 Dixiecrat ticket are the Libertarian Party’s nominees, two “moderate Republicans” who will be on the ballot in at least 40-odd states rather than four. But where the Dixiecrats were a menace to the Democratic establishment, Gary Johnson and William Weld may be the Republican establishment’s only hope.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Shurat HaDin versus Facebook: Vexatious Litigation as Warfare

Still shot from video footage filmed on the 18...
Still shot from video footage filmed on the 18th day of the War on Gaza showing the destruction sustained from Israeli-Palestinian clash in the area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shurat HaDin, Israel Law Center, characterizes itself as a non-governmental organization “at the forefront of fighting terrorism and safeguarding Jewish rights worldwide.”

On July 10, the organization filed a federal lawsuit on alleged behalf of the families of five Americans (one American tourist and four Israeli-American dual citizens) killed in attacks which the suit blames on Hamas, the Islamist organization governing Palestine’s Gaza Strip area. Facebook, the suit alleges, assists Hamas (in violation of the US Anti-Terrorism Act) in “recruiting, radicalizing, and instructing terrorists, raising funds, creating fear and carrying out attacks.”

The suit seeks to punish Facebook to the tune of $1 billion for failure to censor public communications of which the Israeli government disapproves. This should be troubling for two reasons.

First, the obvious: Federal law (47 USC § 230) protects sites like Facebook vis a vis content created by  their users: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” There’s a reason for that legal provision, and this lawsuit highlights that reason: Suing Facebook because Hamas operatives use social media is like suing AT&T because Hamas operatives talk on the telephone.

Second, the less obvious: As I previously mentioned, Shurat Hadin characterizes itself as a non-governmental organization. In reality, it seems to at the very least serve as a front for, and quite possibly to function as a de facto litigation arm of, the Israeli state.

A 2007 US embassy cable — revealed by whistleblower site Wikileaks — cites Shurat Hadin founder Nitsana Darshan Leitner as admitting that, at least at one time, the organization received evidence and took direction from the Israeli government, claiming that “[t]he National Security Council (NSC) legal office  saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do.”

Shurat HaDin’s lawsuits against Facebook (this one and another, filed in 2015, which complains that Facebook’s tools for connecting people with similar interests as “[allow] Palestinian terrorists to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens and Jews on its internet platform”) are, in a word, “lawfare”: Asymmetric warfare carried out through abuse of legal and judicial systems to accomplish military aims.

The US government has no business involving itself in the conflict between Israel and Hamas — nor should the  US courts allow Shurat HaDin to turn Facebook and other US firms into collateral damage in that conflict.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Note to Media: Less Maine, More Socrates, Please

Remember the Maine

When I search for the phrase “here’s what we know,” Google returns 9.4 million results. A depressing proportion of those results are the headlines or ledes of news stories about then-current events. For example (I’m writing this on July 8, 2016), “Here’s What We Know About Confirmed Dallas Shooter Micah Xavier Johnson.”

Too often, “what we know” turns out to be “what someone told our reporter,” or “what we heard at a press conference,” or “what we read in a press release.” And “what we know” (again too) often turns out not to have  been true at all and to instead have just been “what we thought we knew at the time, and now what you will go on thinking because you don’t have time to keep up forever with our changing versions of every story.”

For example, I suspect that if I asked fifty random people on the street what kind of gun Omar Mateen used in his June 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a majority  who thought they knew would think they knew that the gun was an AR-15. After all, major newspapers “knew” that’s what it was for the better part of a day … until they found out it was actually a Sig Sauer MCX.

Or to reach a bit further back in history, in 1898 US newspapers told Americans with solemn assurance that the USS Maine had been destroyed in Havana Harbor by a mine. Many people still consider that confirmed fact, and it made a great excuse for the Spanish-American War. But to this day, we still don’t know what actually happened to the Maine.

The idea behind use of the phrase “here’s what we know” is to convey the message “here are some facts you can take to the bank.”  But lately I’ve begun reading it as “we are hubris, hear us roar.”

Socrates, the father of philosophy, is quoted by his disciple Plato thusly: “I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do.”

I’d love to see that motto inscribed over the entrance of every journalism school in America, as a caution against reporting rumor as fact, against treating speculation as evidence, and against putting being first ahead of getting it right.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.