Are the Last Rational Republicans in Denial?

The current GOP is beyond rescue.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in front of an American flag
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney sits as Vice Chair of the January 6 Committee. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty)

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I wonder if the remaining sensible Republicans have accepted the irretrievable loss of the GOP they once knew.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Harsher Truths

In 1991, the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, was briefly deposed in a coup by hard-line members of the Soviet Communist Party. Gorbachev, upon his return to Moscow, tried to differentiate between the plotters and the Party itself. One of his closest advisers, Aleksandr Yakovlev, told him that this effort was pointless, akin to “serving tea to a corpse.”

Republicans such as Senator Mitt Romney—an honorable man for whom I voted in 2012—and a handful of others in the GOP, including Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, should take note of Yakovlev’s phrase. Over the weekend, The Atlantic published a plea from Senator Romney for Americans “across the political spectrum” to stop ignoring “potentially cataclysmic threats.” The senator from Utah is right to be worried about the detachment of so many Americans. But Romney, Cheney, and Kinzinger cannot rescue their party, either—at least not in its current form.

In fact, I wonder if the Republicans can ever return to being the kind of party that once nominated someone like Mitt Romney for the American presidency. I say this not because of Donald Trump, nor as the apostate Republican I am. (The last straw for me was not Trump’s election, which I regarded as a fluke, but when Susan Collins lectured America on the jurisprudence of Brett Kavanaugh.) Likewise, I say this not because I disagree with the Republicans on many policy issues; I do, but as a New England Republican who identified with (and worked for) moderates of a bygone era, I have always had differences with the hard-right social conservatives.

Rather, I say this because millions of Republicans seem to have irreversibly lost touch with reality itself.

Senator Romney, for his part, seems to share this concern, but he softens this criticism of his own side with some examples from around the political landscape:

I have witnessed time and again—in myself and in others—a powerful impulse to believe what we hope to be the case. We don’t need to cut back on watering, because the drought is just part of a cycle that will reverse. With economic growth, the debt will take care of itself. January 6 was a false-flag operation.

But as the old song from Sesame Street goes: One of these things is not like the other. Unfounded optimism about droughts or recessions is one thing; it’s another thing entirely to embrace the idea that an insurrection and an attack on the Capitol was conducted by agents of the United States government itself.

At least the false-flag assertions fall within what we might call an ordinary—normal, even?—range of conspiracy theories. Other Republicans have blown past such pedestrian crackpottery and now have escaped the last tendrils of Earth’s gravity.

The Republican candidate for secretary of state in Michigan, for example, believes that people can transmit demonic possession through “intimate relations,” according to CNN. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Republicans have nominated a candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, who has implied that he might invalidate any election result he doesn’t like in 2024—and that’s probably the least disturbing thing about him. As Jonathan Last put it recently, the Democratic nominee, Josh Shapiro, is an ordinary politician, while Mastriano “is an insane person. A seditionist. A Christian nationalist. A conspiracy nut.”

Almost every other national Republican is either silent or on board with the dark fantasies and deepening paranoia that now rule the GOP. For example, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the relentlessly ambitious third-ranking House Republican, endorsed the developer Carl Paladino for a newly redistricted House seat in the state; in 2021 Paladino said that Adolf Hitler was “the kind of leader we need.” Some House Republicans are frustrated that Stefanik went rogue by endorsing Paladino, meaning only that they are embarrassed but not ashamed.

But this internal GOP griping raises a question. When Senator Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, is paddling about in the anti-vaccine fever swamps, and Senate candidate J.D. Vance is cozying up to people like the congressional conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene and the execrable Matt Gaetz, what exactly counts as “going rogue” and how can anyone distinguish it from just another day in the Republican Party?

In the end, despite the efforts of Senator Romney and other reasonable Republicans, the fringe is now the base. The last rational members of the GOP—both elected and among the rank and file—need to speak even harsher truths to their own people, as Liz Cheney did last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Otherwise, the madness will spread, and our institutions will continue an accelerating slide into a nightmare that will engulf all Americans, regardless of party.


Today’s News
  1. Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel to Donald Trump who was with the president on the day of the Capitol riot, will testify in a transcribed interview with the January 6 committee this week.
  2. The suspect who was detained in Monday’s shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, admitted to investigators that he fired at the parade crowd, and will be held without bond.
  3. About a third of Ukraine’s population has been displaced since Russia invaded in February, the United Nations estimates.


Galaxy Brain: Charlie Warzel got COVID—and became obsessed with those thin red lines.

Wait, What?: In post-Roe America, the misogyny is the point, Molly Jong-Fast argues.

The Weekly Planet: Robinson Meyer reports that the world is turning back to coal.

Up for Debate: From vaccines to sunscreen, America’s public-health efforts have slowed to a crawl, Conor Friedersdorf writes.

Evening Read
Two football teams squat, facing each other.
(Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News / Getty)

College Football Is Cannibalizing Itself

By Jemele Hill

College-sports traditionalists were appalled last week when the Big Ten athletic conference announced that it will add UCLA and the University of Southern California to its membership in 2024—creating a seismic shift in the college-sports landscape that will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the two California powerhouse programs.

This reorganization is the strongest indicator yet that college sports is cannibalizing itself.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
An eye peering through a wall of stacked books
(The Atlantic; Getty)

Read. Imogen Binnie’s 2013 novel, Nevada, is a cult classic that captures the grind of dead-end jobs.

Watch. Daughters of the Dust, the first feature film directed by an African American woman to be theatrically distributed in the United States, in 1991, is an astonishing portrait of a multigenerational family.

Or try another pick from our critic’s list of movies unlike anything you’ve seen before. (One movie that probably won’t amaze you? Marvel’s latest.)

Play our daily crossword.


I teach a course at Harvard Extension School every year on the pop culture of the Cold War, in part because I think younger students no longer understand how much the threat of war—including nuclear devastation—permeated almost everything we watched and read and heard, including pop music. But I have a special place in my heart for the apocalypse-themed videos of my youth that aired on MTV in the early 1980s. (This was back when MTV played music.) If you’re looking to jump into a rabbit hole of diversions, I wrote this for The Atlantic with links to some of these videos.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.