Are Republicans going to help Democrats save the republic, or have they abandoned democratic order for authoritarianism? That’s one question that will define the Joe Biden presidency and next generation of America—one that the incoming president should diplomatically, but forcefully, challenge the GOP to answer in his upcoming inaugural address.
Then, he should reassert his presidential thesis: The Democratic objective—to quell domestic extremism, the pandemic, and its explosive economic inequality—must be a bipartisan American imperative. And this can’t be an olive branch alone but also an ultimatum: If you don’t disown Trumpism, we will brand you forever as the authoritarian party.
The Republican Party’s anti-democratic fanaticism clearly helped Democrats secure their long-shot twin Georgia victories and a tenuous Senate majority for the next two years. The malicious declarations of fraud since Election Day, veteran Georgia political reporter Greg Bluestein told me, certainly peeled away more traditionally Republican voters in the run-offs.
Moreover, the attack on the Capitol vindicates those former or disenchanted GOP voters who had seen enough and voted against the president’s increasingly terroristic rhetoric. We should be relieved that the party that emboldened his coup attempt will not have a majority in either congressional chamber.
Still, the Georgia wins, stunning as they were, have been overshadowed by the insurrection. One day before the attack, anti-Trump conservatives—including one-time Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue voters—turned the page on a Republican Party that created the climate of domestic terrorism.
Pre-insurrection, there was a compelling argument that the Democrats had a better shot at winning and expanding their majority in 2022, with a friendlier electoral map that year and after two years of an obstructionist Mitch McConnell-led Senate and continued backlash against Trump’s neglectful pandemic response.
Instead, in the next months, in possession of their congressional majority, Democrats will have to show the country in tangible ways why they deserve not a slim one-seat edge but a broader governing majority after November 2022. In purging the influence of domestic terrorism, Democrats’ first meaningful and necessarily bipartisan act should be to convict Trump and disqualify him from future office under the impeachment clause of the Constitution.
But, then, how bold or incremental the Dems should be—a landmark infrastructure package, more robust individual stimulus checks or UBI during the pandemic, a new Voting Rights Act and new anti-corruption laws, added representation on the U.S. Supreme Court or federal bench or states—all depends on how effectively these measures can improve the well-being of everyday citizens.
A united Democratic position is that funding a state-of-the-art vaccination program, health care infrastructure and preparedness, and economic relief are not liberal or conservative propositions. While some of these actions will require nuking the filibuster, that shouldn’t be a source of contention. Diversity inside the Democratic caucus, from Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, to Mazie Hirono and Bernie Sanders, should be an asset and not a curse.
One of the strongest voices for democratic restoration recently has been the senior senator and conservative Democrat from West Virginia—that same Joe Manchin. First, he called on Twitter to suspend Trump to minimize the potential for more acts of violence in the days until Biden’s inauguration. Then he recommended an FDR-era jobs program to help conservatives and liberals alike during the pandemic.
Yes, he called impeachment ill-advised after acknowledging Trump’s criminal offenses. But amplifying Manchin’s voice and those like it is a guide for how the Democrats, under Biden’s unity stewardship, can be inclusive in principle and practice. Likewise, Tester has been one of the most consistent critics of corporate monopoly power.
Should Trump continue to hold hostage the Republican congressional leadership in a web of seditious lies, which still seems likely after only 10 House members supported impeachment, this open-tent approach may cause Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, and perhaps others, to disaffiliate and caucus with the Democrats—or form a new governing coalition.
Whatever Biden and the Democrats do these next two years must be focused on American restoration, and ultimately they must demonstrate they were helpful to the American people, marshaling solidarity in the recovery of our health and that of the Republic itself.
It’s not about winning as centrists. The proof must be in saved lives, an economic stabilization and fast trajectory toward equity, and revitalizing American democracy—to show progress in these two years and a roadmap beyond.