Republicans haven’t made many allies nor changed many minds since President Biden took office. To the contrary, they remain invested in opposing overwhelmingly popular measures. Biden’s economic agenda maintains a high level of support (generally 60 percent or more); the GOP’s unfavorable ratings are sky-high; and voters consider Republicans more extreme than Democrats. Republicans have drawn a line in the sand on vaccine mandates — which a large majority of Americans support. Certainly, Biden’s poll numbers are down — but that has not inured to Republicans’ advantage in any noticeable way, in part because they insist on sticking to their unpopular, ludicrous positions (e.g., downplaying or denying domestic terrorists’ Jan. 6 insurrection).

As for the Republicans’ anti-mandate hysteria, the death tolls and misery are practically off the charts in deep-red states. And governors endangering children and other residents by blocking mask and vaccine requirements have seen their popularity plummet.

Meanwhile, the MAGA crowd still fanning the flames of the “big lie” have been on an embarrassing losing streak (though one would be hard-pressed to find “Republicans in Disarray” headlines).

They certainly bombed in the California recall, which proved to be a humiliating loss and infuriating waste of money, strengthening the momentum of the pro-vaccine-mandate majority. A highly motivated minority could not foist its will on the majority (which has become the essence of the GOP playbook).

Before the election was called, Republican candidate Larry Elder and former president Donald Trump both challenged the legitimacy of the California recall vote (James Cornsilk/The Washington Post)

Then came Saturday’s pathetic protest at the Capitol. The Post reported, “The most anticipated visit by right-wing activists to the nation’s capital since a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 ended with a whimper Saturday, as demonstrators supporting the rioters found themselves far outnumbered by police, journalists and counterprotesters.” It was not just the D.C. rally that was a bust:

Simultaneous demonstrations elsewhere in the country were also sparsely attended. In Seattle, a group of about 15 stood in the rain, chanting “USA.” Some 20 people gathered across the street from the federal courthouse in Charlotte, where they were observed by joggers and heckled by a man who shouted out the window of his car as he drove by: “They’re all insurrectionists! Get over it! They deserve to be in jail!”

None of this means that the Trumpist threat is gone or that the majority of Republicans have emerged from the alternative universe constructed by right-wing media. We surely have not defused Republican efforts to suppress voting and install mechanisms to overturn unfavorable results. House members still wink and nod at, if not embrace, violence. However, when a movement depends on the triumphant victory and constant “winning” to feed toxic masculinity, losses — embarrassing losses — can be especially debilitating. Fizzled rallies deplete the MAGA crowd’s excitement and allure.

Democratic strategist James Carville has counseled candidates to throw drowning opponents an “anvil.” How should Democrats (and those defending democracy) put that into practice?

First, a massive show of police force worked on Saturday. Law enforcement with consequences for criminal conduct is essential. Keep the peace. Investigate wrongdoing and domestic terrorist plots. Prosecute where appropriate. (That should apply to the instigators, enablers and funders of the Jan. 6 riot, up to and including the former president.) We will need a robust security presence to prevent voter intimidation and violence during and after elections.

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D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III spoke to reporters in the District on Sept. 18, as the “Justice for J6” rally began to get underway. (Reuters)
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Second, Democrats must tie every single Republican on the ballot for House and Senate to the lies they have enabled and the ludicrous stunts of the former president. (A letter telling the secretary of state of Georgia to decertify the election takes the cake.) Republicans have rationalized or simply tried to ignore indefensible conduct; now they must be held accountable for their loyalty to a dangerous cult leader. Candidates for office who remain allied with an authoritarian movement led by a crackpot should expect to be mocked, shamed and denounced.

Third, it’s precisely the right time to make adjustments in the Senate filibuster rules to enable passage of basic voting rights legislation. Democrats have replete evidence of Republicans’ utter unreasonableness and irresponsibility (e.g., refusal to agree to the Jan. 6 commission, refusal to raise the debt ceiling). They have examples of the GOP’s intent to impose minority rule by whatever means necessary. Accordingly, Democrats wary of reforming the filibuster in the MAGA era should feel compelled to give up the notion that the filibuster is sacrosanct.

In sum, Democrats dare not let up in confronting violent extremists nor in holding Republicans accountable for the harm they have inflicted on our democracy. Democrats must have a positive agenda and legislative results for 2022, but they also need to make the midterms a national referendum on the unappealing and unhinged MAGA-infused GOP. If the essential question before voters is whether they really want to give Republicans the keys to the car, Democrats should perform well.