Almost half of Republicans are now saying the quiet part out loud: They’d prefer to ditch this whole democracy thing.

So finds CBS News-YouGov polling conducted in mid-May. The survey asked Republicans a series of questions about the required level of fealty to former president Donald Trump, their views of the 2020 election and priorities for the party going forward.

The results were bleak.

Two-thirds said it was “important” for Republicans to be “loyal to Donald Trump now.” The same share said they did not believe President Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. (They apparently missed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) recent assertion that “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”)

But the most troubling results came from a question about the party’s best strategy for winning in 2022 and 2024. If you were consulting for the party, respondents were asked, would you focus on developing a message and “popular policies and ideas” to win over more voters? Or would you prioritize changes to the voting rules in states and districts?

House Republicans at times defended the Jan. 6 Capitol mob with false statements and said the attacks were not an insurrection during a May 12 hearing. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

A whopping 47 percent chose the latter option. In other words, nearly half of those who still identify as Republicans appear to have given up on a key premise of democracy: that you earn the right to govern by proposing ideas that appeal to a majority of the public. They’d prefer to short-circuit that process and, instead, make it harder for their opponents to vote.

So much for “party of ideas,” as the GOP once called itself.

In truth, the Republican Party mostly stopped coming up with new ideas about three decades ago, when it declared Reaganomics gospel and rarely looked back. No matter what evidence has since become available, GOP officials insist that tax cuts pay for themselves and that less regulation is always better (well, except when it comes to immigrants or trade or personal enemies of a Republican president, perhaps). But the GOP at least still pretended to generate novel, popular ideas and therefore be the party better suited to governance. To this day, some Republican politicians claim that it’s really Trump’s policy ideas, incoherent though they may be, that energize the base — rather than, you know, the cult of personality. Or the racism.

But party leaders let slip last summer that they no longer stood for any fixed principles whatsoever except loyalty to Trump. This was made clear when the Republican National Committee announced that it would not adopt a platform for a presidential election for the first time since the party’s founding more than 160 years earlier. Instead, the RNC released a groveling resolution that it would “continue to enthusiastically support” Trump and his “America-first agenda,” whatever its particulars might be.

Since then, party officials have prized allegiance to Trump above all else — as exemplified by, among other things, the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her party leadership role. They have likewise abandoned any pretense of pursuing policies that voters want or that could otherwise improve their constituents’ lives; GOP political rhetoric is instead consumed by rants about fake burger restrictions or Mr. Potato Head. Meanwhile, their actual policymaking apparatus has been laser-focused on voter suppression. So far this year, legislators in at least 47 states have introduced bills that would restrict ballot access; at least 12 states have already made it harder to vote.

The only real GOP policy divide, it seems, is over whether to try to thwart the will of the voters ex-post or ex-ante. One faction of the party favoring ex-post measures is pushing crazy election lawsuits or ballot “audits” in Arizona. Then there’s the supposedly more respectable contingent, who view the hunt for hidden bamboo fibers as a little crass, and prefer to pass laws that make it harder to cast ballots in the first place. Some of the state and local Republican officials once treated as (small-d) democratic heroes for resisting Trumpian pressures to overturn the 2020 election have also been on the vanguard of ex-ante voter-suppression measures.

It’s easy to believe that cynical politicians — regardless of political persuasion — might do anything to hold onto power, including disenfranchising opponents. And presumably it feels freeing for politicians to pledge nothing more to their followers than to remain in power, as opposed to having to deliver on policies that might improve people’s lives.

But what is more perplexing, and disturbing, is that so many constituents apparently demand nothing more either. Half of Republicans apparently ask only that the people wearing their same jersey salute the boss and stay in office, by whatever anti-democratic means necessary.

There has been much hand-wringing the past few years about “democratic backsliding," a phrase that conjures images of a populace passively (perhaps unknowingly) slouching toward authoritarianism. What this and other polls suggest is that many Americans are instead running headlong into its arms.

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