Trump’s Republicans Are a Faction, Not a Party

With each passing day, President Donald Trump’s losses continue to mount in court challenges to the election results — as of this writing, by one count, the campaign is 1-53. So it’s tempting to dismiss and mock the ongoing “clown show.” That would be a major error.

Not only do the president’s words and actions increase the potential for violence, but they are already doing actual harm to American democracy. And since Trump is a 74-year-old man who is not going to change, it’s up to elected Republicans to put a stop to this madness, as at least one Republican (Senator Mitt Romney) has had the courage to call it.

Instead, they are encouraging it. A wildcat lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general against the voting procedures in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (all of them, not coincidentally, won by Joe Biden) is supported by 17 other Republican states and 106 members of the House. That the case is absurd and hypocritical in no way makes it less dangerous. The Republican attorneys general of these states are doing this to placate one man — and the disturbing hold he has on the party’s base.

The Founders warned about this moment. In Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison wrote of the threat of “faction,” which he defines as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Madison believed that a constitutional republic would serve as a bulwark against faction: “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.”

Hold my ale, says Trump’s faction.

As many as 70% of Republicans have bought into Trump’s egotistical fantasy that the election was “rigged” and “stolen.” In other words, of the 74 million or so Americans who voted for Trump, nearly 52 million believe that Biden — despite actually receiving 7 million more votes — would be an illegitimate president.

That this is untrue means nothing. Nor does it mean anything that state Republican officeholders have counted and recounted and recounted votes and deemed them accurate, or that judges across the country, Republican and Democrat, have found Trump’s claims meritless.

The cumulative impact of all this is dangerous. Four years ago, Edgar Maddison Welch drove from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., and shot multiple semi-automatic rounds into a pizzeria that, according to an internet conspiracy theory, was harboring sex-trafficked children in the basement. Welch was eventually sentenced to four years in prison.

If one man could be so taken in by a bizarre conspiracy theory that he was willing to take up arms against a pizzeria, what is the likelihood that more than a few of those 52 million Trump voters believe that they would be doing God’s will in taking up arms to repel an unconstitutional usurper? Particularly when the president sends out a Twitter call to “#OVERTURN”?

In view of all this, the question for elected Republican officials is whether they want to be members of a political party or part of a destructive faction. Weak as the legal merits of the Texas case might be, the action itself could inspire a lone wolf to take a perceived “patriotic” action. This week the Arizona Republican Party sent out a tweet (since deleted) asking members if they’re willing to die for this president.

How does this fever break? What will it take for Republicans, as a group, to publicly recognize Joe Biden as president-elect? The Supreme Court’s prompt rejection of the Texas lawsuit could do the trick. But given that the president is also twisting arms in Congress, it might be the calendar, not the party, which finally brings this to an end. On Monday, members of the Electoral College vote. On Jan. 5, Georgia holds its senatorial runoff elections; some craven Republicans may wait for those results. The next day, Congress is scheduled to ratify the Electoral College vote.

It is also entirely possible, of course, that a point of no return has been reached. There is already talk of Trump leaving without officially conceding, taking on the role of “shadow president” — echoing a parliamentary structure in which he would serve as a kind of exiled and aggrieved “president” of Red America. If so, that would be a sad and ironic tragedy: the republican system so beloved by Madison brought low by the Republican Party.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Robert A. George writes editorials on education and other policy issues for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and New York Post.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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