While she might not have been less surprised than Biden about the state of her party, Cheney shares his recognition that Republicans are not functioning as a pro-democracy, problem-solving party. In an op-ed for The Post, she argues as eloquently as any Democrat could that the GOP’s devolution into a MAGA cult renders it incompatible with democracy: “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this. The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” While Cheney’s courage is admirable, her party mates have clearly made their choice crystal clear.
Cheney is right to argue that Republicans will fail to advance conservative policy goals if they “choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election.” But luring Republicans out of their authoritarian lair with the promise of conservative policymaking is misguided.
Perhaps what Cheney and Biden do not fully appreciate is that today’s Republican Party does not believe in much of anything. Its members do not want to have a policy debate or solve problems. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) does not spend his time devising forward-looking free-market policies; he spends his time railing at Major League Baseball. The latter is what gets him on TV. (Cheney herself is not immune to fanning phony culture wars, given her warning about “wokeness” among Democrats.)
Republicans these days treat politics like performance art, with the objective being to infuriate a dwindling base to keep themselves in power and on TV. Democracy is optional, or even a hindrance to today’s Republicans. They would rather have a fake culture issue to whine about on talk radio than spend their time making policy arguments. In other words, Cheney’s argument that Republicans miss out on important policy debates while they grovel before the disgraced former president will fall on deaf ears. Policy and lawmaking are not their thing. Ronald Reagan, whom she quotes, likely could not get elected in the MAGA GOP and would be on the receiving end of Tucker Carlson’s tirades.
Cheney, I fear, will be no more successful than Biden in weaning Republicans away from lies and authoritarianism in favor of substance. In an odd way, both are of a political era in which democracy was unquestioned and policy mattered. Outside the one functional party, that ideal seems quaint now. We do not have a GOP that either Biden or Cheney can quite comprehend — or that pro-democracy Americans can tolerate.