Goodman: Republicans must choose democracy over ideology
Commentary: The Republican Party’s attacks on Liz Cheney demonstrate why the Trump-inspired question, “What would I do if I were a Republican?” has renewed urgency.
In 2016, conservatives and voters who “distrust all politicians” were sufficiently disenchanted with the U.S. political works to help toss in Donald Trump as a giant monkey wrench. Trump also attracted racist and jingoistic haters; but most Trump voters I know are regular folks. Many soon realized that the reality of “President Trump” was disastrous. He not only said and did harsh things to refugees and immigrants, socialist and atheists, and “welfare bums,” he endangered most everything U.S. patriots prize, such as national security, the rule of law, ethics in government, and separation of powers.
Many watched closely, and reacted by tossing Trump out of our White House. That fact has been reasonably praised as evidence our system still works. (African-Americans, Native Americans, and other citizens might say our system is finally beginning to work.)
But make no mistake: Mr. Trump, his deluded followers, and cynical politicians such as Messrs. Cruz and McCarthy still have our democracy in their gunsights.
If you’re a conservative who loves our country and distrusts Biden’s rainbow administration and ambitious stimulus and infrastructure ideas, you’d love to relax back into your traditional Republicanism; but the Party won’t let you.
Case in point: the very conservative Cheney won’t join Trump’s anti-democratic movement. She hasn’t forgotten that Trump’s false claim of election theft provoked violence on January 6. Courts, including Trump-appointed judges, rejected Trump’s election-fraud claims. Trump himself has never articulated how some massive, multi-state conspiracy occurred. But he’s repeating the lie, knowing it could provoke violence again.
Cheney says Trump is forcing Republicans to choose between his lies and “truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Kowtowing to Trump and the “base” won’t increase the Republican Party’s overall popularity. Most folks recognize there’s no hint of evidence of significant election fraud. They also honor John McCain as a war hero, prefer a government that competently fights a pandemic rather than denying it, and idolize George Washington, not Vladimir Putin. Many voters recognize that many of Trump’s allies don’t believe Trump’s lies either, but hope to benefit politically; and if politicians lack the backbone or integrity to stand up to a blowhard like Trump, how can we trust them to make hard national/international decisions on our behalf? (A prominent Republican pollster/consultant says Trump’s a massive favorite to win the 2024 Republican nomination, but a massive underdog to Biden.)
Consequently, Republican-controlled states are changing the election process to guarantee a Republican “win” in 2024, no matter what “those crazy voters” actually do. While proponents of the voter suppression laws stress relatively reasonable issues such as requiring more identification from voters, these laws contain dangerous provisions that severely limit voting access and (in Georgia) would empower Republican legislators to toss out county voting boards that certified honest counts the legislators didn’t like!
A key lesson from How Democracies Die (Levitsky/Ziblatt 2018) is that sometimes an authoritarian threat can be repulsed only if ideological allies of the authoritarian choose democracy over ideology.
That’s precisely Cheney’s choice, and the reason for it; but too many Republican lawmakers are choosing authoritarianism – or foolishly imagining they can control the would-be authoritarian.
Trump has declared war on democracy. Cruz and Hawley hope to gain by helping him. Cheney stands against them. Each Republican voter has a decision to make.