The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion If the GOP is to rise from the ashes, it has to burn first

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 7. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Before a sane, responsible political party can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of today's dangerously unhinged GOP, there must be ashes to rise from. The nation is going to have to destroy the Republican Party to save it.

Parties reform and rebuild themselves after suffering massive, scorched-earth defeats. Since Republicans decided to follow Donald Trump and Fox News into the dystopian hellscape of white supremacy, paranoid conspiracy theory and know-nothing rejection of science, they have lost control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. Yet it has become obvious that those defeats are not nearly enough.

You might think the violent and deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — an unprecedented attack on our democracy, incited by Trump's election-fraud Big Lie — would snap the GOP back into reality. Unbelievably, though, you would be wrong. 

If anything, the party is heading deeper into the wilderness. Look at how the two most powerful Republicans left in Washington behaved last week. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to bend the knee to Trump. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voted to question whether Trump's coming impeachment trial is even constitutional. 

What had looked like a flicker of sanity earlier, when McCarthy said Trump, among others, had some "responsibility" for the Capitol riot and McConnell said Trump "provoked" it, was nothing but a mirage. And anyone who expects there to be 17 Republican votes in the Senate to convict Trump, no matter how damning the evidence may be, will almost surely be disappointed. 

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No one should have any doubt: The GOP bears no resemblance to the party of Abraham Lincoln. It is now the party of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who believes in the hallucinatory QAnon conspiracy theory, who has suggested that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is a child murderer and who thinks 2018's California wildfires may have been ignited by a giant space-based laser somehow controlled by Jews. Also, high-speed rail is involved somehow.

Do mainstream Republicans such as McCarthy and McConnell believe such nonsense? No, but down by only 10 votes in the House and with a tied Senate, they do believe they are within striking range of regaining control of both the House and the Senate in next year's midterm election, and they are choosing power — or its prospect — over principle.

For the sake of their party and the nation, those hopes must be utterly dashed. 

The 2022 midterms have to be more like 2002, during President George W. Bush's first term, when his party gained seats in both the Senate and the House. That uncommon result was generally attributed to a groundswell of solidarity following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But the nation, right now, should be equally traumatized. In January, the United States lost more than 95,000 people to covid-19 — the equivalent of a 9/11's worth of death every single day. Just weeks ago, we saw the Capitol sacked for the first time since 1814. And a majority of the Republican rank-and-file clings to the lie that the election was somehow stolen from Trump. 

GOP House members who had the integrity to vote for impeachment, such as Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Tom Rice of South Carolina, are under withering attack from their fellow Republicans. The warning to Republican senators is explicit: Vote to convict Trump — and, effectively, purge him from the party — at your own peril. 

The GOP won't or can't reform itself. So we must help the party by crushing it.

The fact that dozens of major corporations such as Walmart, Google and AT&T have announced they will not give campaign donations to Republicans who voted to decertify the elections results is a start. But we consumers need to demand that corporate America go further by insisting that trade associations follow suit — and that companies at least ask their executives to refrain from giving to GOP Super PACs, the dark-money realm where donations are not statutorily bound by tight limits. 

We saw how Georgia voters recoiled from Trumpism by ousting two Republican senators and electing two Democrats, one Black and one Jewish, in their place — and that was before the Capitol riot. The necessary ruin of the GOP is far from an impossible quest.

It was GOP voters in Georgia who gave us Greene, most accurately identified as (R-QAnon), and she should be made the face of the GOP. The choice is binary and stark: If you don't believe in Jewish space lasers, you can't vote for Republicans. And if you loved the old Republican Party, you can't have it back until you smash today's GOP to smithereens.

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Read more:

Submit a question for Eugene Robinson’s Feb. 2 live chat

Read a transcript of Eugene Robinson’s Jan. 26 live chat

Colbert I. King: The GOP once knew what to do about problems like Marjorie Taylor Greene

Henry Olsen: Republicans’ best move with Marjorie Taylor Greene is to gerrymander her out of her seat

Jennifer Rubin: The latest attempt to normalize the Republican Party

James Downie: Republicans’ blundering attempt at bipartisanship

Jackson Diehl: Trump left U.S. democracy in shambles. Biden has to build it back.

Kathleen Parker: The GOP isn’t doomed. It’s dead.

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