The blind-loyalty-even-to-dishonest-insanity Republican litmus test that is about to cost Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) her leadership job is only the most acute manifestation of the party’s decline into utter irresponsibility. It’s bad enough that those who want to remain in good standing must embrace the “big lie” about purported fraud in the 2020 election. But the requirement doesn’t stop there. On issue after issue, Republicans are cynically adopting a kind of pre-Enlightenment insistence on the primacy of belief over evidence.
If some voters want to believe that covid-19 is somehow being overblown by the world’s leading experts in infectious disease, then it becomes mandatory for GOP governors — ambitious ones, at least — to reopen their state economies, no matter the cost in needless illness and death. If some voters want to believe that systemic racism does not exist, then it becomes mandatory for Republicans to declare, as Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) did, that “America is not a racist country.” If some voters want to believe that poverty is a choice made by lazy people, then it becomes mandatory for GOP to try to force the poor back to work by slashing unemployment benefits.
There is, of course, often a huge difference between what one might want to believe and what is actually true. Genuine leadership sometimes requires telling people what they don’t want to hear. But the Republican Party no longer even pretends to want to lead. What it wants instead is to obtain power.
But to what end? Historians may see today’s GOP as emulating legendary King Canute in his futile attempt to hold back the sea. China is not just a boogeyman to be invoked when convenient and ignored when reality might require Americans to change to compete. The climate is getting more volatile. A younger generation is demanding change in everything from policing to the workplace.
Honest leadership would require leveling with GOP constituents about the impossibility of turning back the flow of history. It would involve telling voters that globalization and information technology have forever changed the U.S. economy. It would involve proposing solutions for the way things are — or are becoming — rather than the way some might want them to be.
And Democrats who want to make real progress on any of these urgent issues need a Republican Party with that fortitude. We laugh about the party being obsessed about Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss and whether a few transgender girls can run on their high school track teams at not just our own peril, but that of our political system.
This nonsense is being reinforced and amplified by a right-wing media machine — not for ideological reasons, but for profit. And yes, the GOP base is still loyal to former president Donald Trump.
But none of this is an excuse for the way Republicans in Congress and at the state level are behaving. Public service is supposed to be more than an audition for a Fox News contributor job.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) understands how Trump’s lies about the election led directly to the Capitol insurrection; he told us so himself on Jan. 6. But now he is ready to boot Cheney out of her high-ranking post for simply telling the truth and to replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Relative to Cheney, Stefanik is a moderate on policy. That no longer matters. Her core qualification is a willingness to go along with the “voter fraud” lie, and presumably with other lies as well, in the name of her own ambition. Shame on her. Shame on all of them.
It is no secret that my own views are much more aligned with those of the Democrats than with the Republicans. But I genuinely believe it is good for the country when we have ideas-based, evidence-based competition between a party that leans to the left and one that leans to the right.
The scary thing is that this GOP, untethered from reality and the material needs of the country, is within a handful of seats of taking back both the House and the Senate. As exhausting as it is to acknowledge this, the 2020 election was just the first step toward restoring a shared reality. For Democrats, losing next year’s midterm elections is simply not an option.