The other day, I triggered Fox News when, in talking to MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace about the state of the Republican Party, I compared the GOP to terrorists. I said: “The damage that this party is doing to our democracy, the damage that they are doing to our elections, to our integrity, to the entire foundation of our system is worse than anything that the people behind 9/11 did to our country.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t exaggerating about this radicalized anti-democratic Republican Party.
On Tuesday evening, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., issued a similar warning from the House floor: “Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.”
Cheney’s ouster by the House Republicans from their leadership Wednesday morning was not a stunner. They purged Cheney for the high crime and misdemeanor of telling the truth about Donald Trump and the insurrection he promoted.
The gravest threat now to America’s freedom comes not from outside our borders, but from those who doubt that democracy works at all. If we saw a political faction in another country repudiate a free election as the GOP is doing right now, American diplomats would be calling out that crime.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, President George W. Bush returned to New York City and said: “We have no intention of ignoring or appeasing history’s latest gang of fanatics trying to murder their way to power. They are discovering, as others before them, the resolve of a great country and a great democracy.”
Today’s “gang of fanatics” is the Republican Party. What we saw Jan. 6 was that their assault on the Constitution was their way to power. And on that very evening, just hours after thousands of domestic terrorists launched a violent siege on the Capitol, 139 Republicans in the House voted to overturn the results of the free and fair presidential election. Like despots, they wanted to erase legal votes cast by tens of millions of Americans.
Even the actions of a blood-thirsty mob inspired by Republican lies was not enough to return the GOP to the pro-democracy fold. Anyone who was still holding out hope that the Republican Party would retreat from “the big lie” should have abandoned that fantasy that evening.
Let’s be clear, there is no Republican “civil war.” That battle was fought and decided the evening of Jan. 6. It wasn’t even a battle. In the four months since, Republicans (but for a handful) have fully surrendered to Trump, just as they had the instant he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.
The drama playing out between Cheney and her Republican colleagues is more of a formality than a battle for the soul of the party. What happens next is a battle for the future of democracy.
Imagine what the insurrection would have achieved if Republicans held the majority in the House and Senate. They would have refused to certify the legitimate election of Joe Biden, prompting an unprecedented constitutional stress-test.
The likely ascension of Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who has spread outrageous false claims about the election, to replace Cheney as House Republican conference chair proves the party’s commitment to silencing the will of the people. Its goal is to finish what the insurrectionists started Jan. 6.
That is why the stakes could not be higher for the 2022 midterm elections. If Republicans are able to recapture a majority in the House or Senate, they will use that majority to reject the 2024 presidential election results if they don’t like the result.
Speaking defiantly Tuesday night, Cheney gave an impassioned defense of democracy and issued a challenge: “Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy… Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that.”
It seems just about every Republican leader is more than willing to do exactly that.
Kurt Bardella is a former spokesperson for Reps. Darrell Issa, Brian Bilbray, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and the House Oversight Committee.