The late political scientist E.E. Schattschneider famously said that “modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties.” Two healthy political parties committed to the constitutional order, even while disagreeing in powerful ways, are essential to maintaining constitutional democracy. While it is true that both parties on occasion have factions that are less committed to constitutional democracy than would be ideal, the GOP has taken a particularly dangerous turn in recent years as these forces have largely taken over the party.
As Peter Wehner writes in The Atlantic: “All Americans should hope the Republican Party regains its philosophical bearings and moral senses. A healthy conservative party is important for the nation, as the Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt has shown, and it can serve as a check on the left’s worst excesses. But today the Republican Party is hardly a healthy conservative party. In fact, it has grown inhospitable to authentic conservatism, and certainly to conservative sensibilities. What we are seeing instead more closely resembles what Ziblatt refers to as a ‘ferocious right-wing populist politics, which threatens to swallow older, self-identified conservative political parties.’”
At The Bulwark, Richard North Paterson piles on: “The GOP’s fusion of paranoia, extremism, libertarianism, and anti-intellectualism with racial, cultural, and religious antagonism feeds a seemingly contradictory but inexorable craving for minoritarian-authoritarianism. Simply put, most Republicans are okay with autocracy—but only if it subordinates their perceived political enemies.”
In the NY Times, David Brooks offers an interesting observation on why the GOP is getting worse rather than better in the wake of Trump’s defeat: “It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.”
It is a sobering thought.