U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell admitted it was all a “big lie.” The emperor had no clothes. Most everyone knew it. All but a vocal cabal of Charleston County GOP members knew it too, yet continued denying reality, insisting he was still the emperor. If anyone dared to disagree, he was accused of being a RINO.
After I stated that blind obedience to former President Trump should not be the litmus test for being a Republican at the Jan. 11 county party meeting, I was met with a chorus of boos, “RINO” and, my personal favorite, “Lock him up.” (Rather ironic, considering Republicans are howling against so-called cancel culture.)
Fortunately, the reaction from Republicans who reached out, including current and former elected Republican leaders, was overwhelmingly positive. But therein lies the rub: They cannot openly say so. This must change.
There is an ideological chasm separating the vocal cadre of Republicans regularly attending the local meetings, demanding blind obedience to a man and the majority of Republican voters who adhere to conservative principles.
Regrettably, the chasm is not being bridged and the party may fracture or devolve into the Party of Trump. If that happens, Republicans should take heed that we have yet to feel the wrath of voters who witnessed the storming of the U.S. Capitol. As recent arrests show, these rioters were not “Antifa,” despite what fringe conspiracies claim.
For Republicans seeking to chart a path forward, it starts with the basics. It takes 50% plus one vote to win an election. Swing and younger voters are crucial. Republicans must recognize their concerns, abandon failed approaches and stop stoking national division.
Those who have reached out with support are in agreement that the anger and rhetoric must be reduced. That we must stop saying “the liberals.” No political organization exhibits unanimity within its membership on any issue.
It is false to paint all liberals as anti-American, socialists, and “forces of darkness” (to quote U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz) and all conservatives as racists, fascists and religious hypocrites. Swing voters often float between the two sides. Vilifying those who are not lock-step, imperial Republicans is a losing strategy.
Likewise, a civics reminder is in order: There are three separate and co-equal branches of government. The legislative branch was established to act independently and to serve as a check against executive overreach. Senators and representatives take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Party affiliation must always yield to this fundamental principle.
We seem to have forgotten this since the Nov. 3 election. Demands that our senators and representatives exhibit blind fidelity to a president of the same party is the greatest domestic threat to democratic governance. Yet, the local Republican cabal insists upon it.
As the minority party we can be the party of “No,” or we can govern; working to find agreement where possible to shape the final result. Regrettably, the local party moves to censure fellow Republicans who demonstrate the slightest degree of bipartisanship. This practice is wrong.
Can we not accept that there can be sensible ideas articulated by those with a “D” next to their names? No party has a monopoly on wisdom or love of country.
The current pandemic has also shown that Republicans cannot simply wish away science by calling COVID-19 a hoax. On Republicans’ watch, voters witnessed 400,000 Americans die in a year. That’s more than the combined battlefield deaths of World War I, World War II and Vietnam. We must shed the moniker of science deniers, and that includes acceptance of the science of climate change.
The water is rising, and when septic tanks stop working, voters are going to turn on the party that denied climate change. They are already turning on us. The majority of swing, younger and even half of Republican voters accept climate change as scientific fact. To younger voters, it is the non-negotiable issue. With existing bipartisan support for action, Republicans should seize the initiative on corrective action before options are lost.
The undeniable fact is that in four years, the Republican Party has lost the House, Senate and Oval Office. And with lack of involvement, the local Republican majority has allowed itself to be silenced by a myopic minority demanding continued fidelity to a person, not a platform. While it is still too early to say where the Republican Party is ultimately heading, one thing is certain. Without a change in trajectory, many Republicans foresee it heading to hell in a handbasket.
David Savage is an attorney from Charleston.
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