In an editorial yesterday, "It's Up To The Voters To Rebuke Republicans Who Embrace The 'Big Lie'," Washington Post editors noted that most-- 147 out of 213-- "House Republicans voted to reject the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral votes. Republican state legislatures have passed this year aggressive 'election integrity' laws that will make voting harder and that raise the prospect of future Republican interference in vote-counting. And, as The Post’s Amy Gardner reported Monday, a wave of new GOP candidates have made lies about election fraud the central theme of their campaigns. Some of them have already won their primary races. At least one-third of the nearly 700 Republicans who have filed initial paperwork to run for the U.S. House or Senate next year are embracing former president Donald Trump’s 'big lie' of having been cheated out of the 2020 election, as Ms. Gardner wrote. Candidates for governor, state legislature and secretary of state are campaigning on the same platform of dishonesty."
Is that fatal for national integrity. Will the Union stand? Will Republican growing embrace of authoritarianism and fascism and their opposition to democracy itself, as well as to an investigation into Trump's attempted coup, make it impossible for the country to stick together? Sooner or later the sedition-minded among us are going to realize they have to get vaccinated to stop dying and then they will... so mass Trumpist death isn't going to be the answer to the nation's problems. (The Post editors didn't express any of that.)
The editors wrote that Republican leaders insist that "telling the truth about the nation’s democracy is 'relitigating the past.' Yet relitigating the past is precisely what Republicans such as state Rep. Shawnna Bolick in Arizona, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in Georgia and House of Delegates candidate Wren Williams in Virginia want to do, except that they are rejecting the truth as they do so. Keying off polls showing that most Republican voters believe the 'big lie,' other Republican politicians have seized on 'election integrity' as a kind of middle ground, allowing them to pander and wink without totally buying into the lie. But promoting election denial is not run-of-the-mill pandering, like promising ethanol policies in Iowa or heating oil subsidies in New Hampshire; this pandering could be fatal to U.S. democracy." It's increasingly hard to think about this stuff and not to get there, no matter how hard you try.
Republican leaders have played footsie with dark forces on the far right under the mistaken impression that they could benefit from the enthusiasm of racists, conspiracy theorists and other extremists while maintaining control of the party, nominating traditional conservatives and promoting their long-standing policy goals. These forces have instead reshaped the party-- not just on matters of policy, such as free trade, international engagement and deficit spending, but also on the most basic question of whether Americans can trust their democratic institutions. It will be up to the voters to rebuke this moral failure.
A glimmer of hope from Greg Sargent? After a ritual warning about GOP's intentions and the party's "radicalization against democracy continuing to hurtle forward," he introduced his readers to The Republicans Who Want to Stop The Next Attempt To Steal An Election-- a "very few prominent Republicans [who] will stand athwart that radicalization and yell, 'Stop!' ... A group of Never Trump Republicans is now attempting to step into this breach by launching a new campaign to hold Republicans accountable for the party’s widespread voter suppression and election subversion efforts. The group’s name: Republicans for Voting Rights. [See their video up top.]
As such, the campaign will also champion efforts to expand voting access and structurally protect democracy on multiple fronts. That’s not a widely held position among contemporary Republicans, to put it mildly.
Which raises a question: Is it possible to meaningfully defend voting rights-- and to defend the integrity of Trump’s loss as pivotal to the larger mission of protecting democracy-- while remaining a member in good standing of today’s GOP?
Some Republicans did defend the legitimacy of Trump’s loss and continue to advocate for the GOP to refrain from casting doubt on it. But they have faced appalling censure, and the new group hopes to help clear more space for such civic virtue going forward.
“We need people like that in the party,” Amanda Carpenter, a prominent Never Trump commentator and director of Republicans for Voting Rights, told me. “We’re better for it.”
The new group will help shed light on a big unknown about Never Trump Republicans’ condemnation of Trump’s attacks on democracy. After Trump, would they permanently break with the GOP embrace of voter suppression and other anti-democratic tactics?
The group seems to answer with a clear yes. They will launch new ads on cable that proclaim: “Current Republican efforts to restrict voting undermine democracy and betray America’s deepest values.”
High turnout should be celebrated
As Carpenter tells me, the group’s agenda will be “extremely supportive” of expansions of voting that helped ensure the 2020 election was a high turnout one amid exceptionally challenging conditions.
That election, Carpenter says, showed that “when you give people more voting options, more people vote. That is something that should be celebrated.”
“But unfortunately, a lot of people in the existing Republican Party looked at the 2020 election” and decided they “just need to clamp down on voting,” Carpenter told me.
Their agenda will support expansions of no-excuse vote-by-mail, including increased drop boxes. As a starting point, the group backs Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WA) proposal: It includes automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, curbs on partisan gerrymandering and federal preclearance for voting rules changes that threaten suppression.
That’s a robust voting rights agenda in the context of today’s GOP. Indeed, it’s doubtful that leading Trump critics such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) would go this far.
Indeed, what’s striking is how few Republicans will do so. As the group’s website details, it will be chaired by Bill Kristol and includes officials such as former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele, former GOP congressman Mickey Edwards and GOP strategist Sarah Longwell. Those are big names, but how many others will advocate for these positions?
Against election subversion
Importantly, the group also has an agenda against election subversion. It will oppose sham audits and oppose efforts by GOP legislators to weaken secretaries of state and assert control over election boards for partisan purposes.
Those offices have powers that can facilitate voting and maintain election integrity, which is exactly what some of these state-level Republicans want to cripple while making it easier for themselves to sow doubt about legitimate election losses.
The group will also call for revisions to the Electoral Count Act, which could help avert a 2024 scenario in which a GOP legislature tries to help tip a presidential election by sending rogue electors to Congress in defiance of their state’s popular vote.
One such reform might be to require far more than just one senator and representative to object to a slate of electors and force a congressional vote on them. Another might be to tighten up evidentiary requirements backing up such objections. Still another might require two-thirds of Congress to vote to overturn electors.
On Jan. 6, a few Republicans objecting based on fictions forced a congressional vote on President Biden’s electors, leading to 147 House Republicans voting to overturn them. In a much closer election decided in one state, the pressure on a GOP state legislature to send rogue electors, and on Republicans in Congress to ratify them, could be more intense.
All of which raises another question. Shouldn’t principled Republicans who took great abuse for standing up for Trump’s loss, and for rejecting his pressure to overturn it at various levels of government, want such reforms to protect themselves-- by ensuring that this pressure is never duplicated?
“It is only getting worse,” Olivia Troye, a director of the group and an adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence, told me. “There should be structural protections in the system so we prevent this from happening again.”
A warning: Carpenter is a Never-Trumper and seems to be trying to accomplish something crucial for the country but... she's every inch a Reaganite, which may seem tame to young people today in comparison to being a Trumpist, but not to people who lived through the Reagan era of American politics. Carpenter may be trying to reinvent herself now but she long worked in the fetid swamps of the far right-- first for Jim DeMint and then for Ted Cruz. Let's just be careful. Also, when has voter suppression not been a central tenet of conservatism? When have conservatives ever wanted to expand the franchise? I can't think of a time when that was the case, not in the U.S., not in the U.K., not anywhere at any time in history. Conservatism is a toxic ideology which has always feared and opposed democracy as antithetical to its primary objectives, from the French Revolution conservatives like Antoine Barnave and Jacques Pierre Brissot to Americans supporting the British monarchy instead of the Revolution and on to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, James Buchanan, Roger Taney, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Joe McCarthy... right to Reagan, McConnell and, whether they want to admit it or not, Donald J Trumpanzee.