All this is driven home by a speech that Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) gave on the Senate floor on Friday, in which he called out his Republican colleagues. Watch this full excerpt:
Now ask yourself this: How many other Democrats have you heard making this case in such stark terms?
Yes, you regularly hear Democrats claiming that it’s time that Republicans accept that Trump lost. Or you hear them slamming Trump’s lawsuits as frivolous. Or you hear them suggesting that Republicans are spineless for not standing up to Trump, as if they harbor deeply held principles they’d adhere to if only Trump’s rage-tweets weren’t so frightening.
But you don’t often hear them saying what Murphy suggested here: that the Republican Party has morphed into a malignant and profoundly dangerous threat to the country and the long-term prospects for our democratic stability.
I followed up with Murphy to ask what prompted this speech.
“I have a very clear sense of the danger this all poses to the republic,” Murphy told me. “If this becomes at all normalized more broadly than it already is, they will steal an election two years from now or four years from now.”
“And then I’m not sure how we keep our democracy together,” Murphy continued.
I asked Murphy whether more Democrats need to step up and amplify a similar case. He pointed out that this is a complicated moment, with Democrats under pressure to do a lot of things at once. Among these are managing the transfer of power, scaling up a more robust response to coronavirus and negotiating with Republicans on an economic rescue package.
There also seems to be a tension at play among Democrats. President-elect Joe Biden’s team — which has adopted the posture that much of what Republicans are doing is just a stunt — wants to reassure the country that the transition is proceeding smoothly, and might not want too much focus on this disruption. But that risks misleading the public about the tenuousness of the moment.
Murphy suggested that a “division of labor” among Democrats is appropriate, in which some raise alarms and others focus more on all those other matters. But he allowed that more Democrats need to speak up right now.
“I think we do need more people looking at this as a hair-on-fire moment,” Murphy told me, while adding that “not everybody in the party can do that, because there are a lot of things going on.”
All this raises broader questions: If large swaths of the Republican Party are morphing into a much more cancerous anti-democratic force, one that in some basic sense just isn’t functioning as an actor in a democracy, how should Democrats adapt, and communicate to the public about this? How can they compete in the information wars, given the massive media machine the GOP has at its disposal?
On another front, a much more robust agenda to broaden prosperity and combat inequality and flat wages might defuse some populist anger out there. But given that the prospects for a modest economic rescue package are dim — and given the likelihood of GOP Senate control — that seems like an uphill climb.
Murphy suggested that the starting point might be to “diagnose the problem,” which would require a real reorientation in posture.
“For much of the last four years, we thought the problem was that Republicans knew what the right thing was, but they just didn’t do it because Trump was so scary,” Murphy told me. “I think this moment is showing us that there are a whole lot of Republicans who believe this nonsense.”
“This isn’t just a party that’s trying to stay on the good side of an enemy of democracy,” Murphy continued. “This is a party that has a whole bunch of enemies of democracy inside its top ranks. That’s bone-chilling.”
If we start to answer the question of “how did we get to the point where the Republican Party has such antipathy to democracy inside it,” then we might “be led to some policies to pursue,” Murphy said. As if the next few years weren’t already looking dark and challenging enough.