Republican Presidential Candidates Once Again Wooing Admirers Of The Confederacy

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Republicans hoping to become president of the United States of America are trying, in yet another election, to win over voters who harbor a fondness for the treasonous, pro-slavery Confederate States of America.

As he addressed a crowd of North Carolina Republicans at their state convention earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opened with a promise that he would revert the newly renamed Fort Liberty back to Fort Bragg — after Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general notorious for repeatedly losing key battles.

“It’s an iconic name and iconic base, and we’re not going to let political correctness run amok in North Carolina,” DeSantis said at the start of his June 9 remarks to a cheering crowd.

The next day, former Vice President Mike Pence made the same promise. “We will end the political correctness in the hallways of the Pentagon, and North Carolina will once again be home to Fort Bragg,” he said, also to cheers.

And former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who won praise across the political spectrum for her push in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds after a white supremacist killed nine Black people in a Charleston church, has moved to a position of refusing to condemn it. In 2019, she said in an interview that the flag was about “service, sacrifice and heritage” and that killer Dylann Roof had “hijacked” it.

The open appeal to apologists for those who seceded from the Union in 1861 and took up arms against the United States — the actual definition of treason — continues the history of Republican outreach to white Southerners who oppose the Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1960s. It also continues the defense of honoring literal traitors pushed by former President Donald Trump, who just weeks before his Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt vetoed an annual defense bill because it required that military bases honoring Confederates be renamed.

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage,” Trump wrote in a statement posted to Twitter in 2020.

DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s queries about his North Carolina promise. Nor did Haley’s about her position on the Confederacy and its symbols — a topic she has largely avoided since starting her presidential campaign in February.

An adviser to Pence, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that North Carolina party officials told him it was an important issue to the delegates assembled for their annual convention following the official ceremony that renamed the base to Fort Liberty on June 2.

“Mike’s view is that we should be learning from history, and not trying to erase history,” the adviser said.

University of North Carolina history professor and Civil War expert Joe Glatthaar, though, found that notion laughable, adding that it was possible to learn about that period without honoring those who fought to defend the ability of wealthy white people to own Black people.

“I’m not erasing the Civil War by changing the name to Fort Liberty,” he said.

The proliferation of monuments to men who committed treason took place first in the decades following the end of Reconstruction and later as a backlash to the civil rights activism that picked up steam following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court, which led to the integration of public schools.

Fort Bragg got its name in the first of those waves, when the U.S. Army’s head of artillery chose the name of a North Carolina native for the new artillery training center to be located near Fayetteville.

Bragg had won praise as an artillery officer during the Mexican-American War. After Southern states seceded following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Bragg was called to serve as a general in the Confederate army.

In that role, he quickly earned a reputation for both incompetence and cruelty. He executed a conscript for leaving his unit to visit his dying mother, despite the pleas of other top officers. At the same time, he was losing battle after battle, including one of the war’s most pivotal at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in late 1863. He later failed to hold the harbor in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1865, just weeks before the South’s surrender.

To Glatthaar, Bragg’s track record as a military commander is less significant when it comes to having his name grace a major Army installation than the fundamental fact of what he did: kill U.S. Army service members.

“His actions resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of United States soldiers. How can anyone think that’s a good thing?” he said.

Fort Bragg, in fact, was one of nine such military bases named after Confederate officers. That inherent contradiction got its first serious examination in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis.

Monuments honoring Confederate “heroes” across the nation began coming down, including those in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the South. A major road named for Robert E. Lee was renamed in Arlington. And Congress, with bipartisan majorities, included in the National Defense Authorization Act the creation of a commission to rename military bases that bore the names of Confederates.

Trump, running for reelection, vowed to veto the bill — one of the few annual pieces of legislation considered “must-pass” — and on Dec. 23, 2020, actually did so. Both the Democratic-run House and the GOP Senate responded by overriding the veto in the closing days of the lame-duck session, and the commission set about its work. It received 3,600 suggestions from the public for the Fayetteville home to the storied 82nd Airborne Division, which it boiled down to a shortlist of 87 names before settling on Fort Liberty last year.

“We were given a mission, we accomplished that mission and we made ourselves better,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue, the base’s commanding general, after the June 2 renaming ceremony.

Glatthaar said that he doubts most North Carolinians have strong feelings either way about Fort Liberty versus Fort Bragg, and that he cannot understand why state party leaders would want to gin up a controversy now. “Truth be told, I have difficulty understanding the Republican Party in my state. They get worked up about the stupidest things,” he said.

Morgan Jackson, a top political adviser to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, said trying to defend the Confederacy 160 years after the Civil War ended was a mystifying strategy in a state that now-President Joe Biden came within a point and a half of winning in 2020.

“If you’re not a primary-voting Republican, people understand that we need to stop naming bases after dead Confederate generals. I mean, come on,” he said. “Not to mention that it’s offensive to a lot of the troops serving there. Anybody who’s mad about a failed, really bad Civil War general, I don’t know what your problem is.”