Opinion by Matt Bai
Contributing columnistNovember 9, 2020
For all you Republicans in Washington who are cowered under desks right now, who talk all the time about your love of liberty and about all the long-dead White guys whose statues you claim to care so much about, I have a small bit of advice.Follow the latest on Election 2020
Go back to your eighth-grade history and reread the words of Patrick Henry.
Oh, never mind, I know you’re not big readers. I’ll give you the 30-second refresher.
Moderates of the day were hoping to head off a full-scale conflict with their British overlords. Henry, on the other hand, argued for raising a militia and girding for “inevitable” war.
“Why stand we here idle?” Henry demanded. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”
He brought it home with the line every school kid knows: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
You know why that’s one of the most resonant speeches in American history? Because Henry spoke the same existential truth to his countrymen that Winston Churchill would echo to the British a century and a half later:
Some conflicts can only be avoided by surrendering everything you believe in and going away.
You see where I’m going with this, Republicans?
Here you are, anxiously waiting for Donald Trump and his royal family to accept reality, not wanting to say anything that might upset him or his followers, because somehow the thing you fear most in the world — more than any virus, or God, or even transgender bathrooms — is the prospect of losing primaries.
Here is Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), once considered a person of substance, warning that failure to resist the election will mean never having another Republican president.
How totally pathetic.
I ask you: Is your political life so dear, your committee seat so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of servitude to a rage-filled, nativist mob?
You think you can avoid this fight just by backing down and letting events take care of themselves?
Already you’ve got an avowed QAnon follower coming to a table near you at the caucus lunches. These people believe — I mean, actually believe — that Democratic politicians are harvesting blood from babies. A couple of followers were arrested last week, heading to a vote-counting center in Philadelphia with an armload of guns.
Somebody’s going to killed here. Are you really going to spend the rest of your political careers shackled to this craziness?
This fight with the forces of Trumpism is coming, like it or not. You’ll never make yourselves seem wild-eyed enough to head that off. Wouldn’t it be better to stand for something and lose than to prostrate yourselves and lose more slowly?
I get it: The guy got 70 million votes. You figure it’s his party now. If you’re Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) or someone else who wants to run for president again, better to lay low right now and not close off any paths.
If you’re House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), better to keep the base happy by echoing all kinds of Trumpian nonsense you can’t possibly believe. If you’re Vice President Pence, better to bust out the Coppertone and ride it out on a beach in Florida.
But it’s hard-truth time: That base is never, ever going to trust you. They don’t trust anyone with institutional power. You were Trump’s foil before you were his friend.
And an awful lot of those Republican voters came out this year because they were more frightened by socialism and rioting than they were by Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic. I’m guessing millions of them would just as soon have voted for someone else.
You won’t know the real heart of this party until you wage a fight for some kind of genuine conservative vision. And if you can’t string together enough vertebrae to admit this election is over, then you stand zero chance of prevailing.
It’s time to emulate the basic integrity of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. It’s time to show Trump the door and let his noisy legions know that democracy matters more than they do — that they no longer get to dictate talking points to a once great political party.
Tell the Trumps, as Patrick Henry said in another of his famous speeches: “If this be treason, make the most of it!”
Or keep cowering, and let your actual treason echo through the ages.