On a state level, Cord Byrd, our new secretary of state, refused to acknowledge that President Biden was the constitutionally elected president of our nation. In Central Florida only two out of 27 Republican congressional candidates were prepared to acknowledge that Biden was legitimately elected to office.
On January 5, 2021, more than 90 Republican legislators from multiple battleground states sent a letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence asking him to delay the certification of the election. Since then, some 34 laws have been passed in those same states restricting voting and making it easier to intervene on a state level in the results of a popular vote.
I could go on, but the question that continues to emerge in my mind is: When could the Republican Party have gone astray?
When President Abraham Lincoln, a self-taught lawyer and the founder of the Republican Party, espoused life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all human beings — enshrined in our governing documents — he painstakingly fought for federal authority to liberate slaves from their owners in a legislative system dominated by southern state legislators attempting to use “states’ rights” as a pretense to continue slavery.
Republican President Teddy Roosevelt asserted the authority of the federal government over business to assure a “square deal” for every American worker. According to Teddy, every business needed to abide by the same set of rules, regardless of what state they were in, to insure the rights and constitutional privileges of every American citizen.
Years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower oversaw an almost Augustus-Caesar -like expansion of the concept of America across our vast country and the entire world. And President Ronald W. Reagan put a fine point on American exceptionalism by his ultimate conquest of the USSR and the capitulation of Mikhail Gorbachev.
So, what happened?
It is true that the Republican Party has been, over the past 50 years, laced with various elements – John Birchers, the religious right, Libertarians, Tea Party activists, and so forth. But according to Mac Stipanovich, the moderate chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, there was a certain point at which the Republican Party became, “bats— crazy.” Stipanovich goes on to speculate that It might have begun when the Tea Party won big in 2010, but it exploded as Campaign Trump opened Pandora’s box in the 2016 election where “all the nasty stuff that was in the underbelly of American politics got a voice.”
What appears to be the case in the Republican Party now, however, is less a schism among competing factions of the GOP as it is the utter collapse of Republican Party ideology in favor of central tenets of former President Trump: autocracy and states’ rights.
Autocracy. It is no secret that the former president is a great admirer of Russian dictator Putin. Today’s Republican embrace of right wing conservative dictators, such as HunfEIn Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, further accentuates the thesis. And Republican attempts to overturn the election with false slates of electors are right out of an autocrat’s playbook. It may be a truism, but nonetheless worth articulating, that autocracy and democracy are intrinsically inconsistent with each other and we need only revisit the regimes of Hitler and Stalin to understand why.
States’ rights. While America has always maintained a federalist balance of power between the national government and our states, no Republican president — whether Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan — has shirked his responsibility to reign in rogue states which use the concept of states’ rights to abrogate civil liberties or voting outcomes in favor of state political agendas.
Where the Republican Party goes from here remains to be seen. The party’s influence in U.S. history has been to use federal power judiciously to protect the life and liberty of its citizens from intrusions — from other individuals, businesses, or even states. But its future may well depend on whether the GOP will be able to exorcise the malignancies that have asphyxiated its soul in time to save it.
Originally posted for the Orlando Sentinel’s Guest Commentary.