The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ugly new attacks on Republicans who defied Trump hint at a dark GOP future

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)
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If you believe that the health of our civic life depends in part on having a pro-democracy, pro-empiricism center right in this country, you will be deeply dispirited by some new comments from a Pennsylvania Republican that have now gone viral.

David Ball, the chair of the Washington County GOP, vented his anger at Sen. Pat Toomey, fellow Republican of Pennsylvania, who committed the apostasy of joining six other GOP senators in voting to convict former president Donald Trump of inciting insurrection.

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” Ball said on Monday. “We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.”

The first half of this comment is generating headlines. After all, the unvarnished expression of the idea that Toomey’s proper role was to side with Trump, rather than do what his conscience dictates, is unintentionally revealing.

But the second half — the notion that representing Republican voters required this of Toomey — is also telling, and suggests the ongoing GOP war over Trump’s legacy may well lead to a very dark place.

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That’s because this sentiment is an increasingly widespread one. We’re hearing again and again that the obligation to represent Republican voters is what requires elected GOP officials to refrain from holding Trump accountable for inciting a violent effort to overthrow U.S. democracy.

When the Wyoming GOP censured Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach Trump, for instance, the state party falsely declared that Trump played no role in that incitement. But, importantly, it also noted that many Wyoming voters believe there was widespread voter fraud and that in holding Trump accountable, she had “failed to faithfully represent” them.

Similarly, the North Carolina GOP has also voted to censure Sen. Richard Burr, who also voted to convict, and the party chair is now suggesting that Burr betrayed the “North Carolina Republicans” who sent him to the Senate.

Lara Trump, the future of the GOP?

It is fitting that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most devoted lickspittles, most clearly explained what the GOP rage at Burr really means. Graham insisted that the retiring Burr’s vote could alone make the North Carolina-raised Lara Trump the GOP nominee for Senate in 2022 if she runs.

“I think she represents the future of the Republican Party," Graham said.

Why would Burr’s vote to convict Trump instantly transform his daughter-in-law into a leading contender for Senate and a representative of the GOP’s future?

Graham’s underlying meaning is obvious: For untold numbers of GOP primary voters, Trump has been the victim of a series of monstrous injustices: First, the election was stolen from him. Then he was impeached for inciting violence to overturn it, even though he played zero role in inciting the violence, and even though he had been cheated in the whole saga.

The future of the GOP, Graham is telling us, belongs to those who will avenge those hideous injustices.

A Trump taking the seat of an apostate like Burr will accomplish this. Indeed, Lara Trump is reportedly mulling a run as part of a broader Trump family comeback. And notably, she vocally stood up for the supposed right of state legislatures to appoint Trump electors, subverting the popular vote in their states.

The future of the GOP belongs to those who will “represent” GOP voters by pledging undying fealty to the mythology that the election was stolen from Trump, and that as a result, his effort to reverse the results — which was uniformly peaceful, despite the imagined efforts of Democrats and antifa to frame him — was the just and correct course of action.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has offered his own rendition of this. He has repeatedly defended his lead role in trying to invalidate President Biden’s electors in Congress by insisting he was merely “representing my constituents” and “gave voice” to their conviction that the election’s outcome was in question.

Here again the mere belief of GOP voters in the election’s potential illegitimacy is a kind of North Star that should guide the civic conduct of elected Republicans. What’s left unsaid is that many of these Republicans did all they could to feed and nurture that belief.

GOP’s ‘extremist wing’ is ‘too big to fail’

The ugly truth is that they will continue to do so. The calculation appears to be that this posture is necessary to keep millions of low-propensity conservative voters — the ones Trump flushed into the electorate — in the GOP coalition. Here again Graham was candid, claiming the GOP’s route to victory in 2022 is “Trump plus.”

What “Trump plus” really means is not hard to discern, as Charlie Sykes notes: It’s the willingness to hold on to those voters by countenancing “sedition, violence, extremism, and anti-democratic authoritarianism.”

Or, as Ron Brownstein puts it, the GOP’s “extremist wing” may have grown “too big to fail.” The downside risk of telling those voters the truth is too great.

Yet far from representing those voters, these public officials are actually keeping them trapped in the same delusion that they fed for weeks leading up to the insurrection: the idea that the election’s outcome was in doubt — and that efforts to reverse it were justified.

This isn’t representation. It’s betrayal. And the fact that the Republicans who declined to do this are the ones getting censured and condemned for failing their voters bodes very badly.

Read more:

Mike Wise: Mark Cuban had it right the first time. Sports should stop playing the anthem.

Colbert I. King: McConnell has basically written the Senate’s censure resolution already

Katrina vanden Heuvel: How to hold Senate Republicans accountable

Michael Gerson: Trump’s rot has reached the GOP’s roots