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What passes for Republican 'moderation' in December 2020

What passes for Republican "moderation" in 2020: offering tacit support for democracy and the integrity of their own country's electoral system.
Image: Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Feb. 4, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file

As Donald Trump's assault against his own country's democracy extends into its second month, the Republican Party has effectively three factions. The first and most dominant is siding with the president, and includes most of the nation's GOP attorneys general and a majority of the House Republican conference.

The second is the silence caucus, which is burying its head in the sand, hoping no one will notice its complicity with its party's attempts to overturn a democratic election.

And the third is a small contingent of Republicans who are choosing not to toe the party line.

"It's just simply madness," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. "The idea of supplanting the vote of the people with partisan legislators, is, is so completely out of our national character that it's simply mad. Of course the president has the right to challenge results in court, to have recounts. But this effort to subvert the vote of the people is dangerous and destructive of the cause of democracy."

There have been a handful of reactions along these lines this week. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who's retiring from politics in two years, told the Philadelphia Inquirer the other day that it's "completely unacceptable" for Donald Trump and his allies to try to nullify his state's election results. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) were willing to express some unease with the bonkers lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R).

Georgia's Republican attorney general, Chris Carr, demanded yesterday that the GOP lawsuit be dismissed. Ohio's Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, argued that the Paxton case, if successful, "would undermine a foundational premise of our federalist system."

It's against this backdrop that 27 GOP lawmakers in Congress -- out of 249 -- believe Joe Biden is actually the president-elect of the United States.

Some will see this and find a degree of comfort in the knowledge that there are still some reality-based perspectives in Republican politics as 2020 comes to a close. These GOP voices may be in the minority, but perhaps we can take some solace in the fact they exist.

The problem, of course, is what George W. Bush referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Sure, it's a good thing that some Republicans are not comfortable with their party's genuinely ludicrous anti-election lawsuit. But these GOP officials are clearing the lowest of low bars.

Traditionally, when describing Republican "moderates," observers would look for qualities such as a willingness to compromise and find common ground. Mainstream "centrists" were those who occasionally agreed with Democrats, worked in good faith on solutions to policy challenges, and sincerely wanted the GOP to be a governing party.

As 2020 comes to a close, however, the apparent "moderates" in Republican politics are those wiling to offer tacit support for democracy and the integrity of their own country's electoral system.

It's a low bar too much of the GOP isn't even trying to clear.