“So many mistakes were made. See, there was something I think could have been negotiated, to be honest with you,” Trump said at a campaign event in Newton, Iowa. “I think you could have negotiated that. All the people died. So many people died.”
The former president’s comments come a little over a week before the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, where he has a significant lead in the polls over his closest rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
The Civil War has emerged as unlikely talking point on the GOP primary trail. More than a week before Trump’s comments, Haley answered a question about the cause of the Civil War without mentioning slavery – the driving force behind the war. She has since backtracked, repeatedly saying she thought the fact went without saying.
Trump’s remarks were not made in response or reference to Haley’s.
In fact, there were a series of efforts before the Civil War began to cut a deal to save the Union. But the future of slavery in the South could not be settled through compromise and the nation went to war with itself. Trump did not say how he would have prevented the conflict, which he also called “so horrible but so fascinating.”
“It was, I don’t know, it was just different,” Trump said of the war. “I just find it – I’m so attracted to seeing it.”
After describing the wounds soldiers sustained on the battlefield, Trump said, “There’s nothing nice about it,” adding the war was a “tough one for our country.”
He also suggested that Lincoln would not have the same historical cachet “if he negotiated it.”
GOP former Rep. Liz Cheney slammed Trump’s take on social media, asking how Republicans who have endorsed the former president can “possibly defend this?”
“Which part of the Civil War ‘could have been negotiated’? The slavery part? The secession part? Whether Lincoln should have preserved the Union?” Cheney wrote. “Question for members of the GOP – the party of Lincoln – who have endorsed Donald Trump: How can you possibly defend this?”
Modern Republicans traditionally point to Lincoln as a hero – a Republican hero – for his role in preserving the Union when the South sought to leave the fold rather than end slavery.