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The Attempted Republican Coup Should Be the Democrats’ Leading Message

December 16, 2021
The Attempted Republican Coup Should Be the Democrats’ Leading Message
Capitol Police and MPD used physical force and tear gas to force the Trump supporters further away from the U.S Capitol, on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For most of 2021, the Democratic party in Washington has earnestly tended to deck chair displays as the ship of democracy sinks. The entire party’s governing apparatus has focused on what was once quaintly referred to as “kitchen table issues”: rolling out vaccines, passing a COVID stimulus to rescue small businesses, creating a child tax credit to help foundering families, and pursuing, with the monomania of a crazed Eagle Scout, an infrastructure bill that passed muster with a large number of Republicans supporting it. As if proving that bipartisanship wasn’t dead could keep democracy alive.

Much of this governing was admirable. After all, defeating COVID was a large part of Biden’s mandate. As was renewing bipartisan legislating and a sense of normalcy to Washington.

Yet Democrats ought to realize that their time in power is drawing to a close. And so they must choose wisely how they spend the months left. Perhaps they might work on preserving the constitutional order?

The Republican party is on track to take control of both the House and Senate next year—not in spite of Donald Trump’s Big Lie and the evidence that he and other Republicans attempted to overthrow our democracy, but because of it. The Big Lie is the Republican platform for 2022. It is what most motivates Republican voters.

And that’s on top of the baked-in environmental problems Democrats are facing: dismal poll standing for both Biden and the generic Congressional ballot; a massive redistricting disadvantage; and historical trends that cost a first term president’s party an average of 27 House seats in midterms. Without some unanticipated, black swan event, Republicans will take back Congress 11 months from now.

Democrats seem to believe that Americans are tired of hearing about how reckless and anti-democratic Republicans are. They seem to believe that they need to keep talking about “real issues” that affect “real voters.” But after what we have learned in the last week, perhaps that calculus should change. Because the threat Republicans pose to the republic, through their explicit or implicit roles in either helping to create the insurrection or to excuse it, has never been more clear.

We have an actual document, a PowerPoint presentation, containing plans to steal the election by declaring a fake “National Security Emergency.”

We have texts between a (still) sitting member of Congress and Meadows about that member’s efforts to help then assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark overturn the election.

We have clear evidence that many Republicans, and close allies of Trump, were alarmed by his state of mind and refusal to condemn the violence during the January 6 insurrection.

And in light of all of this information, what have Republicans done? The worst among them are complicit and lying while the slightly less dangerous are still gaslighting Americans about the insurrection. From House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on down, Republicans are protective of Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, and all of Trump’s accomplices. They are contemptuous of accountability—refusing to even vote to hold in contempt witnesses who refuse to appear before the House—sacrificing their own institutional prerogatives to be alibis to insurrectionists. They have refused to disavow any of these revelations and they will not disavow whatever comes next. There will be no further defections.

Liz Cheney says she wants to prevent the American people from becoming “accustomed” to Trump’s lawlessness. House Democrats have given her a leading role, speaking the most of any committee member, for a reason. Because the combination of her conservative beliefs, her conversion from Trump supporter to lead antagonist, and her fierce courage, make her compelling.

They are right.

So why can’t Democrats make the next logical step? That dissecting the plot of an attempted coup in the United States of America, and fending off another one, which we can see on the horizon, is a compelling message.

Liz Cheney is right about not letting America become desensitized to attempted tyranny. Democrats should follow her learn, January 6 cannot be treated as just another Trump scandal, part #9,607 in The Trump Show. Which is why the creation of the insurrection, Trump’s role in it, and the Republican party’s continuing attempt to cover it up ought to be the campaign message of 2022.

Republicans will try to talk about the Democrats’ weaknesses on inflation, immigration and crime. Fine. Inflation matters, a chaotic border matters, and rising violent crime matters. But a functioning democracy matters most, because without it nothing that ails us can be fixed. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

The future of our democracy is the most important issue facing America. Why don’t Democrats trust voters to understand that?

There are legislative ways to make this case. For instance, a voting rights bill that could thwart the election nullification enabled by new voting restrictions passed by Republicans at the state level. Those new laws, by empowering GOP state legislatures to reject ballots, hand partisan control to Republicans who can help decertify an election Trump loses in 2024, should he not win it fair and square. Which—by the way—he absolutely could.

Or, if a filibuster fight among Democrats precludes any sort of voting rights legislation, then maybe the party should turn its attention to fixing the Electoral Count Act. Force Republicans to vote against amending the Act to prevent a last-minute election steal and then use that vote to demonstrate to highlight that Republicans are still pro-coup.

Democrats need not abandon kitchen table issues. Touting their enormously popular, bipartisan accomplishment, highlighting good economic news, and working vigorously to control the pandemic are salient, important messages. But they also must lay the terrifying story of January 6 at the feet of every Republican running for office next year. Every time a Republican embraces the Big Lie, they should be made to answer for it. Each revelation from the January 6 Committee should be hung around the necks of every Republican in the land.

The events of January 6 were clearly planned and coordinated to some extent—to what extent we have yet to learn. And the same is true of the post-coup cover-up.

Republicans must be made to answer for these facts at the next election. For two reasons: If they are not made to answer for it in 2022, then they never will be. And if aiding and abetting a coup doesn’t prove to be a political liability, then such attacks will be incentivized in the future.

Make them own it.

The January 6 Committee will hold public hearings next year, and a congressman or two could even be indicted before Election Day. There is no need for Democrats to wait until then to describe the Republican party as manifestly unfit to control Congress.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.