The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Stop trying to save the GOP. It’s hopeless.

A man stands outside the State Capitol wearing a Trump hat with an American flag in Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 17. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The first three days of the impeachment trial have reminded us just how low the Republican Party has fallen. What should be open and shut — an airtight case of inciting an insurrection — has become yet another exercise in disingenuous denial. Most Republican senators have plainly decided to acquit the ex-president no matter what. No matter how dangerous and frivolous it would be to create a “January exception” for impeachable conduct, and despite the overwhelming evidence that he stoked the MAGA mob, they will let him walk.

This is a party that is immune to facts and bereft of decency. It has proved that it cannot function within the ground rules of our system — that candidates concede when they lose, that they respect a free press, that they stick to facts and embrace majority rule. Such a party cannot exist in our democracy.

The Republicans who rally around a pathological demagogue are not a “fringe” in the party. The 10 House and six Senate Republicans who have expressed the view that impeachment is not only constitutional but essential are the fringe. That is a mere 12 percent of Senate Republicans and less than 5 percent of House Republicans. Those people are the outliers.

We are not talking about a trivial difference over policy — or even a major one. It is a fundamental division over whether the party should become a right-wing populist cult willing to subvert democracy to keep power. That is too much for some to swallow, thank goodness. The two sides cannot coexist.

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Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein writes:

The truth is that a lot of Republicans seem willing to let the party become more and more Trumpy. That means being comfortable playing footsie with white supremacist and other violent groups; eager to make voting more difficult and even to overturn election results when necessary; and generally less and less supportive of the rule of law and democracy. A party like that, with little aspiration to appeal to anyone beyond its strongest supporters, might still be competitive electorally thanks to the way two-party politics tends to work. And if it wins, it could put most of its efforts into tilting the rules more in its favor.

Pro-democratic (little-d) people cannot live with a party so enamored with authoritarianism and devoted to one Big Lie after another. That Republican Party is antithetical to our Constitution, to fidelity to truth and to a multiracial democracy.

Could the 5 to 12 percent “take back their party”? It would be lovely. But I see no indication that is possible. Nor does the base seem ready to accept the 2020 election was legitimate. It has no apparent interest in moving on from the former president or living outside the right-wing media bubble. The minority of Republicans who think otherwise might survive the next round of primaries, but they show no ability to move the 88 to 95 percent of the party out.

Bernstein asks what would happen if "a handful of Republican members of Congress — say, those who voted to impeach Trump and those who appear ready to vote to convict him — [broke] away from the party.” Well, even if they could, they would likely face a massive hurdle in getting on the ballot and winning as third-party or independent candidates. (There have been a handful of exceptions, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who won elections as an independent and a write-in candidate.)

Now, that would be a fine outcome for many Americans if it meant patriotic, honorable Democrats won more races. But if you think the country needs two parties that are both patriotic and committed to truth and democracy, you have not gotten where you need to go. The current, anti-democratic and intellectually dishonest Republican Party is an insurmountable barrier to the development of a viable alternative to the existing Democratic Party.

So by all means, decent politicians and patriotic voters should leave the GOP. Then they can work with the one remaining party to demolish the cultish, right-wing populist party that is closer to fascistic European parties than to American political parties that traditionally have competed for votes. When the existing Republican Party has been reduced to political rubble, those who do not have a home in the Democratic Party can clear away the rubble, find a governing philosophy and develop a constituency. None of that happens so long as the party willing to harbor and defend a demagogue who threatens the republic stands in the way.

The MAGA march on D.C. showed Trump supporters are not a monolith, but their dedication to the president is singular. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Read more:

E.J. Dionne: The impeachment managers have sealed off Republicans’ escape hatches

Dana Milbank: You can’t hear that officer’s scream and acquit the man who caused it

The Post’s View: Trump’s trial has crystallized the horror of Jan. 6. The Senate must convict him.

Greg Sargent: Lindsey Graham’s toadyism on Fox News shows where the GOP is heading

Karen Tumulty: I was skeptical of Democrats pursuing a second impeachment. I was wrong.

Paul Butler: Why Republican senators can — and should — vote to convict Trump