The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion This Republican Party needs to go the way of the Whigs

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 1. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg)

If any good could possibly come of the Trump-incited mob’s murderous attack on the United States Capitol, and the people’s representatives therein, it would be the demise of this Republican Party.

Even as Trump-inspired barbarians overran Capitol Police Wednesday, fatally injuring one, to defile and plunder the Capitol, official word came that Democrats had won the second Georgia Senate seat, exiling Republicans to the political wilderness for the first time in a decade, without control of the White House, House or Senate.

And, at the same time, the whole world saw the defeated leader of this Republican Party use the awesome powers of the presidency to instigate an insurrection against the legislature — a coup attempt, plain and simple. After the last time Republicans lost the presidency, in 2012, they famously held an “autopsy” to see what had gone wrong. This time, President Trump went straight to the cremation, throwing the Capitol, with Vice President Pence in it, onto the funeral pyre.

So many sounded the alarm for so long about Trump’s authoritarian instincts and violent rhetoric. For years, he instigated threats and violence against journalists (“enemy of the people”), racial and religious minorities, immigrants and Democrats. Yet Republicans excused him, defended him, enabled him. Now, in defeat, the autocrat showed the world his true colors and mobilized violence against Congress, Republicans included, and his own vice president.

What Trump’s mob did to the Capitol — the first time the seat of American government had been sacked since the War of 1812 — was evil. It was murder. It was domestic terrorism. It was sedition. And, yes, it was treason.

Yet what Trump’s Republican allies were doing inside the chambers of Congress at the time of the attack — Trump’s justification for inciting the riot — was just as seditious: They were attempting to overturn Joe Biden’s election as president, overrule the voters and install Trump, by fiat, for another term.

Republicans who had echoed President Trump’s false election claims suddenly distanced themselves after a pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

This Republican Party needs to go the way of the Whigs.

The GOP was born, from the ashes of the Whigs, under similar circumstances. The Whigs in 1848 jettisoned their core principle — limited presidential power — in favor of political expediency. Instead of nominating one of their legendary statesmen — Daniel Webster or Henry Clay — the Whigs went with celebrity war-hero Zachary Taylor, an enslaver who was popular with Southerners but had no governing experience and no fealty to Whig principles. Taylor won, but he savaged Whig leaders and Whig doctrine. The party, split over slavery, dissolved.

In 2016, McGill University historian Gil Troy, presciently noting the parallel deal with the devil Republicans made with Trump, wrote in Politico: “Many Republicans might want to consider what is worse: the institutional problems mass defections by ‘Conscience Republicans’ could bring about — or the moral ruin that could come from the ones who stay behind, choosing to pursue party power over principles.”

Today’s morally ruined Republican Party knows the answer. “The ultimate challenge to the Republican Party is: Do they want to find their soul again? Do they want to be patriots again?” Troy told me this week. It comes down to whether “there are enough people in the party to say, ‘We’ve gone to the brink. How do we pull back?’”

Trump administration officials now announcing last-minute resignations, after excusing similar abuses for years, are hardly profiles in courage. Eleventh-hour epiphanies from the likes of chief Trump enablers Pence, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), though welcome, are unpersuasive. They have the ability to remove Trump from power immediately; any further damage he does is on them.

But the seditious actions this week in Congress to overturn the election and overthrow the incoming Biden presidency provide a useful delineation: which Republicans have followed Trump off the cliff of authoritarianism and which still have some respect for democratic principles.

In the Senate, there are signs of hope. After the insurrection in the Capitol, several senators proposing to overturn the election results reconsidered, leaving only eight Republican senators beyond all salvation: ringleaders Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), with blood on their hands; and Rick Scott (Fla.), John Neely Kennedy (La.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Roger Marshall (Kan.).

In the House, prospects for Republican redemption are dimmer. Even after Trump’s mob brought siege and death to the Capitol, two-thirds of Republicans voted to overturn the election. They weren’t just the usual nutters — Jim Jordan (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) — but also House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Steve Scalise (La.).

As long as such people remain in positions of honor, trust or profit under the United States, the Republican Party will not be a participant in constitutional democracy, but rather an entity dedicated to its destruction.

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Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: What should happen after the insurrection

Greg Sargent: The far-right Trump insurgency just scored a huge propaganda coup

The Post’s View: The catastrophic security failures at the U.S. Capitol must be investigated

Michele L. Norris: Believe what you saw. With all this country’s white grievance, it was inevitable.

Catherine Rampell: RIP, the GOP of ‘Personal Responsibility’

Randall D. Eliason: Trump should be criminally investigated

Karen Attiah: How Western media would have covered the storming of the U.S. Capitol if it had happened in another country

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.