The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans should have booted Trump long before he threatened the Constitution

President Donald Trump at the White House on April 4, 2017. (Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg News)

Defeated former president Donald Trump, within the space of two weeks, sat down to dine with two antisemites (one of whom later declared his love of Hitler) and declared on Truth Social that the U.S. Constitution should be subject to “termination” so he could be installed as president. Rarely has an authoritarian insurrectionist under criminal investigation for attempting to overthrow the government issued so candid a confession.

The White House responded, “You cannot only love America when you win. The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country.” Its statement continued: “The Constitution brings the American people together — regardless of party — and elected leaders swear to uphold it. It’s the ultimate monument to all of the Americans who have given their lives to defeat self-serving despots that abused their power and trampled on fundamental rights.”

In a healthy democracy with two sane, stable and pro-democratic parties, it never would have come to this. In such a world, Republicans never would have nominated and elected in 2016 an openly racist character who fanned birtherism; Republicans never would have renominated him and never would have acquitted him twice in impeachment hearings. Republicans in our parallel universe would have disowned him after Jan. 6, 2021. repudiated him when he issued antisemitic insults and continued to lie about 2020. They would have disowned him when he renounced fidelity to the Constitution.

It would hardly come as a surprise that a parade of spineless Republicans appearing on the Sunday shows refused to declare him unfit to be president. Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), ready to claim the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he “vehemently disagree[d]” with the remark and managed to acknowledge that Trump’s repudiation of the Constitution was “not consistent with the oath that we all take.” Though he finally agreed that he would condemn Trump’s comments, he insisted there was a “political process” to play out to determine the party’s 2024 nominee. In refusing to rule out Trump as the nominee, he personifies the moral cowardice of today’s GOP.

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Likewise, Rep.-elect Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) would merely say he didn’t “endorse” the threat to overturn the Constitution. (That’s a relief!) And Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), who chairs something called the Republican Governance Group, offered only that Trump “says a lot of things.” Worse, he explicitly declared that he would “support whoever the Republican nominee is,” without ruling out Trump. (At least Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, acknowledged, “The president’s remarks, the company he’s keeping, I think is way beyond the fold.”)

This is precisely how we got to this shameful state of affairs: Republicans lack the spine, decency and loyalty to the Constitution to denounce Trump by name and declare him unfit to seek the presidency. In 1992, the Republican Party denounced former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he attempted to run for president. Don’t expect it to have any such standards now.

Republicans continue to cower in fear of the radicalized base (which they helped rile up by standing by the “big lie” that the 2020 race was stolen). They fret that Trump might run as an independent or instruct his base to stay home if they turn on him. (Spoiler: He’ll do that anyway unless they hand him the nomination.)

We await a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 (aside from Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming) to declare he or she will not support him if he is the party’s nominee. Their silence amounts to complicity in the repudiation of our democracy. They are implicitly telling us that someone who rejects the Constitution is a valid contender for the presidential nomination.

No member of the media should allow Republican candidates, officeholders or operatives to escape an interview without declaring whether they would support for president a self-described opponent of the Constitution. Too many in the political press continue to treat the GOP as an ordinary party and focus on the horserace for 2024. It should not be too much to ask that serious media outlets label the GOP accurately as a threat to constitutional government and to democracy. At the very least, might mainstream reporters and pundits stop ridiculing President Biden for condemning the “semi-fascist” MAGA movement and repeatedly defending the rule of law?

Neither the press nor the American people can afford to ignore a MAGA GOP that embraces a racist, an antisemite and an enemy of democracy. Trump’s rants are more than just “talk”; they’re an invitation to repeat the horrors of Jan. 6.

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