GOP Doubles Down On Anti-Democracy
As the investigations into the insurrection and attempted coup on January 6th reveal more and more, it becomes increasingly clear just how involved Trump, his campaign, and Republican co-conspirators actually were. The insurrection was just another step in what was an ongoing coup attempt where Trump was using all the levers of power that a President has in order to overturn the election. Those efforts included multiple attempts to get the DOJ and the courts to help overturn the election. Yet, even as that evidence mounts, Republicans in Congress defend Trump with even greater zeal, repudiating those few fellow party members who have the audacity to stand up for democracy. In the states, Republicans are redoubling their efforts to ensure that Democratic voters are even further disenfranchised in any upcoming elections. And if Democrats in Washington choose to ignore just how anti-democratic the GOP has become and refuse to take the necessary steps to combat it, they will soon find our democracy under even greater threat than it was under Trump.
We now know that former Trump campaign officials, some who had been with the campaign until just days earlier, were responsible for helping to organize the January 6th rally turned riot. Over the last few years, the Trump campaign had used dark money and shell companies to funnel over $2.7 million to other groups involved in putting together the insurrection rally. Apparently several GOP Senators, Don Jr., Giuliani, and other close Trump advisers met with one of those organizing groups the night before the insurrection. Trump tried to force the DOJ to sue a number of states directly in the US Supreme Court, using a complaint drafted by one of his own personal lawyers, in the obvious hope that the three appointees to that body would protect him. When the leadership of the DOJ refused to file such baseless suits, Trump then conspired to install a Trump-supporting senior DOJ lawyer as Attorney General in order to get those suits filed as well as launch special counsel investigations looking into voter fraud. That effort was thwarted when the remaining senior leadership of the DOJ threatened to resign en masse. This follows Trump’s earlier effort to have the Georgia Secretary of State “find the votes” he would need to win that state and his firing of the US Attorney in Georgia for his refusal to launch an investigation of voter fraud there.
None of this new information is likely to sway Republican Senators for voting to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. As of now, even Republicans think only five or six members of their Senate caucus would vote for impeachment. That number would certainly be an historic number but not enough to convict. And considering that only five voted against the idea that convicting Trump after he has left office was not constitutional, that estimate may be on the high side. Instead, having been given time and distance from the insurrection, Republicans have essentially turned the page and Trump himself has noticed. In order to avoid convicting Trump, most will say convicting Trump after he has left office is either unconstitutional, which is false, or divisive, which is also false. A few will try to claim his words and actions were reprehensible but did not amount to incitement. And still others, like Rand Paul, will keep on perpetuating the “Big Lie” about voter fraud.
The Republicans who voted not to certify Biden’s win were voting to disenfranchise millions of Democratic, primarily Black and other minority, votes. And Republicans in every state will be working to reach that exact same goal over the next two years. As Rand Paul promises, “I’ll spend the next two years going to every state legislature trying to fix the laws”. It has already begun. In Georgia, there are discussions about adding a voter ID requirement to absentee ballots, eliminating drop boxes, and perhaps eliminating no-excuse absentee voting. In Pennsylvania, Republicans want to introduce new voter ID requirements and eliminate no-excuse absentee voting. In Arizona, the GOP wants to repeal the early voting list which would mean every voter would have to request an early ballot be mailed to them rather than it happening automatically. In North Carolina, Republicans are finally trying to get the delayed voter ID requirements in place. In Montana and New Hampshire, the GOP is trying to eliminate same-day voter registration.
State GOP legislators are not just focusing on disenfranchising minority votes. They are also working to strip power away from Democratic governors, pack their state courts, and attack those few Republicans who have actually defended democracy instead of Trump. In Kentucky, Republicans are trying to impeach Democratic governor Beshear, ostensibly over COVID regulations. In South Carolina, the GOP is trying to pack the state Supreme Court. In Arizona, the legislature has censured their own Republican governor Ducey as well as Cindy McCain and former GOP Senator Jeff Flake. Even Mitch McConnell is having to fight off attempts at censure in Kentucky over his supposed lack of support for Trump. In addition, some GOP Senators are making it clear McConnell can not stay on as Minority Leader if he votes to convict Trump in the impeachment trial. There is already a challenge to Liz Cheney’s leadership position in the House because of her vote to impeach Trump and she has also been censured by Wyoming Republicans. In addition, Cheney, like every other of the ten House Republicans who voted for impeachment, is already facing a primary challenge in 2022.
