There is no shortage of crises for us Democrats to address, from a burning planet to immense inequality. Yet the most dire threat Democrats must face is the threat to American democracy itself.
And that, ironically, means Democrats must focus on fixing the Republican Party.
The reason is simple: At some point, Republicans will be in charge. They’ve already taken the House, and before long, they could control the Senate or the White House (or both). The pendulum swing of American politics is inevitable. I do not know if a Republican takeover will happen in 2024, 2028, or 2032. I do not know if it will be because Democrats overstep or if Democratic voters, as in 2016, run out of enthusiasm.
Democratic leaders must go out of their way to cut popular deals with moderate Republicans. We must make it clear that moderate Republicans are the ones who can achieve real results for constituents.
But it will happen. And the current iteration of the Republican Party would strip away American democracy. It has proven itself unable to govern and betrayed a dangerous admiration for authoritarianism.
That is why we Democrats must do everything we can to ensure a more moderate, saner version of the Republican Party is in place when it is the GOP’s turn to govern.
First, we must stop elevating extremists in Republican primaries by promoting them in ads. Yes, it paid off electorally in 2022 — Democrats picked up a number of seats they may have otherwise lost; it was easier for Democratic candidates to beat conspiracy-touting MAGA extremists than competent moderates. Yet the price was losing the type of leaders who could balance out the “knucklehead caucus.” We ended the career of former Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Donald Trump; curtailed the prospects of congressional candidate George Hansel, a moderate 36-year-old mayor who served on the board of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility; and gave a national platform to dangerous candidates like Doug Mastriano, Donald Bolduc and Dan Cox.
Second, we must stop fixating on every absurd, offensive or just plain stupid thing that people like Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert say and do. Democratic focus is what gives these extremists their strength. They can be loved by the Republican base precisely because they are hated by the Democratic one. They are able to so easily get media coverage because they goad Democrats. The higher their profile, the more they can set the Republican agenda.
It is better we take a page from The Simpsons and “just don’t look, just don’t look.”
Third, we must restrain our itchy Twitter fingers. Yes, it can be tempting to land a “sick burn” on someone from the other side. But it is worth taking a moment to understand whom you’re “burning.” Is it someone who deserves it? Is it someone who is likely to make the Republican Party more or less responsible? And is it someone whom the attack will politically harm, or is it someone who, thanks to Twitter’s engagement-biased algorithms, will only receive more attention from your insult?
If you get the wrong answer (that is, one that could promote extreme right politicians and talking points) to any of those questions, put your phone down.
Finally, Democratic leaders must go out of their way to cut popular deals with moderate Republicans. We must make it clear that moderate Republicans are the ones who can achieve real results for constituents; after all, bipartisanship is overwhelmingly popular. Empowering Republican moderates to “bring home the bacon” — like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS Act — allows them to both prove that their approach is more effective in delivering for voters and allows them to get on television for the right reasons.
American democracy has not yet had its most important test. We voted out Trump in 2020 and turned back election deniers in 2022, but those were mere pop quizzes.
To be clear, Republicans have the ultimate responsibility for transforming into a governing party. As William F. Buckley once drove the John Birch Society and overt racists from the party, the people who care about policy and understand issues must wrestle the tiller back from the proudly ignorant, the anti-democratic and the walking exemplars of the Dunning Kruger Effect.
Ultimately, Republicans will decide whether the future of their party is someone like Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher or Greene. While Gallagher has been criticized for voting not to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, he has said that the former president is responsible for the violence of his supporters that day, and he voted to certify the 2020 election. Critically, he is committed to governance, not showmanship; he is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus whom even Democrats respect for his knowledge of China policy and the Chinese Communist Party’s extensive human rights abuses. He can lead a sane Republican Party. Greene, on the other hand, is a rabid election denier who recently “joked” about Jan. 6 and physically threatened Democratic members of the House.
Democrats cannot force Republicans to follow Gallagher instead of Greene. But we can at least help strengthen the Mike Gallaghers of the world.
American democracy has not yet had its most important test. We voted out Trump in 2020 and turned back election deniers in 2022, but those were mere pop quizzes. The real test will come when a Republican Party — of whom 30% believe political violence is necessary to “save” America, according to a 2021 Public Religion Research Institute poll — comes back into power. Will that Republican Party abide by American laws and American democracy?
Democracy will only survive if Democrats have done our part to create a responsible Republican Party. Or, at the very least, if we’ve kept a snide Twitter comment or two to ourselves.