The political divide in America has shifted. It is no longer liberal vs. conservative, but instead pro-democracy vs. anti-democracy. This pivot puts liberals and some traditional conservatives on the same side — and against the current Republican Party.
The political divide in America has shifted. It is no longer liberal vs. conservative, but instead pro-democracy vs. anti-democracy.
While “conservative” has always meant different things to different people, the modern GOP has marketed itself as the party of small government, backing reduced spending, states’ rights, a strong national defense and a stance against authoritarian regimes, respect for traditions and norms, and a reverence for the rule of law and so-called traditional family values.
That model went out the window when Republicans embraced Donald Trump despite revelations that his personal attorney paid off a porn star who claimed that she had an affair with Trump soon after his third wife gave birth. Any pretense of being the party of small government evaporated when the deficit ballooned under Trump. Trump’s refusal to stand up to tyrants like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman undercuts the idea that Republicans are the party of strong national defense.
Last week, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward and other Republican leaders sued in federal court in Texas seeking a judicial order empowering Vice President Mike Pence to reject electors sent to Congress by swing states. The goal of the lawsuit was to give Pence the authority to hand himself and Trump a second term in office Wednesday, when Congress formally counts the electoral votes confirmed by the Electoral College last month. The order these Republicans seek contradicts the plain language of the Constitution, which states that the president of the Senate (the vice president) “shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be Counted.” (Emphasis added.)
In other words, the party that once decried judicial activism is leading efforts to get the courts to swing the election and sees no problem with asking a federal judge to grant the vice president the power to hand the election to his own party.
Not surprisingly, a federal judge — Trump appointee Jeremy Kernodle — rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing. But while the lawsuit was legally specious, its intent was clear — Gohmert, an elected member of Congress, was trying to take away the right of the American people to vote for the next president.
Trump continues claiming — without evidence — that there was widespread fraud in the election, a claim that has been rejected by courts in 60 lawsuits. Over the weekend, Trump took the desperate step of literally begging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes. Raffensperger refused, as there are no votes to find.
After having failed repeatedly in court, the Republicans have now turned to another doomed plan. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he will challenge the electors from the swing states. Hawley will be joined by a number of Republican representatives and other senators. This attempt, too, will fail. To succeed, Hawley not only needs a majority of senators behind him — he also needs the Democratic-held House to go along, which will not happen.
If a desire to empower Republican members of Congress and the Republican vice president to disregard the election and select the next president sounds authoritarian, it’s because it is, in the purest sense of the word. While none of these gambits will succeed, these antics will further radicalize the Republican base.
Parties evolve. A key moment in the Democratic Party’s shift from the party of the Confederacy to the party that embraces racial diversity was President Lyndon B. Johnson signing of the Civil Rights Act. A key moment in the Republican Party’s shift from the party of Lincoln to the party that includes the Proud Boys and white nationalists was the so-called Southern strategy, an appeal to rural white Southerners using racially charged wedge issues like affirmative action.
And now, another shift is occurring as numerous Republican leaders reject the democratic process.
Authoritarianism has a great deal of appeal. There is no gridlock and no need to compromise. Change can happen quickly. It promises unlimited power and wealth to the ruling group. Democracy, in contrast, requires compromise. It requires sharing power with people we dislike and disagree with.
Now, as a result of the current political shift, a not insignificant number of those who embrace traditional conservative values feel they have no place in the Republican Party — which is why prominent conservatives like former Reps. Paul Mitchell, David Jolly and Joe Walsh, George Will, William Kristol, Jennifer Rubin and Michael Steele have either left the party or supported Democratic candidates in the 2020 election.
Liberals and traditional conservatives who value the rule of law over whatever appeal the Republican Party still holds must now join in opposition to a party that has rejected both democratic and conservative values.
Teri Kanefield, a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, is the author of numerous articles, essays and books, including the 2015 Jane Addams Book Award winner “The Girl from the Tar Paper School.” For 12 years she maintained an appellate law practice in California.