Like any good fascistic autocratic party, the Republicans are using their own violations of law as a reason to crack down on their opponents. The Big Lie is the excuse for voter suppression. And now their violent insurrection at the Capitol is being used as an excuse to crack down on protests in general. Since the January 6th insurrection, nine states – Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island – have introduced bills that would criminalize participation in disruptive protests. As The Intercept reports, “The measures range from barring demonstrators from public benefits or government jobs to offering legal protections to those who shoot or run over protesters. Some of the proposals would allow protesters to be held without bail and criminalize camping. A few bills seek to prevent local governments from defunding police”. A number of states have proposals that would allow felony charges to be brought against “anyone who was a part of a riot where injuries or significant property damage occurred, even if they didn’t personally cause it”. Some of these states, including Kentucky and Missouri, are increasing penalties for blocking traffic and would provide protection for drivers who injure or kill protestors or even use deadly force against protestors on private property, using the “stand your ground” theory of self-defense. As one Democratic strategist noted, “It’s telling that so many radical right-wing state lawmakers are responding to an attack on our democracy with an attack on our democracy”.
Finally, several state Republican parties have now been captured by QAnon adherents. The Hawaii GOP says Q adherents are simply patriots. The Texas GOP’s new motto is “We Are The Storm”, a Q meme borrowed from the Nazis. Oregon’s GOP has called the insurrection a false flag operation, citing the Reichstag fire. It is often hard to focus on the fact that QAnon adherents believe that the Democratic party is run by Satan worshiping, cannibalistic pedophiles who must be rounded up and executed and Trump is the leader of that effort.
Jonathan Chait divides the current Republican party into three groups – the Never Trumpers, the violent authoritarian right, and what he calls the “soft authoritarians”. The Never Trumpers are pro-democracy but, whether they know it or not, have effectively been thrown out of the party despite perhaps still calling themselves Republican. Then there are the violent right-wing fascists who want to set up a white, Christian, nationalist government by almost any means possible and are Trump’s core base. Finally, there are the soft authoritarians who strongly believe in minority Republican rule but may be a little queasy about a violent overthrow of the government. The soft authoritarians are represented by the pre-Trump Republican leadership like Pence, McCarthy, and McConnell. These soft authoritarians have basically acceded to the violent right for most of Trump’s tenure and it seems clear that a portion of that group, perhaps a significant portion, either silently supports the violent autocrats or actually lives in fear of them, either electorally or physically or both. The refusal of all but five Republican Senators to even countenance a trial for Trump’s insurrection is clear evidence of that. And, as the case of the ten House Republicans who voted for impeachment shows, simply standing up to the violent right-wing authoritarians are grounds for being purged.
The result is that there are no real “moderates” in the Republican party anymore, only degrees of authoritarians. Only 22% of Republicans even believe that Biden is a legitimate President. The leader of the party sent his armed paramilitaries into the Capitol in order to execute Democrats and any Republicans that stood in the way of his attempted coup. The party is an extremist anti-democracy party equivalent to some of the fascist parties of the far right in Europe. As David Rothkopf writes, “The GOP is choosing to continue to be, post-Trump, a party that represents an existential threat to American democracy”.
In parliamentary democracies, there have been countless examples of parties leading government with the slimmest of majorities who have expressly ruled out expanding that majority by including an extremist party. That is how Democrats must treat the Republican party right now. There is no such thing as a “bipartisan consensus” when one party is not only intent on setting up an autocracy but also advocates killing the leaders of the other party. Those who still say they believe in that “bipartisan” fantasy (cough Manchin, Sinema cough) are not only ensuring the failure of the Biden presidency but also helping to lay the groundwork for the final takeover by a fascist autocratic party in four years’ time from which our democracy may never recover.