On Jan. 6, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in favor of former president Donald J. Trump. The insurrection at one of the most sacred symbols of our country’s democracy marked the tipping point for all the lies, manipulation and deception Trump spewed during his presidency and over the results of the presidential election. However, it also marked something even more significant: the perilous divide occurring within the Republican Party.
In our country’s history, we have only had three two-party systems. After George Washington left office in 1796, rival factions — Federalists and Democratic-Republicans — arose. Washington actually warned of the dangers of political parties/factions in his 1796 farewell address, as he believed they would divide and weaken the country. With the fall of the Federalists in 1814, the Democratic-Republicans solely remained until the rise of Andrew Jackson. During Jackson’s presidency in 1828, the Democratic Party and Whig Party rose, marking the birth of the second two-party system. Due to increasing sectional divides over slavery, both parties began to fracture. The fall of the Whig Party came in 1854 after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, while the Democrats split into Northern and Southern factions. Created in 1860, the Republican Party rose on a platform based on opposition to the expansion of slavery into Western territories acquired during the Mexican-American War in 1848. The rise of the Republican Party versus the Democrats marks the third two-party system, the one that still exists today.
The Republican Party came to embody the basic principles of conservatism: tradition, preservation, free market economies and more. But the Republican Party of today can no longer be compared to the Republican Party of President Ronald Reagan or President Theodore Roosevelt. The party no longer represents the basic principles it once stood for.
Historians and political scientists previously predicted the eclipse of the Republican Party with the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, then again in 2016 with the nomination of Trump as the Republican candidate. As previously mentioned, the end of most political parties comes with disagreements over ideologies and policies. For example, the Whigs collapsed due to disagreements over slavery. But the events of Jan. 6 indicated a divide and weakness in the party that we have never seen before: a divide between truth and lies, reality and conspiracies.
Throughout his presidency, Trump spread countless lies about events happening in the country, foreign and domestic policies and his plans for the future. For example, he often lied about events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. He would claim that his administration had COVID-19 “under control.” He compared COVID-19 to the flu on countless occasions. He downplayed the severity of the virus until Watergate journalist Bob Woodward released tapes where Trump admitted his knowledge about a highly contagious and dangerous virus, but “did not want to worry anyone” about it. Even with this perilous lie, prominent Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stuck by President Trump’s side. Well, the COVID-19 pandemic has not gotten “under control,” as the United States currently has more than one million COVID-19 cases and over 400,000 Americans have died.
The lies about the COVID-19 pandemic did not prove most dangerous, though. After the American people went to the polls on Nov. 3 to vote for their president, the election remained highly contested due to slim margins between Joseph R. Biden and Trump in states such as Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. On Nov. 7, reputable news agencies such as CNN, The Associated Press and Fox News declared Biden the winner and, therefore, the 46th president.
Unable to cope with his loss, the former president announced that the election was fraudulent. He claimed election officials in several states had miscounted the votes, and that some of these votes could be considered “illegal.” In response to these accusations, the former president and his legal team filed 62 lawsuits in states where he believed illegal votes existed. Federal and state judges threw out every single one of the lawsuits filed. In other words, no laws were broken and a rigged election did not take place. Still, Trump and prominent Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri maintained and spread lies to supporters. The lies and ideas spread about a “rigged election” bred a monster, which came out at the Capitol riots.
With the spread of rumors of a fraudulent election and all of that nonsense, countless other conspiracy theories emerged regarding other issues in the country. Many of the baseless claims spread on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Parler came from QAnon believers. QAnon represents a disproven and discredited far-right conspiracy theory about President Trump saving the U.S. from Democrats engaged in child sex trafficking (yes, this theory actually exists). The Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently labeled these new conspiracy theories “domestic terrorism threats” that have the potential to cause considerable damage in our country.
In recent weeks, news has surfaced that Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia supports QAnon conspiracy theories. She has embraced the belief that the Sandy Hook Elementary and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings were “staged.” The Sandy Hook shooting left 20 children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six adults, dead. The Stoneman Douglas shooting left 17 people dead and 17 injured. Greene has also “liked” social media posts calling for the executions of prominent Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Greene’s election to the House of Representatives and QAnon’s links to right-wing politics ties the Republican Party to dangerous conspiracies theories and criminal incitements of the assassination of Democrats. The spread of these baseless claims have the potential to further divide and destroy the Republican Party.
Some Republicans such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Vermont Governor Charlie Baker have already “broken” from the party as they did not support Trump in his race for re-election and have expressed support for his impeachment. Yet, unless more prominent Republicans start to speak up and speak out to debunk lies and advocate for the true values and beliefs of their party, the Republican Party will undoubtedly be destroyed and left beyond repair.