Nevertheless, these senators are all part of a certain Republican caucus — the reality caucus. It might not be denominated as such, but increasingly, the fault line separating Republicans is not on policy, but on reality.
This group and other Republicans outside the Beltway (mostly some state officials, ex-lawmakers and former national security officials) operate in the real world: The coronavirus is deadly, and mask-wearing is essential. Joe Biden won the election, period. Russia interfered with our election to benefit Donald Trump in 2016. Climate change is real.
What links them to each other and simultaneously separates them from their Trumpified colleagues in the GOP is their refusal to substitute Trumpian delusions for facts. The same goes for their embrace of democracy and their understanding that politics is not supposed to be theater or mass therapy for those afflicted with resentment.
That these notions are now controversial and earn them angry, unhinged attacks from their own party is evidence of just how far the Republican Party has fallen. The GOP does not engage in problem-solving; it is about soothing Trump, keeping its base enraged, seeding fear of “socialism” and creating an alternative universe in which their conspiracies can thrive, safe from contact with reality. (Remember at the presidential debates when Trump leapt into conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden, leaving baffled anyone not engrossed in right-wing media?)
The reality caucus, with some notable exceptions, does not agree on many policy positions with Democrats, but they can co-exist peacefully — and maybe productively — because they share common facts, operate in good faith, eschew racism and believe politics is a rational exercise in governing. From there, the rest is negotiation. That was the politics before Trump and before conspiracy-mongering enveloped the Republican Party. It was rational and pro-democratic (little "d"). Merely by virtue of those qualities, the reality caucus has a lot more in common with many Democrats (Biden, in particular) than with the Trumpified right.
They are, therefore, in a unique position to steer us through the next couple of years. Even if Republicans win both runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate would be 52-48, meaning that if the majority loses more than one vote on any issue, it would lose its majority and its ability to set the rules and control the floor. Reality-based Republicans are not going to become Democrats, but they could condition their caucusing with the Republicans. They have a lot of leverage.
What might those conditions be? To start: An up-or-down vote on Biden’s Cabinet nominees within a couple of weeks; a promise not to filibuster a bipartisan stimulus bill (whatever it may be); a halt to loony investigations of the Biden family or Hillary Clinton; an agreement to allow an up-or-down vote on reactivating preclearance in the Voting Rights Act with an updated formula (as the Supreme Court provided in Shelby County v. Holder); a promise to put an infrastructure bill on the floor and go to conference if necessary; and up-or-down votes on judges (respecting the so-called blue slip process). If you think the Voting Rights Act is a “Democratic” goodie, remember the law’s last three amendments (1982, 1992 and 2006) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and were each signed by Republican presidents.
That this would seem controversial — a betrayal even — illustrates the level of bad faith rampant on the GOP side. But it is for that very reason that these senators and others so inclined need to step up. They would not be giving up anything on policy; they would still control the majority. They would simply insist on a modicum of comity, a concern about the sanctity of voting and a willingness to debate (not agree upon) a few major issues on which there is possible agreement.
I fear this might be too much to ask. If so, we are in deep, deep trouble. If, however, there is even a slight chance it might work, can’t we give reality a chance?
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