As a result, they have detached themselves from reality. The expectation that once Mr. Trump left office the Republican Party would become a normal party again was wishful thinking from the beginning. There is no post-Trump fight for the “soul” of the Republican Party. At least for now, that battle has been decided.
Liz Cheney understands that only a decisive break with Mr. Trump will stop the continuing moral ruination of the Republican Party. But her break with the former president, while courageous, came too late to change anything. She is trying to rally an army that doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist for two reasons. The first is that many grass-roots Republicans, having been fed a steady diet of fabrications and disinformation for the last half-decade, are deluded. They believe Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories, in large measure because they want to believe them, and now they are addicted to them. And addictions are hard to break.
The latest CNN/SSRS survey found that 70 percent of Republicans believe the false allegation that Joe Biden did not defeat Mr. Trump; a mere 23 percent said Mr. Biden won, despite the Trump administration’s admission that “the November 3 election was the most secure in American history.”
These Republicans believe they are truth-tellers and patriots, sentries at freedom’s gate. They are utterly sincere; they are also quite dangerous. They are taking a sledgehammer to pillars of American democracy: confidence in the legitimacy of our elections, the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power.
Most Republican members of Congress, on the other hand, don’t believe President Biden was illegitimately elected. Kevin McCarthy, Elise Stefanik, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham aren’t deceived. They are play acting in ways that are unethical and cynical, but they are not stupid. They’re fully aware that the cancerous lies have metastasized — they each played a crucial role in spreading them, after all — and to refute those lies publicly would put targets on their backs.
Many of the most influential figures in Republican politics have decided that breaking with Mr. Trump would so alienate the base of the party that it would make election victories impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. That’s essentially what Senator Graham was saying when he recently went on Fox News and posed this question to his Republican colleagues: “Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no.”