For all of Biden’s honorable efforts to pull the nation together, and his earlier habit of downplaying the radical nature of today’s Republicanism, our politics remain as dangerously abnormal as Gonzalez warns.
For at least two more elections — next year’s midterms and the 2024 presidential contest — the central issue before voters will be whether to reward or punish the GOP’s extremism and, particularly in the case of the House Republican leadership, the party’s embrace of Trump.
This is not an abstract question. In the here and now, Republican-controlled states have embraced voter suppression and election subversion, justified in the name of doubts sown by Trump’s preposterously false claims about the 2020 election outcome.
With some honorable exceptions, Republican governors in the party’s strongholds have blocked sensible actions to prevent tens of thousands of deaths from the spread of covid-19.
Gonzalez’s decision in combination with the outcome of the California recall, the continuing deadly spread of the delta variant and the introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate could well mark last week as a turning point in how Democrats, including Biden, approach the next phase of political combat.
It begins by accepting that calls for unity of purpose will, for some time, continue to fall on deaf Republican ears. Biden signaled on Thursday that he accepts the new terms of the struggle. He said some Republican governors were playing “the worst kind of politics” by opposing his vaccination and testing mandates, singling out Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
“The governors of Florida and Texas,” Biden said, “are doing everything they can to undermine the lifesaving requirements that I proposed.”
This is fertile ground. Large majorities of Democrats and independents and a significant minority of Republicans support Biden’s vaccine mandates. A poll released in Florida last week found the state’s voters unhappy with DeSantis’s virus policies and preferring Biden to DeSantis in a hypothetical presidential matchup.
And the defeat of the recall effort against California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) by a nearly 2-to-1 margin demonstrated the power of a campaign waged in favor of tough action to curb the virus — and against Trump and Republican extremism.
Of course, it helped Newsom that his state is one of the most Democratic in the union. But as recently as last month, Newsom’s supporters feared (and Republicans hoped) that he might be hurt by low Democratic turnout. His campaign’s focus on covid policy and Republican radicalism nudged millions of Democrats to cast ballots. It’s a lesson highly relevant to the Virginia governor’s election this year and next year’s midterms, even in purple districts and states where turnout differentials will matter.
But the case for confronting Trumpist zealotry is moral, not just political. Our democracy will be in peril as long as the vast majority of Republican leaders refuse to join Gonzalez in battling what he rightly sees as a growing cancer in their party. And Democrats will be complicit if they act as if business-as-usual remains possible.
Those who oppose altering filibuster rules to pass a federal voting rights bill might, in ordinary times, find plausible arguments for keeping current practices as a way of bringing the parties together. But not now. There is nothing ordinary about what Republicans, acting alone, are doing to undercut democracy at the state level, and Republican senators show no signs of being ready to stand in the way of these abuses.
That Pennsylvania Republican legislators are seeking data on 2020 voters (including driver’s license information and the last four digits of Social Security numbers) shows how much the GOP’s wacky obsessions threaten basic liberties.
Even Republican politicians who acknowledge that Biden won fairly have put little muscle behind defending the 2020 outcome. This has allowed falsehoods to metastasize among the faithful — thus a CNN poll this month finding only 21 percent of Republicans said that “Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency.”
Of course, Democrats also need to prove they can govern by passing a large chunk of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. But our democracy will not function properly until the right-wing’s self-indulgent excess is routed. That is this moment’s central task.