The Republicans Need a Reckoning

The party of Lincoln must end its embrace of sedition.

Close up photo of Marjorie Taylor Greene's face
Marjorie Taylor Greene talks to reporters on November 15, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

The pretense that the seditionists in the GOP are limited to a handful of kooks who worship Donald Trump is no longer sustainable. If there are any Republicans left who care about the Constitution, the time to speak up is now.

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


The Moral Argument

The near miss of the midterms, in which almost all of the most extreme Republicans were defeated, seems to have generated a certain amount of complacency about the ongoing threat to the American system of government. I know, of course, that many of our fellow citizens are well aware of the dangers posed by conspiracy theorists, election deniers, and other assorted enemies of the Constitution. And I cannot blame people for becoming numb: You can watch a Paul Gosar or a Marjorie Taylor Greene spouting off like pinwheels of paranoia only so many times.

But we cannot ignore recent developments. Only a few days ago, Greene took the stage in formal attire at the New York Young Republican Club gala and said, “I want to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that”—the January 6 insurrection—“we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.” A few days before that, Gosar posted and then deleted a tweet supporting Trump’s call for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution.

These are not examples from the fringe. Dozens of Republicans contacted then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after the 2020 election and right through to Trump’s last days in office with wild theories and desperate ideas about how to keep the 45th president in power. The Meadows texts were obtained by the House January 6 committee and then published by Talking Points Memo. The messages are alternately stomach-turning and comical, in some cases at the same time.

For example, on January 17, 2021, only 11 days after the insurrection and roughly 72 hours before Joe Biden was to be sworn in, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina pleaded with Meadows:

Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of  no return  in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!

This is a member of the U.S. Congress insisting, in a jumble of exclamation points and capital letters, that a sitting president call out the men and women of the United States military to nullify an election and prevent, by force of arms, the constitutional transfer of power. This is sedition, and it is madness. It is also evidence of a shocking inability to spell; if you’re going to advocate for a coup, the least we might expect is that you first learn how to spell martial law.

Asked for comment, Norman told TPM, “It’s been two years. Send that text to me and I’ll take a look at it.” Well, sure. Two years is a long time in a busy life, and it’s easy to forget contacting the chief aide to the most powerful man in the world with a panicked demand to unleash the army against your fellow citizens. People get busy; assaults on the constitutional order get lost in the shuffle.

What Norman is probably counting on, of course, is that people will forget about his behavior and that of his colleagues. We are all prone to “normalcy bias,” the human inclination to disregard the danger that things could change dramatically in a short time. Normalcy bias is why our minds sometimes refuse to grasp threats that range from natural disasters to nuclear war; we assume that tomorrow will always look something like today.

But this unwillingness to think about danger should not stop us from confronting the undeniable fact, as the TPM report put it, that we now have a record of “Republican members of Congress strategizing in real time to reverse the results” of the 2020 election. As my colleague David A. Graham wrote today, these election deniers and seditionists are still in Congress—Norman won reelection with nearly 65 percent of the vote in his district—and they have faced no real repercussions for their disloyalty to the Constitution.

Indeed, these same people will be sworn back into office in January, making a mockery of their oath. Worse, they will be the majority. Representative Jim Jordan is expected to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. (I know it’s become a cliché to say “Let that sink in,” but I am not sure what to say about a scheming fabulist chairing such an important committee other than “Let that sink in.”)

Conservatives bristling at this as a selective focus on the fringe might argue that there are still loyal Republicans out there who will defend the Constitution, and that it is a mistake to describe the entire party as a dangerous movement based on lies and sedition. But we must ask when those Republicans are going to rise up and oppose the enemy in their midst. What conclusion can we reach about the GOP when a supposed centrist such as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin campaigned for Trump’s would-be clone in Arizona, Kari Lake? How much fidelity to the Constitution can we presume from Ohio Senator-elect J. D. Vance (a Yale Law School graduate) when he gladly accepts Greene’s endorsement and support?

It is not enough to say, as New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu did, that the GOP should stop nominating “crazy, unelectable candidates.” That is a utilitarian argument, not a moral one. What will it take for prominent Republican leaders to say that they will not share a party or a platform with the likes of Norman, Gosar, and Greene? Who will stay, and who will go? If there was ever a time for the last sensible Republicans to remember that they are the party of Lincoln, the man who saved the Union and its Constitution, and to declare a war against their seditionist wing, this is it. And if they won’t—or can’t—then that should tell Americans everything they need to know about the party and its base.

Related:


Today’s News
  1. Inflation slowed at a higher rate than expected in November, according to the latest report.
  2. The founder of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, was indicted on eight criminal charges, including wire fraud.
  3. The U.S. is reportedly close to finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile-defense system to Ukraine.

Dispatches

Explore all of our newsletters here.


Evening Read
photo of astronaut on spacewalk isolated over luminous curved horizon of Earth against black
(NASA / Corbis / Getty)

Seeing Earth From Space Will Change You

By Marina Koren

When he first returned from space, William Shatner was overcome with emotion. The actor, then 90 years old, stood in the dusty grass of the West Texas desert, where the spacecraft had landed. It was October 2021. Nearby, Jeff Bezos, the billionaire who had invited Shatner to ride on a Blue Origin rocket, whooped and popped a bottle of champagne, but Shatner hardly seemed to notice. With tears falling down his cheeks, he described what he had witnessed, his tone hushed. “What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner told Bezos. “It’s extraordinary. Extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this.” The man who had played Captain Kirk was so moved by the journey that his post-touchdown remarks ran longer than the three minutes he’d actually spent in space.

Shatner appeared to be basking in a phenomenon that many professional astronauts have described: the overview effect. These travelers saw Earth as a gleaming planet suspended in inky darkness, an oasis of life in the silent void, and it filled them with awe.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break
Julija in the ocean
(Kino Lorber / Antitalent / Everett)

Read. Pick up a book from The Atlantic 10—a list of the books from this year that made us think the most.

Watch. Murina (streaming on multiple platforms) is a razor-sharp debut you can recommend to anyone.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

When I’m writing about American democracy, it’s easy for me to sometimes lose track of the many publications in the fields—Russian studies and national-security affairs—that formed the basis of most of my academic career. So today, I want to pass along two recommendations. One is for my fellow defense nerds; the other is for a general audience that wants to understand what’s going on in Russia.

I worked with some smart colleagues in my years at the Naval War College, including the historian Anand Toprani. He and retired Rear Admiral Dave Oliver have written a book, ambitiously titled American Defense Reform. They use the history of the U.S. Navy to draw out lessons for how to effect change in the Defense Department. That sounds like chewy stuff (and it can be, if national-defense issues aren’t your bag), but it’s actually an interesting account of the evolution of the post–World War II Navy, the infighting that went with it, and what we need to learn today about reforming the gigantic, sprawling DOD.

The rise of Vladimir Putin is a great story, but it’s also complicated. (I speak Russian and know the institutions and the roster of players, and even I get sort of overwhelmed by it.) Andrew Weiss and Brian Brown have found a great solution: They have told Putin’s story in a lively and fun graphic novel, Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin. If you’ve wondered how this dowdy mid-level KGB officer became the ruler of Russia, this book will explain it to you—and entertain you at the same time.

—Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.