Back in the days of our innocence—when President Clinton dared to face national cameras while declaring, “I did not have sex with that woman,” only to be proven wrong by scientific evidence—Republicans went on to coin the phrase “character matters.” Didn’t the Democratic Party understand the importance of honesty? Vote Republican if you agree that we should demand leaders who tell us the truth.
I recall suggesting at the time to a Democratic friend of mine that his party would be in a much stronger position if President Clinton were to simply resign and hand over the reins to then Vice President Al Gore, who had not been tainted by that particular scandal. In that way, I explained, the Democratic Party could remove character as a defining issue in the next election. And Al Gore would be running in the next election as President.
My friend shrugged and admitted that I might have a point, but said it was much more important to stand with President Clinton against impeachment. “This scandal does not rise to the level of the sort of high crime or misdemeanor contemplated by the impeachment clause of the U. S. Constitution,” he said. In other words, while honesty ought to matter, President Clinton’s lie was about a personal matter, and thus constituted, at most, a sort of low crime rather than a high one.
Fast forward to the era of Donald Trump.
Can any Republican validly claim that character mattered to them when it came to the nomination and election of Donald Trump in 2016? Here was a man who, you recall, boasted on tape of groping women, then claimed it was only locker room banter.
Hillary Clinton was just as dishonest, they will reply. In which case we should ask, “What about the 2020 election? Can you really prefer Donald Trump’s personal character to that of Joe Biden?”
Fast forward again to the year 2022. This year’s midterm elections include a number of candidates who are not afraid to assert their belief that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, this despite not having won a single lawsuit that made that same claim. Spirited Reasoners have a question for supporters of those types of candidates: “If your candidate is elected, how will anyone know the election was valid?”
The trouble with the fabrication and promulgation of falsehoods is that it leads to the destruction of our democratic/republican system of government. Those who claim the right to doubt the 2020 election results often point to the 1st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, their guaranteed right of free speech. But what governmental officials will exist to enforce the 1st Amendment when the legitimacy of all governmental officials, i. e., the people who take oaths to support and defend the Constitution, has been rejected?
People are, of course, free to assert their belief that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. But that freedom only exists because the rest of us—the majority who elected Joe Biden—are willing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States for all Americans, even those with whom we disagree. But what happens to the Constitution if a mob successfully seizes the mechanisms of government despite having lost the election? Who protects our Constitutional rights then?
My hope is that Americans who call themselves Republicans will sense the need to shift their party away from calls of election deniers and conspiracy fabricators. Down deep, they need to understand that the legitimacy of their own representatives in government will be called into election so long as conspiracy theories rule the day.
If I had to predict, I would say that the Republican Party will eventually, though belatedly, follow the lead set by Liz Cheney. They will do so quietly, behind the scenes, so as not to have to admit she was right and they were wrong. They will do so because they will understand the need for their own constituents to affirm the legitimacy of their respective elections.