In the wake of the trauma of the last two months, two inescapable questions emerge. First, what does it mean to be republican? And second, does the Republican Party represent those values at all any more?
The answers to both have led me to disaffiliate myself from the GOP after the disgrace that took place in Congress last week, with not just tacit but explicit cooperation from party leadership. Granted, in Minnesota, it’s easy to disaffiliate as the state does not have any affiliation attached to its voter registration process, so the only action necessary is to just tell people you’re no longer a member of the party. Still, at this point it’s impossible to act as though Republicans are republican, especially while its leadership makes clear that it doesn’t care one whit about the party’s own foundational principles.
In general political terms, republicanism supports a form of government without royalty or nobility. In American terms, republicanism is the philosophical basis for federalism — the establishment of representative institutions for self-governance rather than direct democracy. The founders worried about the potential for mob rule in republics that didn’t establish strong representational institutions. That is why they created a government with coequal branches, where one half of one branch would represent the people while the other represented the states, to form a federal government with an executive empowered to act as sovereign in matters of interstate commerce, national defense, and foreign policy. The states’ sovereignty in all other matters ensured against mob rule, in elections and otherwise.
What we have seen from Republicans over the last two months — but especially on Wednesday — has violated every single one of these principles of republicanism and federalism. In our federalist system and as established in the Constitution, the states have full jurisdiction in elections, even those for federal office. Their certifications have always been accepted as proper unless challengers produce explicit evidence of specific fraud in a large enough number of ballots to where it calls the results into question. The burden of proof to overcome state certification rests with challengers to prove the fraud, not on the states to prove a negative, as is proper in American jurisprudence more broadly. And even then, the forum for those challenges are in state courts, not Congress, if one abides by republican and federalist principles.
Instead, what we saw on Wednesday were Republicans, including their House leadership, pandering to a mob by pretending that Congress had any authority at all over the certified results of elections in the states. They did so on behalf of a president who appears incapable of relinquishing power in an orderly and lawful manner, as though power was his birthright and any election results to the contrary were ipso facto invalid. Republicans in both chambers justified these actions not from any principle, but by explicitly citing the mobs of people that prefer to believe in conspiracy theories stoked by this president and his advisers. Rather than standing on republican and federalist principles, they lied to these supporters and led them to believe that Congress could actually change the results of these elections — and stoked the fury of the mobs when it didn’t happen.
This wasn’t just a few extremists in the caucus, either. One hundred and twenty-one Republicans voted to reject Arizona’s electors, and 138 voted to reject Pennsylvania’s electors. That comprises two-thirds of the House Republican caucus, who acted in that manner despite the fact that Congress doesn’t have that authority in the absence of competing certified electors from a state. That included leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, while senators with ambitions for party leadership like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley egged on the mob. That illegitimate exercise, and the deeply irresponsible expectations it set, led to the mob violence that crashed Congress on Wednesday, morally if not legally.
That is a betrayal of republicanism, as well as civic duty. And apparently, leaders within the party are still actively betraying those principles in order to pander to the mob rule that is the antithesis of republicanism:
This was sent out from the Smith campaign in North Carolina in the last hour. pic.twitter.com/LRWw2pO6jm
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 10, 2021
The caveat of “I don’t support violence in any way” is meaningless — a dodge around the betrayal of the principles on which this party stood at one time. This is nothing more than an endorsement of brute-force majoritarianism at best, and at worst an explicit endorsement of mob rule. In fact, it seems like a celebration of mob rule, one cheered on by Donald Trump’s closest formal adviser in the White House.
Before this, questions had already arisen as to how republicanism could coexist with populism. This goes waaay beyond that question. The disgrace in Congress, even apart from the mobs, severed the connection between Republicans and republicanism in any meaningful American sense. They aren’t republicans now, but instead a radical form of small-D democrats whose only aim is gin up outrage in sufficient quantities to “own the libs.” That’s not just on Donald Trump; it’s now on the entire party and its leadership.
That’s their choice; my choice is very clear. I don’t choose to participate in such a nihilistic political party. I’ll stand on my own as an independent, ready to vote for responsible conservatives but under no obligation to vote for or support anyone else. Until the GOP comes to its senses and returns to true republican and federal principles, I will not be back.