Amid the stream of delusion, depravity, malevolence and megalomania that characterized Donald Trump’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, one message should be regarded as arguably more important than all the others combined.
Trump didn’t say this in precisely those words, of course. But that message blared through all the background noise like a loud, clanging alarm bell.
This will require Democrats to redouble their focus on passing their big package of pro-democracy reforms as soon as possible — and to be prepared to nix the legislative filibuster to get it into law. It may be tempting to dismiss or ignore Trump’s deranged rantings, but Democrats should see this one message as an actionable one.
Trump reveals an important truth
As expected, Trump’s CPAC speech doubled down on the big lie that the election was stolen from him — and then some. Aaron Rupar tallies up at least five different ways he told this lie, which drew at least one standing ovation.
But embedded in that big lie was an unintentional truth. It was revealed when Trump uncorked an extended riff suggesting that the GOP’s future prospects depend on what he called “election reforms.”
“Another one of the most urgent issues facing the Republican Party is that of ensuring fair, honest, and secure elections,” Trump declared. “We must pass comprehensive election reforms, and we must do it now.”
By “election reforms,” Trump actually meant a redoubled commitment to making it harder to vote. We know this, because he said so: He went on to declare that Democrats had used the “China virus” as an “excuse” to make vote-by-mail easier.
“We can never let that happen again,” Trump said. “We need election integrity and election reform immediately. Republicans should be the party of honest elections.”
This is absurd (GOP legislatures also facilitated vote-by-mail) and full of lies (the election’s legitimacy was upheld in dozens of courts). But that doesn’t change its underlying meaning, which is unambiguous: Trump lost because voting wasn’t hard enough; Republicans must push as forcefully as possible in the opposite direction; this is “urgent.”
The rub of the matter is that all across the country, Republicans are acting on exactly this reading of the situation.
Republicans are acting on the big lie
In a good piece, the New York Times reports on the extraordinary new barrage of efforts by GOP lawmakers to make voting harder in many states. These include sharp cuts to early voting; restricting vote-by-mail in numerous ways; and in the most extreme cases, proposals to allow state legislatures to appoint presidential electors in defiance of the state’s popular vote.
Meanwhile, in numerous states, Republicans are gearing up to use this year’s decennial redrawing of electoral maps to entrench extreme gerrymanders. They have openly declared that this will help them win back the House in 2022, and some experts believe redrawn maps might ensure that this happens even if Democrats again win the national House popular vote.
Crucially, these efforts are increasingly animated by the same lie about the election’s illegitimacy that Trump told at CPAC. As the Times reports, they are “led by loyalists who embrace” Trump’s “baseless claims of a stolen election.”
In other words, Republicans are widely acting upon this lie as their excuse to continue entrenching anti-democratic and anti-majoritarian advantages wherever possible.
Democrats must respond
This simply requires Democrats to pass the For the People Act in the Senate and House. It includes numerous provisions that would make voting and registration easier; curb restrictions on voting and vote-by-mail; mandate nonpartisan redistricting commissions; and restore voting rights protections gutted by the Supreme Court.
The GOP actions also require Democrats to be prepared to end the legislative filibuster when Republicans block the package in the Senate. Yes, Democrats face major obstacles to this in the form of Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
But a case must be made to those holdouts that Democrats cannot allow Republicans to grind their agenda to a screeching halt — in the face of multiple short and long term crises facing the country — through the exercise of minority rule, facilitated by what has become yet another cynically-wielded tool of counter-majoritarian obstructionism.
“The Big Lie about 2020 is built on an ugly truth: Trump and the Republican Party have turned their backs on our constitutional vision of government of, by, and for the people,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told me in an emailed statement.
“You heard it from Trump himself,” Merkley continued. “We’ve got to get the For the People Act signed into law ASAP so the next elections are decided by the will of the voters, not rigged by corrupt politicians.”
Democrats keep telling us that the prospects for civic renewal in the wake of Trumpism’s continued degradations — and the GOP’s ongoing slide into authoritarianism — depend on making government and democracy more functional and responsive. If they really believe this, that imposes obligations on them to do just that.
Put another way, Democrats constantly point out that the GOP is increasingly captive to Trump and that Trump and his party remain captive to his destructive mythology about the stolen election. But this can’t be reduced to mere partisan messaging.
Instead, taking this idea seriously requires acting where possible to prevent the GOP’s increasing radicalization from further wrecking our democratic system. We know exactly what this will look like. Trump just told us so himself.