We are on the verge of seeing half a million Americans die from covid-19 thanks to the horrendous mismanagement of the former president. About half a million Texans are still without power due to their state’s failure to weatherize and protect its electric grid. Meanwhile, Texas’s junior Republican senator, Ted Cruz, jets off to Cancun, Mexico. Yes, that’s the same Ted Cruz who helped incite the Jan. 6 riot with his baseless challenges to the electoral vote count.

Speaking of which, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) declared that the assault on the Capitol — which left five dead, injured scores of others and included placement of explosive devices — "didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.” (This would be the same Ron Johnson who fanned Russian propaganda during the Ukraine scandal.)

Many Republican governors still seem hostile to covid-19 protections. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds bizarrely lifted her state’s mask mandate as deaths continue to mount. It does seem that Republicans are, well, bad at their jobs. South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem told her residents she was protecting their “freedom” by disregarding health advisories. Thousands of lives could have been saved simply by following federal guidelines.

And all that brings me to ask: How in the world do Republicans get elected? It is a serious question. Cruz, Johnson and a host of other Republicans clearly see their posts as platforms for right-wing political theater. If they were not in office, they would never get the right-wing media hits or the large social media followings. They would not be greeted as rock stars at CPAC and other right-wing gatherings.

They seem not to view the job of legislator or chief executive as that of being a problem-solver. The results of their actions or inactions do not appear to concern them as long as they’ve got the “narrative” right, which invariably includes blaming left-wing socialists for their own mismanagement, trying to convince White voters they are victims and blabbering about “cancel culture” (a left-wing plot to hold them responsible for their conduct?).

And voters put up with this because, well, why exactly? Republicans represented by these public officials do not seem to care about gross negligence or the reckless indifference to their own well-being. When elections roll around, Republicans run on negative messages decrying their opponents as wild socialists. Often the passage of time insulates the incumbents from responsibility. Cruz, for example, will not be up for reelection until 2024.

In other words, Republican voters, thanks to right-wing media, have come to regard politics as a “fight” for their racial and cultural identity, not as lawmaking or problem-solving. We should not be surprised that they get rotten leadership and service as a result. Tens of millions of Republicans voted in 2020 for the now former, disgraced president despite an out-of-control pandemic and historic recession. He “owned the libs” and hated the mainstream media; that was what they wanted.

As we try to find a second or third pro-democracy party, the task is not merely to defeat right-wing extremists, but to redefine what politics should be all about for tens of millions of Americans. As long as the right-wing base expects TV performance, not legislative results, it will support the sort of careless and disdainful politicians who are unconcerned about policy. Demanding that politicians do their jobs, solve concrete problems and make voters’ lives better is the first step to electing rational politicians. At the very least, voters in red states and districts should decide they deserve more than entertainment from politicians. Their lives literally depend on it.