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The post-election is about the soul of the Republican Party

The post-election is about the soul of the Republican Party
© Greg Nash

The Republican Party has a soul, but you won’t find it in Washington. With few exceptions, Republicans in the Senate and House refused to acknowledge Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it MORE’s clear and legitimate victory in the presidential election. Many even aided and abetted President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE’s fantastic lie that he had been reelected. Real damage was done to American unity because an extraordinary 73 percent of Republican voters question whether Biden legitimately won the election, which has dire implications for those who hope the country will heal after Trump is finally gone. 

But national Republicans also damaged themselves and their own party by demonstrating that, even when it comes to our most sacred democratic process, electing a president, they are a moral and constitutional black hole. In their post-Election Day response to Biden’s victory, think of the Republicans as falling into three categories.

First, there are the “Never Biden” Republicans, who believe Trump is the key to their reelection even if he is out of office. Put another way, they are more afraid of antagonizing Donald Trump than they are loyal to the Constitution. The Never Biden Republicans know, or should know, that the only fraud in the 2020 election was Trump’s claim that the election was decided by fraud. That there was no fraud has been established beyond any doubt by the dozens of federal and state judges who dismissed the Trump lawsuits challenging Biden’s victory; by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed two Trump lawsuits; and by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolitics in the Department of Justice can be a good thing Majority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case MORE, a Trump loyalist, who said that he had not seen “fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.”    

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Yet to keep their end of a Faustian bargain, most House Republicans, including the leadership, have had to publicly state that the Earth is flat or, ostrich-like, refuse to acknowledge that Biden legitimately won. The last time anything like this happened was in 1860 when the Southern wing of the Democratic Party took their states out of the Union after Lincoln’s election. It ended badly. Rep. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting Juan Williams: The GOP's betrayal of America MORE (R-Mich.) properly called out Republicans for failing to stand up “for democracy first, for our Constitution first,” and quit the Republican Party in disgust. 

Second, there are the political cynics like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote MORE (R- Ky.) and his Senate leadership colleagues. They knew perfectly well that, when the Associated Press declared Biden the winner on November 7, Trump in fact had lost a fair election. But anxious not to incur Trump’s wrath, they stayed silent while Trump and his Republican supporters sought to undermine a presidential election; but, more cautious than the Never Bidens, neither did they openly endorse the Trumpian falsehoods about the election. Only this week, when McConnell and the Senate leadership calculated that Republicans would suffer more damage from staying silent than from Trump’s anger, did they finally admit that Joe Biden won. Theirs are not profiles in courage. 

The moral core of the Republican Party lies in a third category: the courageous state and local Republican officials who, despite enormous pressure from Trump and his allies, stood up for the Constitution and in doing so may have saved democracy in America.  

To name only a few, Clint Hickman, the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona, was pressured not to certify that Biden had won the state. He refused because, he said, there was no fraud in the Arizona vote and  “I couldn’t violate the law or deviate from my own moral compass.”  

Another was Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, who rejected Trump’s demand that the legislature ignore the state’s popular vote and appoint pro-Trump electors. He said that “We have a republic if we can keep it. I intend to keep it.” Had the Hickmans and Chatfields allowed Trump to manipulate the election, we might indeed, as Chatfield put it, have lost “our country forever.”   

These state and local Republican officials morally redeemed the Republican Party. As to the national Republicans, let’s just say that moral cowardice in public office is an ugly sight.

Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and The Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.” Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance.