The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans must go cold turkey to escape the Trump cult

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia (center) stands with other Republican freshmen during an event at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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There is a strange dynamic at work among Senate Republicans. Over the last four years, they showed utter fidelity to the ex-president, including acquitting him in the face of clear evidence of impeachable conduct. Now, Republicans such as John Thune of South Dakota intone on the fate of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

“Do [House Republicans] want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength and pro-life or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon?” Thune said on Tuesday. He admonished the House: “It’s a big distraction for them right now and not in a good way.” Has he not been paying attention for the last few years?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never piped up when the ex-president was suggesting quack cures for covid-19, siding with the Russian president over our intelligence community or accusing former president Obama of crimes. That was then. Now McConnell warns, “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.” There have been others who live outside reality: Those who claimed covid-19 would just disappear or insisted his call extorting a foreign government was “perfect.”

After allowing lies to displace reality and pure propaganda to take the place of problem-solving, McConnell is in a poor position to summon his colleagues back to the fact-based world. Perhaps if he had voted to convict the ex-president last year or immediately recognized President Biden’s victory or had not spent six months refusing to confront Americans’ economic suffering, McConnell would be in a better position to disown his House colleagues.

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Understandably, McConnell desperately wants to define his party in a way that prevents them from being labeled the “QAnon Party.” (To borrow a construction from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Not all Republicans are QAnon followers, but all QAnon followers are Republicans.”) But that will not fly so long as Senate Republicans concoct half-baked arguments to rationalize acquitting Trump.

If Republicans want to break from Greene and her fellow extremists, they should follow the lead of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). He started his own political action committee, Country1st PAC, to recapture the party from the MAGA crowd, understanding the need for a divorce from the loony forces that now control his caucus’s leadership. “Republicans must say enough is enough. It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage,” he said in a glossy video. He speaks about an “intervention of sorts" — a break with the ex-president and an end to the politics of lies and conspiracy theories.

Using the intervention analogy, Republicans cannot imbibe just a little of the MAGA fumes and hope to recover. They cannot escape the dependence on the former president while refusing to denounce the Big Lie that the election was stolen, pining for his help in 2022 or perpetuating the debunked claim of widespread voter fraud. There is no way to tolerate just a tiny bit of the “poisonous extremism” we have seen on display. They must go cold turkey.

There is no mystery about how to dissociate themselves from white supremacists, QAnon followers, Proud Boys, anti-Semites and racists. Denounce the conspiracy theories that brought us the attack on the Capitol. Throw out the white supremacists and other anti-democratic elements. Stop screaming “fraud” as an excuse to disenfranchise voters. Start making policy arguments on the merits (decrying “socialism” does not count).

Unless they quit their dependence on a crazed MAGA base and addiction to white grievance politics, the GOP will not recover. And as anyone familiar with 12-step programs knows, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Read more:

Ruth Marcus: Trump’s Senate impeachment trial won’t be a waste of time

William P. Marshall: Trump’s second impeachment succeeded. But a Senate trial could backfire.

Max Boot: It’s not just Trump on trial. It’s the whole Republican Party.

Fred Hiatt: Pence and McConnell helped save democracy — after helping to endanger it

Henry Olsen: Liz Cheney already has a primary challenge. For the GOP’s sake, she must soundly defeat it.