We witnessed a host of attempts during the past administration to normalize what was not normal and to avoid candor at all costs. Republicans frequently resorted to whataboutism or feigned ignorance to escape having to condemn the MAGA cult leader. Too many in the mainstream media resisted calling lies “lies.” Sadly, the pattern continues.
Now, the line is that the Republican extremists have opportunistically taken control of the party. The New York Times models the mind-set in which the host party is besieged by a crazed element: “With no dominant leader other than the deplatformed one-term president, a radical right movement that became emboldened under President Donald J. Trump has been maneuvering for more power, and ascending in different states and congressional districts,” it pronounces. The assumption that there is a normal party somewhere under the pile of lies and QAnon rubbish is erroneous.
The “leaders” are not absent. They are leading the crazies. The Bulwark’s A.B. Stoddard hit the nail on the head when she wrote that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “hasn’t just been giving aid and comfort to the liars. He was a proponent of the Big Lie. … So yes, Kevin McCarthy is a victim of the crazies in his caucus. But he’s also a perp. He did this.” Similarly, when 126 House members sign a brief seeking to disenfranchise four states and when nearly 150, including McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), vote to overturn the election, one cannot say they are invaders. Anti-truth, anti-democratic politics now defines the Republican Party.
One need only take note of the reaction to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who had the temerity to denounce sedition, to see that the sane Republicans are the outcasts. The party cannot expel conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) because in a party riven with conspiracy theories, she remains a member in good standing.
The notion that the core of the party is not crazy, just cowardly, has some appeal. CNN reports, “Senate Republicans who criticized Trump without doing anything about his actions are hoping to put distance between themselves and the former President without casting any votes that could cause a backlash from Trump and his fervent supporters.” But let’s not play games about whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) deep down knows it is all a lie. Exploring the line between self-delusion and lying is unproductive. It does not matter whether the 45 senators who voted in agreement with the specious argument that impeachment of a former president is unconstitutional really believe the legal fiction. The vast majority of Republican House and Senate members line up with the disgraced ex-president and man the right-wing factory of manufactured conspiracies and imagined slights. This is who they are.
Democrats would be wise to tell the sane stragglers in the GOP that their dream of a restored GOP is fanciful. It is time to embrace the sad reality that there is only one ideologically diverse party that operates in the real world and defends democracy. The party of Lincoln is now the party of Putin propaganda, sedition and “might makes right.” There is no viable center-right party. There is crazy, and there is the Democratic Party.
We too often mouth the incomplete platitude that we need a two-party democracy. In fact, there is no magic to the number two. European democracies have multiple parties. New York City has multiple candidates for office in what is essentially a one-party city. Voters need a good-faith debate between democratic (small “d”) competitors about policy. They need choice. They do not need an illiberal, racist cult that operates in a political fantasyland. They do not need the Republican Party.