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It’s done. The Republicans in the United States House of Representatives voted this morning to oust Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney as chairwoman of the House GOP conference. I’ve been writing obliquely about this pending vote, as I’ve been trying to make other points. But let me be plain. Ousting one of their own for the sake of a losing president means the Republican Party is now officially anti-democracy.
Think about it. A pro-democracy party is one that would leave behind the losing president. It would look at his failure, which almost never happens, and reassess what the party must do to win more votes than the other party did. It would expand greatly its policy repertoire to attract a winning national coalition. It would reorganize and restructure to compete harder for a broader spectrum of voters. In brief, it would do something similar to what the Democratic Party did after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.
The more the Republican Party acts like an insurgency, the more normal people are going to respond politically. That’s bad for the Republicans, but that’s good for the republic.
Instead, the Republicans are behaving in two anti-democratic ways. One, they are rigging elections with new laws disenfranchising wholes classes of people. Two, they are preparing to ignore election results if rigging fails. Going all-in for the losing president means the party doesn’t care anymore about legitimately winning or losing. It does not care anymore about the very principle of legitimacy. It has effectively given up on democracy, because it keeps getting in the way of keeping its grip on power.
But it’s worse than all this. Hillary Clinton dutifully accepted the results of the election as an expression of the people’s sovereignty. (She did this, though by the standards of democracies around the world, she won by dint of winning more votes). She did not lie. She did not cast doubt. She did not scheme with state-level Democrats to “find” a few thousand extra votes. She did not plan, organize and then incite the sacking and looting of the United States Capitol. She did not seek to violate the almost sacred tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. Treason was not the price of her vanity.
More importantly, the Democratic Party did not follow her. The Republicans, however, have been following Donald Trump wherever he leads, even when he palled around with a dictator (Vladimir Putin); apologized for a murderer (Mohammed bin Salman); neglected a once-every-100-years plague that will kill more than a million Americans in the end; tried defrauding the American people by way of extorting a foreign leader; and planned, organized and incited an insurrection against the United States. There was no crime, injustice or outrage they were not willing to sidestep, overlook or defend. The Democrats are more republican than the Republicans in the Republican Party. The GOP hasn’t just given up on democracy. It’s warring against democracy.
Despite all this, we can have faith. Most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics. But they do hear what leaders like Liz Cheney are saying, and the message is, I think, pretty simple. There is something profoundly rotten at the core of the Republican Party. There is something about the Republican Party that’s against America itself. That must be the case given the party is booting from its leadership the daughter of a towering Republican figure and a former vice president. She’s a member of the United States Congress whom the Democrats normally hate. That’s the impression left on normal people. Everything else is noise.
I have talked a lot about the importance of getting swing voters, which is to say, respectable white people, to side with patriotism over despotism. If there’s anyone who looks, acts, talks and thinks like that great globular middle of American politics, it’s Liz Cheney. During a floor speech last night, she said the GOP is going to war:
“I am a conservative Republican and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law. The Electoral College has voted. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges he appointed, have rejected the former president’s claims. The Department of Justice in his administration investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them. The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process. Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution. … I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.
Those who say Cheney should switch parties are mistaken. The moment she became a Democrat would be the moment she lost all influence over independent voters, many of whom are just like her, once loyal partisans alienated by the GOP’s disloyalty to the United States. Indeed, Cheney is where she should be, for her own political reasons (she probably has presidential ambitions) and for reasons benefiting the rest of us.
As long as she’s a Republican bucking the party line, she’ll command the attention of the Washington press corps. That attention will in turn deepen the impression among normal people that something is seriously wrong with the Republican Party, so serious as to be dangerous. The more the GOP acts like an insurgency, the more normal people are going to respond politically. The patriots among us are getting woke.
John Stoehr is a visiting assistant professor of public policy and liberal studies at Wesleyan University, and editor and publisher of the Editorial Board. This article was originally published at The Editorial Board.