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Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear'

Former Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women House Democrats call on Republicans to return Marjorie Taylor Greene donation Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' MORE (R-Fla.) argued in a pre-taped interview that ran Friday that the Republican Party has lost its way and become “engulfed in lies in fear.”

Curbelo and former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) teamed up as part of the nonpartisan debate series IntelligenceSquared U.S. to argue that many within the GOP are knowingly pushing a lie that the election was stolen out of fear of retaliation from former President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE.

In his opening remarks, Curbelo said that by embracing former President Trump’s election claims, which preceded the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the GOP had lost its credibility and damaged democracy.

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“Here we only have two [political parties] and in order for one to be able to hold the other accountable, it has to be viable. It has to have credibility. With a majority of the voters in the country, it has to be a reasonable choice for most people,” Curbelo said. “And the problem we have today in our democracy is that the Republican Party is losing that position. Why? Because it has lost its way. Because it’s a party engulfed in lies and in fear.”

Curbelo, a moderate conservative, lost his South Florida swing district in 2018 by only about 4,000 votes in what was a big year for Democrats.

He has emerged as a vocal critic of Trump and the direction of the GOP.

In the Intelligence Squared debate, he argued that many members of Congress know Trump’s election claims are false but that they lack the courage to stand up to him, knowing that it could cost them their seats.

“Most congressional Republicans will acknowledge this privately,” Curbelo said. “And again, that’s the problem, that people aren’t telling the camera what they’re telling their friends. Why? Because Donald Trump converted the Republican Party into a personal club to advance his interests and even to question or to challenge free and fair election results. And in doing so, incited a riot that resulted in the defiling of one of the greatest structures in the history of democratic government and in the death of five people.”

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“If we’re going to have an honest conversation about the Republican Party, we have to confront this crisis, this cancer that is preventing a lot of Republicans, not all, from telling people the truth, from being honest with the voters, and from serving with decency,” he added.

Flake, who clashed with Trump before retiring in 2018, said that Republicans would rack up electoral losses going forward if the party continues to hold Trump up as its leader.

Flake noted that Republicans lost the White House, House and Senate under Trump, while losing both Senate seats in the formerly red-leaning states of Arizona and Georgia.

Republicans did unexpectedly pick up House seats in 2020, and Trump was the first Republican in decades to win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016.

But the former Arizona senator said that more than 140,000 people who were registered as Republicans changed their registration following the Jan. 6 riot, including 10,000 in his home state.

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“For all this winning, I don’t know where it is,” Flake said. “We’ve clearly lost our way as Republicans. We cannot push on ahead, unless we first recognize the truth. We have lost our way. We can ensure and need to come back as a party. We have to give them that choice.”

Trump will address the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday in his first major speech since leaving office. The former president is expected to talk about the future of conservatism and the Republican Party.

Trump maintains broad support among a strong majority of the party, and he would be the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP's 2024 nomination if he decides to run again.

Some in the party, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMaher goes after Manchin: 'Most powerful Republican in the Senate' Supreme Court confounding its partisan critics Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE (R-Ky.) and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Cheney compares Trump claims to Chinese Communist Party: 'It's very dangerous' MORE (R-Wyo.), have called on Republicans to cut Trump loose.

They’re frustrated by Trump’s election claims and say the focus on the allegations of fraud may have cost Republicans their two Senate seats in Georgia and ultimately a majority in the upper chamber.

The Trump campaign lost dozens of court challenges trying to nullify Democratic votes or overturn the election results in key swing states before a pro-Trump mob sacked the Capitol while the Electoral College vote count was ongoing.

A new poll from the R Street Institute found that two-thirds of all Republicans view the 2020 election as invalid.