There are two times I remember feeling that the demise of the modern Republican party was inevitable. The first was in 2012 when Barack Obama won his bid for a second presidential term. I was in my senior year of college and had spent most of my time at Colorado State University picking fights with the most ardent supporters of the conservative movement. I supported Obama, and during the campaign worried every time Mitt Romney saw a brief surge in popularity. Of course, in the end Obama ran away with the victory.
In Obama’s re-election, I saw the collapse of arguments I knew to be weak because I had spent enough time engaging with them to discover their inherent flaws. I figured that a party that had twice lost the presidential election to a Black man in this racist country had to question its viability. At the time, I believed that Obama’s second term would effectively shift the Overton window to the left, as the Republican Party reconfigured itself to attract voters in the center and the Democratic Party finally realized its potential for speaking to a country quickly becoming much more progressive than its elected officials would indicate. I imagined a not-so-distant future when we’d stop having inane debates about the mere humanity of groups that weren’t part of the dominant culture, and we could move on to more nuanced conversations in which shared liberal values were a given.
That vision never came to be. What happened in the next four years now feels like ancient history: Republicans pulled out all the stops to stop any progressive momentum under President Obama (who, it turned out, ended up being much more centrist than Republicans had feared). And it worked. But even so, I let myself believe that the end was nigh for Republicans when they nominated Donald Trump to go up against Hillary Clinton, who, despite her many flawed policy positions, was absolutely a powerhouse candidate for the Democratic Party. Trump losing in a landslide to Clinton, I thought, would be a comically fitting end to a party that had truly become a parody of itself.
Nearly four years later, voters will soon decide between electing Joe Biden, who was Vice President the first time I thought the Republican Party was disintegrating, or re-electing President Donald Trump. On that November night in 2016, Lucy swiped the football from in front of my kicking foot for a second time.
Beating Trump is important; and as disappointed as I am that Biden of all people is the one with the chance to do it, I nonetheless hope he wins. But even if we vanquish Trump come November, and even if Democrats also take control of the House and Senate, the door for authoritarianism will remain wide open if Democrats don’t take the necessary steps to close it.
Brian Beutler outlines some possible scenarios and what’s at stake on Crooked.com:
If Democrats don’t reclaim control of the Senate, Biden will be at the mercy of Republicans from day one, and they will leave the country smoldering as a political strategy. If Democrats win a governing trifecta, but don’t abolish the filibuster, the story will be little different. If they abolish the filibuster but don’t offer statehood to all citizens, centrist Democrats will water down Biden’s agenda. If they pass an agenda of any kind, watered down or not, but don’t fix the courts, his legislative and regulatory accomplishments will only survive until the Roberts Five strike them down.
Democrats and people like myself have hoped for too long that Republicans might change after crushing electoral defeat. It’s clear now that they’re not all that concerned with individual losses—each time they’re in power, they do everything in their power to prevent future losses. Simply beating Republicans, even handily, is not enough to stem the flow of regressive policies that the GOP is hell-bent on implementing. Yes, Democrats and leftists must first win elections. But when they do, they must wield that power to build structures that limit the ability of Republicans to inflict damage when they return.
As Beutler put it:
It took two short years after the abysmal failure of the George W. Bush administration for a Republican Party that should have been discredited for a generation to roar back to power, and it was only possible thanks to a campaign of lockstep resistance to Democratic efforts to fix the damaged country the Obama administration inherited. Preventing history from repeating itself, but with a more militantly antidemocratic Republican Party lying in wait, will require Democrats to do whatever it takes to give voters a reason to continue denying Republicans power.
Republican policies will destroy our collective future. If Democrats win in 2020, they have a responsibility to dismantle the structures that would allow a party of such unpopular ideals to orchestrate that destruction.