When less-crazed Republicans appear on mainstream news programs, interviewers have a golden opportunity to hold them and their party responsible for enabling a violent insurrection and continuing to support an unhinged authoritarian cult leader. Sadly, the media routinely fails to complete this essential task, contributing to the GOP’s threat to democracy.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), appearing on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday, acknowledged: “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.” He added that “we have to refocus once again on what it’s going to take to win the presidency.” When asked if he would support the former defeated president in 2024, Rounds responded, “Personally, what I have told people is, is I’m going to support the Republican nominee to be president.” He also conceded that everyone including the former nominee is “subject to the courts of this country.”
Rounds should never have been able to escape the interview without answering some fundamental questions:
- How can you remain in a party in which virtually all your colleagues lie or remain silent about Jan. 6?
- How could you possibly support for president someone who lied about the election and sparked an insurrection?
- How can we trust Republicans to allow a peaceful transfer of power in 2024 if so many of them still won’t recognize they lost? How can the GOP claim to be a pro-democracy party?
- When members of Congress lie to the public and try to delegitimize the election, are they violating their oath? Are they fit to run for office?
As President Biden would say, c’mon man. The media cannot continue to treat Republicans in ways that allow them to preserve the pretense that they are part of a normal party operating within our democratic system.
A similar scene played out on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he agreed with former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who on Jan. 6 remarked that he was “deeply disappointed at the failure of many members of my party to recognize the grave nature of the January 6 attacks and the ongoing threat to our nation.”
Asked about the 163 Republicans who embraced the “big lie” that the election was stolen, Hutchinson conceded: “Well, what worries me is that they’re not demonstrating leadership.” He added: “[W]e have got to not diminish and minimize the consequences of January 6. And this last week was a time of reflection that.” He concluded the party needs to explain that Jan. 6 was an effort to “stop the peaceful transfer of power” and to “make sure we are clear that President Trump did have some responsibility for that.”
But the GOP is doing none of that. The party continues to pay fealty to the author of the big lie, and it refuses to accept this was a violation of the fundamental principle of democracy — that the loser consents to the peaceful transfer of power. So again, Hutchinson should have to justify his continued participation in an authoritarian cult. He should explain:
- If a Republican will not acknowledge the truth about Jan. 6, how could you support him or her?
- Dozens of people in the GOP have lied or tried to diminish Jan. 6. Why are they still in office? Should they leave? Would you support challengers?
- Since Republicans refused to recognize the legitimacy of the 2020 election, why should we not implement electoral protections so that a nonviolent coup does not take place in 2024 or beyond?
- Do you oppose measures that would put partisan Republicans in charge of election administration, thereby paving the way for chaos and election subversion?
Understandably, interviewers want to have Republicans who are not totally unhinged on their shows. But no Republican should be able to evade certain fundamental truths: that their party has violated and continues to violate fundamental norms of democracy; that they have no problem remaining in such a party and will likely support whomever it nominates for president; and that voters have every reason to fear a repeat of 2020.
And simply acknowledging that the party has become a deceitful authoritarian movement isn’t enough. If Republicans say they put country above party, they are obligated to prevent authoritarians from regaining or retaining power. If they do not, they’re just another partisan hack.
The media, which operates under the protections of our democracy, has an obligation to expose what’s going on. They also have an obligation to take the side of democracy and expose threats to it. They’re not.