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Biden says the world needs to defend democracy. That starts at home.

Working with Republicans who enabled the Capitol riot isn't an option. Democrats need to make that clear.
Image: Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar are being applauded by Republican colleagues around them.
Republican members of Congress applaud Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for objecting to the certification of President Joe Biden’s election on Jan. 6.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

In his speech to our European allies on Friday, President Joe Biden bluntly stated that we are "at an inflection point" between those who believe "autocracy is the best way forward" and those who think democracy is. While making it clear that we have to "defend" and "strengthen" democracy, he affirmed, "I believe that — every ounce of my being — that democracy will and must prevail."

That Trump incited the attacks is the very crux of fascism.

Think about those words for a moment. The president of the United States is acknowledging that our nation — along with other Western democracies — is under threat by undemocratic forces that could win the day if we don’t defend our democracy.

While Biden didn’t mention former President Donald Trump by name, his role in the attacks on our democracy and incitement of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot almost certainly come to mind for anyone listening. That Trump incited the attack is the very crux of fascism, which, as I wrote for MSNBC in January, “employs undemocratic methods, especially violence, to acquire and retain power.”

It’s time Democratic members of Congress make a point to not normalize the GOP’s growing embrace of fascism. They can start by vocally committing to not work with any Republicans in Congress who played a role in furthering the lies that led to the attack as well as those who refused to hold Trump accountable for inciting the insurrection.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., hinted at such an approach when she responded to a public offer by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — who had objected on Jan. 6 to the certification of Biden’s victory — to work together. In response, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out," adding, "Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed.”

This tactic would not be necessary if the GOP had, en masse, publicly condemned Trump’s incitement of a mob designed to “stop the steal” and keep Trump in power. But what we’ve seen — with a few exceptions — is the opposite. Overwhelmingly, GOP officials and rank-and-file members have sided with Trump and rejected efforts to hold him accountable.

Despite all this talk about a GOP “civil war,” the numbers tell a different story.

Despite all this talk about a GOP “civil war,” the numbers tell a different story. How many of the 261 Republicans in Congress — 211 in the House and 50 in the Senate — voted to hold Trump accountable for his role in the attack? Only 17: There were 10 in the House who voted to impeach and seven in the Senate who supported conviction. That means more than 90 percent of the GOP members of Congress refused to hold Trump accountable for an attack that 71 percent of Americans believe he was at least partially responsible for, according to a recent Ipsos poll for Reuters.

Trump’s support among rank-and-file Republicans tells the same story. First, the handful of Republicans who voted to penalize Trump for his role in the Capitol riot have suffered swift backlash from their fellow party members, from being censured by their home state’s Republican Party — on Monday, the North Carolina Republican Party unanimously approved a resolution to censure Sen. Richard Burr because he voted to convict Trump in the Senate trial — to being threatened with primary challenges.

This shouldn’t be surprising given that the GOP base overwhelmingly still supports Trump. In fact, his favorability rating among Republicans has risen since Jan. 6. While 34 percent of all Americans had a favorable view of Trump in a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, a whopping 81 percent of Republicans gave the former president positive marks. Even more alarming is that Trump’s approval rose from 77 percent on Jan. 7 to 81 percent, despite an impeachment trial that laid out a mountain of evidence against him.

Trump’s approval rose from 77 percent on Jan. 7 to 81 percent, despite an impeachment trial that laid out a mountain of evidence against him.

Distressingly, this tracks with the GOP’s history, which indicates that in time the rank-and-file members are likely to become more right wing, not less. On the issue of abortion, for example, for decades the GOP allowed three exceptions: incest, rape and to save the life of the mother. Over time, though, members of the party have moved further to the right and increasingly only support abortion when the life of the mother is at risk.

It’s time the Democratic leaders, in one voice, from Biden through to every member of Congress, make it clear that what the GOP is doing is embracing fascism. They must not be timid in using the word "fascism," and they must define it for the public so it’s a meaningful warning.

But beyond words, Democrats should stop any and all steps that normalize or whitewash the Jan. 6 attack by publicly refusing to work with Republicans who played a role in it or refused to hold Trump accountable. Big-name donors can withhold donations to those Republicans by making it clear that any contribution will be seen as them validating the GOP’s attacks on our democracy. (Indeed, some corporations have already announced they will withhold future donations to Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s victory.)

This is not a fight over a partisan issue. And it certainly can’t be classified as a civil war within a party. This is a battle to preserve our democracy, as Biden noted. It’s time the Democratic members of Congress lead that fight.

CORRECTION (Feb. 20, 2021, 3:12 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Trump's approval rating among Republicans on Jan. 7, according to a Morning Consult poll. It was 77 percent then, not 74 percent.