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Republican former officials' anti-Trump manifesto may be tilting at windmills

Letting go is hard, but it’s time say goodbye to this GOP. Even if it means that some of us will find ourselves in the political wilderness.

Even as the GOP moved to purge Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from the ranks of its leadership, a group of former officials is giving the party one last chance to clean up its act.

As one signer of the manifesto explained, the goal is either to “restore or replace the current Republican Party.”

The manifesto is a ringing endorsement of truth, democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law.

The new coalition includes more than 100 Republicans, including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Other signatories included Ambassador Jim Glassman, former Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, former Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and fellow MSNBC columnist Michael Steele. The list also included former GOP congressmen, including Reid Ribble and Tom Petri of Wisconsin, Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma, Joe Walsh of Illinois, Bob Inglis of South Carolina, Barbara Comstock and Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

The “Call for Renewal” is a pledge to “either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative.” The manifesto is a ringing endorsement of truth, democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law.

“We oppose the employment of fear-mongering, conspiracism, and falsehoods and instead support evidence-based policymaking and honest discourse,” it declares.

But, at least for the moment, many signatories are unwilling to cut loose. Some of the leaders argued last week in the Washington Post that “America cannot have just one party committed to preservation of its democratic institutions. There must be at least two, if not more.”

That true, and I’m with them. I signed the manifesto too. Millions of political orphans need a new home.

But let’s be honest: it’s not going to be in the Republican Party. To think otherwise is tilting at windmills.

It would be nice to think that a group of former Republican officeholders — folks who have won state and national elections — would be able to make one last stand to save the party from the extremists and the cranks.

Indeed, the Washington Post oped argued that: “With Cheney’s dismissal from House leadership, the battle for the soul of the Republican Party — and our country — is not over. It is just beginning.”

But that’s not true. The fight is over. The crackpots, conspiracists and bigots have won, and there is no point pretending that this is a party that can be salvaged anytime soon. As Jeff Greenfield notes in Politico, there is no civil war in the Republican Party — there is only a “purge.”

The group seemed to acknowledge that when they promised that “We will not wait forever for the GOP to clean up its act.”

But, what are they waiting for now?

How many signs do they need? How many canaries have to die? How many red lines have to be crossed?

How many signs do they need? How many canaries have to die? How many red lines have to be crossed?

This is a party that remains in total thrall not just to Donald Trump, but to his lies as well. A recent poll found that fully 70 percent of Republican voters refuse to believe that Joe Biden won enough votes to be president. A Monmouth poll found 65 percent of GOP voters believe that Biden's win was the result of voter fraud.

Over and over this party has told us what it has become. Let’s run the numbers:

  • 126 GOP House members backed the Texas lawsuit to overturn the presidential election
  • 138 GOP House members against certifying the electoral votes of Pennsylvania
  • 199 GOP representatives voted to protect conspiracy theorist/bigot Marjorie Taylor Greene’s committee assignments
  • 197 House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection
  • Overall (in the House and Senate) the pro-Trump impeachment vote was 240-17

And then this last week:

  • Liz Cheney was stripped of her leadership for refusing to whitewash the Capitol insurrection or embrace Donald Trump’s lies about the election. Almost no leading GOP elected official came to her defense.
  • New York Rep. Elise Stefanik was elected GOP conference chair over a bona fide conservative rival, Chip Roy.

The key to Stefanik’s rise is her willingness to embrace Trump’s Big Lie as a slingshot for her ambitions. She has peddled discredited conspiracy theories about voting machines, and even made an appearance on Steve Bannon’s show where she embraced the bizarre audit of votes in Arizona that included a search for bamboo (because of rumors that ballots may have been flown in from China.)

Earlier, she had demonstrated her fealty to Trump by signing onto the friend-of-the-court brief supporting Texas’s Supreme Court bid to overturn the 2020 election results and — even after the Jan. 6 riot — voted against certifying the election results for President Joe Biden. When she has been caught in blatant lies about alleged voter fraud in Georgia, she doubled down.

Meanwhile, one GOP congressman after another is now casting doubt on the severity of the Capitol violence. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, insisted during a congressional hearing that “There was no insurrection, and to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie.”

“You know,” he said of the riot that cost multiple lives, “if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the sixth, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona declared that “Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters.”

None of them will face any sanctions or even rebukes from Republican leaders.

In this party, men and women like Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley, Green, Ted Cruz, Gosar, Ron Johnson, and Clyde all members in good standing. But Liz Cheney, who insisted on telling the truth, is exiled.

What clearer signal could my fellow signatories be waiting for? The vote to oust Cheney was as clear as it gets: We are no longer welcome in the GOP.

Over the last five years, Republicans have shown willingness to accept — or least ignore — lies, racism, corruption, sexism and xenophobia.

It was Donald Trump’s party then — but now it is worse. Now it is a party increasingly willing to embrace sedition, conspiracies, anti-democratic authoritarianism and the Big Lie.

Letting go is hard, but it’s time say goodbye. Even if it means that some of us will find ourselves in the political wilderness.