It was only about 24 hours ago that I wrote about Donald Trump burning down the Georgia Republican Party. In that time, which seems much longer, he has since destroyed the national GOP and threatens to rip our entire nation apart.
For those who came in late, President Trump summoned his supporters to Washington with the promise of big news about the election. On the morning of January 6, hours before Congress was scheduled to count the electoral votes that would officially make Joe Biden the president-elect, Trump was stirring his disciples into a frenzy with claims of stolen elections and holding out the promise that Mike Pence would take action that would usher in a second Trump term.
However, Pence burst the crowd’s bubble with a letter to Congress that spoke the constitutional truth that he has no "unilateral authority to decide presidential contests." The crowd did not like Pence’s acknowledgment that the Constitution does not grant the vice president veto power over the Electoral College and the will of the voters. Soon after, Trump tweeted that Pence didn’t “have the courage to do what should have been done,” and as the joint session of Congress met, Trump’s rally became a riot.
Trump’s response to the riot was also problematic. In a short video, the president maintained his claim that the election was stolen and told the rioters, “We love you. You’re very special.” A tweet that resulted in a presidential ban from Twitter gave the same message.
The president’s statements undercut later MAGA claims that the riot was a false flag operation by Antifa (what isn’t a false flag to this crowd?). Aside from the fact that many of the rioters have already been positively identified, the president obviously thought that they were his people.
Far from being tough on the rioters and making statements like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” President Trump treated the MAGA insurrectionists with a velvet glove. It was actually Mike Pence rather than Trump who ordered the National Guard deployed to control the mob.
I have to wonder if the president might not have had a hand in opening the doors to the Capitol for the rioters. There needs to be an investigation into how the crowd broke through the Capitol’s security. The FBI has already labeled Qanon a terrorist group and after yesterday, military, police, and security workers who have links to Qanon should be denied security clearances, if not dismissed from the positions entirely.
However, the anti-democratic, anti-republican, pro-Trump domestic terrorists (let’s call them what they are because Wednesday’s actions fit the FBI definition of terrorism) did not stop Congress from doing its duty. Congress resumed its session last night and affirmed Joe Biden’s victory.
In the end, the attempt at disrupting the electoral process hurt the MAGA faction rather than stopping the peaceful transfer of power. Fewer Republican senators joined the objection so, in the end, only Arizona and Pennsylvania were contested. Both objections were rejected although far more Republicans voted yes than should have.
MAGA’s actions also hurt the Republican Party because many hesitant Trump supporters were shocked at the political violence. I know a great many Trump voters who said that after yesterday they were no longer supporters of the president. These were people who had reservations about Trump’s character but who voted Republican out of fear of socialism and Democratic extremism. Most did not count on Republican extremism despite increasing danger signs over the past four years. If the Republicans got their wish of a do-over election, Donald Trump would now lose in a landslide.
So where does the Republican Party go from here? Hopefully, to the ash heap of history. Honestly, I cannot see how the GOP survives in its present form after its shameful performance over the past two months. Scratch that. After the past four years.
Political parties are coalitions and the GOP is no exception. Ages ago, when the news was that the GOP lost Georgia’s two Senate seats to the Democrats, Erick Erickson had an insightful tweet about those results.
You can bet that this morning, the soccer moms and Trump supporters are farther apart than ever. As the Trumpian right becomes even more shrill and radical, it will be harder and harder to find a candidate that can bridge the gap. In our closely divided world, a shift of less than a percentage point in the electorate can make the difference between victory and defeat. See Georgia as Exhibit A.
For that matter, how can the two factions of traditional Republicans and Trump Republicans coexist in Congress? It was always an uneasy alliance but now that some congressional Trumpists are looking the other way at political violence and others are openly endorsing it, the chasm is likely to become too great to bridge. It seems likely to me that the party will eventually split. For Republican fence-sitters, the cost of doing nothing is becoming more expensive than the cost of doing the right thing.
The problem with a Republican split is that it would leave the Democrats as the dominant party. The fear of Democrats unified Republicans under Trump. Republicans let Donald Trump run amok in large part because they feared that if they held him accountable they would either lose their seats to a Trumpist primary challenge or that Trump’s base would stay home and “socialism” would win the day.
Now, however, it seems the choice is between “socialism” and Trumpian anarchy and authoritarianism. That Hobson’s choice is unlikely to be a winning political message for Republicans. As Georgia showed us, that’s where we are today.
The difference after January 6 is that it is now impossible to ignore Trumpism’s own dangers. Republicans who have been cautiously feeding the alligator are now finding that the beast is loose, it is large, and it is in danger of devouring the whole country. If Republicans don’t acknowledge the danger of enabling Donald Trump, the voters now seem willing to do so and take matters into their own hands.
So once again, Republicans are between a rock and a hard place of their own making. If they do what should be done and purge Donald Trump and his supporters from the party then they will lose some elections. On the other hand, if they continue to play footsie with an unstable madman and his Qanon soldiers then they drive decent people from the party and they still lose. There seems to be no scenario that is not deservedly painful for the Republican Party.
The best option is to rip off the bandage and do the right thing. Kick Trump and his cronies to the curb. That will result in short-term pain but will position what’s left of the Republican Party - or what replaces it - to gain when Democrats overreach as they inevitably will.
For now, however, conservatives should put country over party and work with Democrats to put a stop to the Trumpist insurrection before it gets worse. It’s time to choose sides and history will not judge kindly those who continue to straddle the fence.