The Reckoning of the Republican Party
When Senator Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, the response from the left was beyond intense. Opinion writers falsely called him an animal abuser, twisted his words to make him sound like a sexist, and berated his use of the word – wait for it – “Obamacare” as being a racist term. After Romney won the 2012 Iowa caucus, the Obama campaign blasted him as a unprincipled Wall Street type, a man who was out of touch with the average American. Now, however, the conversation surrounding Mr. Romney has taken on a decidedly different tone.
In February of 2020, when Senator Romney voted to convict former President Trump of high crimes, he was put on blast by his party. President Trump called him a “sore loser,” and his son, Donald Trump Jr., called for his expulsion from the Republican Party. His supporters, too, expressed some dismay at his anti-Trump stance, and when he came out against President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, he faced immediate backlash from the more conservative wing of his constituency. As he boarded his January 5th flight to confirm the electoral votes, he was harassed by passengers, some even chanting “traitor” at him on the plane.
The reaction from the left, however, was decidedly different. Shockingly, in his home state of Utah, 64% of Republicans disapprove of the job he is doing, a horrific number. However an incredible 84% of Democrats approve of the job he is doing. Liberal pundits agree, and in a January 12 opinion piece, Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, referred to Senator Romney as a “principled Republican.” In essence, views on Senator Romney have completely changed since he ran for President just nine years ago. However, Romney is not the only moderate Republican to have found that there is no longer a place in the party for them. Lawmakers like Jeff Flake, the former Senator from Arizona, have retired rather than face a primary challenge from a pro-Trump candidate. Others have simply left the party. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State for George W. Bush has said that he “no longer considers himself a Republican.”
Now, the Republican party has become the party of Trump. Lawmakers, terrified of being villainized by his enthusiastic base, are forced to go along with all his claims, truth be damned. Of course, there are consequences for this. When angry rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6, it was the culmination of a steady march into conspiracy for the Republican party, supported by lawmakers like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. It is becoming clear that there is a cataclysmic divide between the competing wings of the Republican party, and it is unclear which way the party will go.
The best place to look for clues as to the future of the party is not to look to its leadership, but to look to its voter base. At the time of Joe Biden’s inauguration, only 16% of Republicans believed that Biden was the rightful winner of the election and should have been inaugurated. That is a shockingly low number for an undisputedly free and fair election in a democratic nation, and it is difficult to see a way to convince such a large swath of the electorate who believe so strongly in such a blatant lie that they have been swindled. If they cannot be convinced that our elections are free and fair, how will they ever see Democratic governance as legitimate? What is to stop Republicans from delegitimizing every election won by a Democrat? And where will moderate Republicans go when they are no longer willing to be a part of the lies? Are we seeing the beginning of the creation of a third party in America? The answers aren’t clear. All that is for certain is that the road ahead for the Republican party, and American democracy, isn’t looking good.