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The Republican Party Can’t Be Saved

The GOP’s evolution into an organization that explicitly endorses mass political violence is now complete. Can Democrats break from pretending otherwise?

Brent Stirton/Getty Images
“Normal political discourse,” per the Republican National Committee

It’s now official: The Republican Party is no longer a political party in any known American sense. Honestly, it hasn’t been for a quite some time, but with last week’s resolution condemning Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the party made it official. We don’t always grasp the historic importance of events in real time, but rest assured that future historians, assuming the United States remains enough of a democracy to have honest ones, will point to Friday, February 4 as a pivotal day in the party’s war on democracy.

Why? What makes the statement, passed by the Republican National Committee at its winter meeting in Salt Lake City, so special? There are many factors. It was passed by voice vote, without debate or discussion; the decision was made in about one minute’s time. This is about how Cold War–era Albania passed resolutions favored by Enver Hoxha. As near as I can tell, it looks like two RNC members have gone on the record saying they shouted “no”: Bill Palatucci of New Jersey and Henry Barbour of Mississippi. Remember those names. I wonder what fate awaits them.

In addition, the resolution was accompanied by the passage of a change to Rule 11, which stipulates that the party can’t take sides in a competitive GOP primary. That rule was changed specifically so that the party could officially endorse, and provide money and other support to, Harriet Hageman, one of several challengers Cheney will face in the Wyoming primary—and the one who has Donald Trump’s backing. So a long-standing party rule has been changed specifically to destroy the career of one person. That, too, has a very Eastern bloc ring to it.

There’s so much more that could be said, but the money quote in this episode is the line in the resolution that condemns Cheney and Kinzinger for “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” This is right out of 1984. When The New York Times reported that this meant that the RNC was referring to the January 6 insurrection as “legitimate political discourse,” RNC gauleiter Ronna McDaniel howled that of course she has condemned violence, and the legit discourse business referred to other stuff.

What other stuff, it’s hard to say. The text of the resolution didn’t leave room to interpretation. And the select committee on January 6 is not exactly investigating Republicans across the country who are, say, protesting mask mandates. In fact, it’s not investigating any kind of “discourse.” It’s looking specifically at actions by people on and around the date of the infamous riot. And note that word “persecution.” What the committee is doing is questioning people. Is questioning now persecution? The Democrats had better remember how the Republicans blurred that distinction once Jim Jordan becomes chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The truth here is obvious: The party is talking out of both sides of its mouth. The obvious intent with that sentence is to minimize and legitimize what happened on January 6. Many individual members—like that feeble-brained, goose-stepping backbencher Andrew Clyde, who likened the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit”—have sought to do that over the past 13 months. And now that Trump himself has said he may pardon everyone charged with January 6–related crimes, it was clear that McDaniel saw her job as aiding Trump in that project: If it’s the official party line that the insurrection was legitimate, then there’s nothing outrageous about pardons.

The bottom line is this: With this resolution, the Republican Party has officially placed itself on the side of political violence. McDaniel and the rest will deny it, but it’s true; and in fact the more vociferously they deny it, the more they’re merely confirming it. Now we’re one step closer, for example, to the party mounting its own armed militia in time for the 2024 elections. It will not be called that officially, of course. It knows better than that. But that’s what it will be. And that explicitly is fascism.

This is the party that was founded as the anti-slavery party. It’s important to know a bit of this history in order to appreciate just how dangerous and out of step with American history this GOP is.

Historically, our two major parties were amalgams that didn’t make a lot of ideological sense. The Democrats were Northern and Western liberals combined with Southern racist segregationists. The Republicans were Wall Street and country club conservatives combined with agrarian populists and New England liberals. Well into the 1970s, there were a number of liberals in the GOP.

But in the last 50 years, the ideological sorting out of the parties took hold—over race, women’s rights and abortion, immigration, religion, and kindred issues. The conservative movement that started in Barry Goldwater’s time was once an element within the GOP. Then along came Newt Gingrich, the key figure who intensified the culture war, and in time the conservative movement swallowed the party whole—and moved hard to the right while doing it.

And now, in the Trump era, it has become what it’s been in process of becoming for some time: an extremist, pro-violence party. The Anti-Defamation League recently released a report finding that more than 100 Republican candidates on various ballots in 2022 have explicitly embraced extremism or violence—House candidates boasting about having the backing of white supremacist leaders, at least 45 candidates giving credence to QAnon conspiracy theories.

This is not some aberration that time will correct. It is a storm that will continue to gather strength, because it’s where the action and the money are, and no one in the GOP is opposing it—except the two people who were just essentially read out of the party (Kinzinger is retiring after his current House term).

The Republican Party, like Michael Palin’s parrot, has ceased to be. It has become an appendage of Trump dedicated to doing his will and smiting his enemies. I had to laugh at the part of the resolution that denounced Joe Biden for his alleged pursuit of “socialism.” The Biden administration has seen the creation of seven million private-sector jobs. What sort of socialism is that?

The Republican Party is further down the road to fascism than the Democrats are to socialism. And when, by the way, might Democrats start saying that? What are you waiting for, people? How much deeper does this crisis have to get before you start telling the American people the truth about what the GOP has become? It’s time to say it and to put Republicans on the defensive. I happen to think it will be good politically, because it will show people that you have conviction. But even if it weren’t, we are at a moment of historical reckoning. This resolution is a dark pivot point. But Americans won’t know it, Democrats, unless you tell them.