The GOP’s dangerous political games lit the fire that is now burning down America’s democracy

josh hawley ted cruz
Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attend the Senate Judiciary Committee markup on judicial nominations and the Online Content Policy Modernization Act, in Dirksen Building on Thursday, December 10, 2020.
  • The GOP has long inflamed the fears of their supporters, sparked conspiracy theories, and burned down norms.
  • Now, the fire the Republican party started is out of control and consuming our democracy.
  • And the GOP doesn't like reaping what they sowed.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Sometimes the political class is too polite when responding to acts of violence. "It wasn't President Donald Trump's fault. He didn't pull the trigger. His rhetoric is not to blame."

So let's be clear: the violence that erupted at the Capitol this past week is a direct outgrowth of Republican senators' reckless behavior.

It is not too strong to say that the responsibility for the violence, injury, and deaths on Wednesday sits squarely on the shoulders of Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, and every other member of the GOP who instigated the actions of the mob on the Hill.

Republicans have been playing with fire for more than a decade. They have stoked racism by embracing birtherism, ignored Trump's calls for violence against the media, protesters, and his opponents, and attempted to revise history when Trump called the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville "very fine people." 

The GOP's dangerous games have inflamed supporters, demonized Democrats, sparked conspiracy theories, and burned down long-standing norms. Now, as Trump pours fuel, they're reaping exactly what they've sowed - an out-of-control conflagration of our democracy.

New profiles in cowardice awards

The Senate used to be the place where reason prevailed. But Republicans incinerated that tradition, too.

After four years of spineless behavior, Republicans have found a new way to lower themselves - and the country - yet again. Indeed, their naked displays of partisanship this week have earned them new awards. 

By contrast, 32 years ago the family of President John F. Kennedy began a new era of rewarding politicians for making choices against their political interest but in the public interest when they inaugurated the JFK Profiles in Courage Awards.

Another John Kennedy, the current Republican Senator from Louisiana whose middle initial is "N," is the embodiment of political opportunism. A Democrat not that long ago, he changed parties when he saw opportunity and even criticized Trump from time to time. When he deemed speaking truth to power not in his interest, he fell in line with Trump and the fringe right - over and over again right through this week

So today, in the antithetical spirit of the JFK Profiles in Courage Award, we inaugurate the JNK Profiles in Cowardice Award. Recipients include:

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who saluted the Trump mob just hours before they attacked the Capitol and was shaken by just how completely his political gambit to challenge the Electoral College results backfired.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who saw an opportunity to pick up a few Trump voters by fomenting sedition.

Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia , who traded decency in the hope that it would lead to victory in their runoffs - which, unsurprisingly, did not work as both lost their reelection bids on Tuesday.

Last and most, Senate Soon-To-Be-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who may not have protested Biden's victory personally but set the tone for the kind of rhetoric used by his party, enabling Trump for  four long years.

Even they didn't believe that their words and actions would carry so much weight. Now, Republicans are denouncing the violence, defending democracy, and distancing themselves from the president. But doing so within a fortnight of Trump's departure from the stage after four years of hiding and enabling is way too little and of course too late.

Democrats must not let the American public forget that these senators and many of their fellow Republicans betrayed our country and constitution. They bear the responsibility for what took place on Wednesday.

A stunt gone horribly wrong

 Republicans never had the chance to overturn the results of Biden's election this year. But their irresponsible, self-serving, and futile actions could set off of a true, new anti-democratic movement in our country. We will be okay in the short term, but in the long term the shameless and selfish - the Profiles in Cowardice awardees - will take it to the next level and move us beyond the brink if it suits them politically.

 

While the Republican Party has become poisonous, praise should go to the Republicans who have put country first at our time of peril.

 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a lifelong Republican, facing incredible pressure from President Trump, stood firm on the validity of Biden's win in the state.

Rep. Liz Cheney (WY) refused to follow the rest of the House GOP leadership in challenging Biden's election victory.

Mitt Romney called what happened on Wednesday exactly what it was: "an insurrection incited by the President" and castigated his Republican colleagues for creating a monster they couldn't control.

But they may not be enough to salvage the wreckage of the GOP as it becomes the party of faux patriotism and real oppression. 

Pants on Fire

If the reasonable Republicans can't or don't retake control of the party, the Democrats must be laser focused on rebranding the Republic Party as what it is: anti-democracy.

They must pull back the curtain to expose just how hollow the GOP's claims to be the party of law and order, the constitution, or American values are. Democrats must remind the public what Republicans let happen to our country under their watch: a pandemic that continues to rage because of a lack of leadership, a devastated economy with millions of Americans suffering with insufficient government support, unrest in cities and communities across the country, and, now, mob violence in our nation's capital.

Through their lies, political ploys, and norm-shattering schemes, Republicans have chipped away at our democracy for too long. It's time for the Democrats to leave no questions about which party stands for the principles that made our nation.

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