January 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
For Republicans, there is no choice
The GOP isn't cracking up. It's evolving. And it won't be good.
Imagine you’re a Republican in the House of Representatives. Imagine you have a choice to make today. You can side with a president who takes no responsibility for the attempted assassination, broadcast on live national television, of members of the United States Congress. Or you can side with everyone else. And I mean everyone: the Democrats, the news media, the US military, business leaders, Wall Street, the courts, civil society, and the 82 million-person multiracial coalition that elected Joe Biden.
Everyone else is saying, yes, what we witnessed was an attempted coup d’etat. What we witnessed was domestic terrorism, plain and simple. What we all saw was disloyalty, treachery, sedition, mutiny, treason—whatever word you want to use to describe the same thing. What we want is for Donald Trump, and everyone who abetted him, directly and indirectly, to face serious consequences. It was possible to talk about a politically divided country after the election last year. Is it still possible in light of the fact that everyone but Republican deadenders understands what must be done today?
The suggestion is that Mitch McConnell might welcome Trump’s conviction in order to rid of him. Problem is, he can’t.
Imagine being a Republican whose political lifeblood is attachments to the military. Imagine being squeezed between Trump saying his speech inciting the magattack was “totally appropriate” while all eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Gen. Mike Milley, said it was “a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.” Imagine being a Republican spreading the Big Lie—Trump won—while leaders of America’s most respected institution say: “In accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.” Imagine you’re a Republican finding yourself on the wrong side of the military. What’s the point of calling yourself a Republican?
Big business, you could say, and you’d be right. But even there, there’s trouble. Many corporate leaders were willing to look the other way while Trump’s administration beat down on the politically weak, vulnerable and helpless. But inciting mutiny after losing a presidential election means corporate leaders can no longer look away. Indeed, they have incentive to take action. Tech firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump and his minions. Wall Street banks suspended donations to Republicans complicit in last week’s attack. Importantly, leaders of traditional and conservative brands are now speaking out against the president. “I think the biggest mistake anybody is going to make is try and rationalize what happened last week, what the president did and what that crowd did,” said Home Depot’s CEO Ken Langone. “There should be no mitigation at all. It was horrible. It was wrong. I’m shocked.”
Wait till it gets worse. On the one hand, these are conditions in which political parties break. Some leading Republicans, for instance Liz Cheney, are coming out strongly in favor of impeachment. Even Mitch McConnell is reportedly open to it. In a phone call with the top congressional Republican, Joe Biden asked if the Senate might operate on duel tracks in the weeks after inauguration: one for confirming his Cabinet and one for putting the former president on trial. McConnell did not say no. Indeed, he punted, saying that it’s up to the Senate’s parliamentarian. McConnell seems aware of the widening chasm between his party and everyone else. The suggestion is that he might welcome Trump’s conviction as means of getting rid of him. Problem is, he can’t.
Which brings me to the other hand, and why I’m asking you to imagine being a Republican. However much they are being jammed right now between loyalty to Trump and loyalty to the Constitution, fact is, 142 Republicans already decided. They voted last week to overturn the results of a lawful election, which is to say, they went on the record in favor of overruling the will of the majority and installing a dictator. That many Republicans, or close to it, can be expected to defend Trump today against one article of impeachment. That many Republicans can be expected to shrug at attempted political assassination. That many can be expected to look at the sea of Americans expecting them to honor their oaths of office and say you don’t count.
A Fox anchor complained last week about American culture itself being “rigged against conservatives.” He’s got a point. Polite white society, informed by the news media, the military and the business community, is pushing fascist politics back to the margins, where it belongs. Meanwhile, representatives of fascist politics won’t budge. They are putting themselves on the wrong side of democracy and the Constitution by lending support to a former president who is himself poised to lead some kind of paramilitary movement against the US. The GOP likely won’t break up so much as forge a new compact between competing wings. One would see political violence as useful and legitimate while the other would see it as illegitimate but useful. The Republicans would today seem to be making a choice, but the choice is already made.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.