Republicans for Democracy

American democracy may depend on a conservative-liberal alliance.,

American democracy may depend on a conservative-liberal alliance.

Liz Cheney opposes most abortions and most gun control. She favors tax cuts for the wealthy and expanded drilling for oil. The right-wing Family Research Council has given her voting record a perfect score. Her political hero is her hawkish father, who was the architect of the second Iraq War.

This description may remind you why you loathe Cheney or have long admired her. Either way, it helps explain why she has become such an important figure for the future of American democracy.

Today is the first anniversary of the violent attack on the Capitol, by a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters who were trying to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election. The mob smashed windows and threatened the vice president and members of Congress. Seven people died as a result of the attack, including three police officers.

The Jan. 6 attack was part of a larger anti-democracy movement in the U.S. In the year since, the movement — which is closely aligned with the Republican Party — has changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. The movement’s supporters justify these actions with lies about voter fraud.

Encouraged by Trump, other Republican politicians and conservative media stars, the anti-democratic movement is following a playbook used by authoritarians in other countries, both recently and historically. The movement is trying to use existing democratic laws — on vote counting and election certification, for example — to unravel democracy.

“We are in a terrible situation in which one of two major parties is no longer committed to playing by democratic rules,” Steven Levitsky — a political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die” with his Harvard colleague Daniel Ziblatt — told me. “No other established Western democracy faces such a threat today, not this acutely anyway.”

(Related: “I fear for our democracy,” former President Jimmy Carter writes in Times Opinion.)

The experience of other countries does offer some lessons about how to defeat anti-democratic movements. The most successful approach involves building coalitions of people who disagree, often vehemently, on many issues but who all believe in democracy.

As Ziblatt wrote to me this week:

A classic dilemma of democracy, going back to the mid-20th century, is how to respond to a political party that uses democracy’s very openness to gain power and attack democracy. One response that has worked in the past in other countries in the 1930s (e.g. Belgium, Finland) that have overcome this dilemma is for broadly small-d democratic parties, even with big ideological differences, to overlook their differences in the short run to contain autocratic leaders or parties. Big coalitions are often necessary in the short run.

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Trump supporters attacking the Capitol a year ago.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

This is why Cheney and the rare other elected Republicans combating Trump’s “big lie” are so important. (Here’s a look at the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year.) If the fate of American democracy becomes a partisan contest between Democrats and Republicans, democracy could lose.

In our closely divided and highly polarized country, each party is likely to hold power at some point in coming years. But when the Republican Party does, it may change the rules to ensure that it remains in power, as Trump tried in 2020 and as Viktor Orban has done in Hungary.

Only a cross-ideological coalition is likely to prove strong enough to prevent this outcome. A coalition makes it easier for Republican officials across the country to beat back future attempts to overturn elections; when the Cheney family is standing up for democracy, it does not look like just another liberal position.

A broad coalition can also win more votes, keeping anti-democratic politicians out of power. Levitsky is alarmed enough that he believes the authoritarian threat should shape the Democrats’ 2024 campaign strategy, and perhaps its presidential and vice-presidential nominees. Once the authoritarian threat has receded, Americans can focus on their other disagreements, he argues:

There is obviously no easy way out, but in my view the Democrats need to work to forge a broader (small-d) democratic coalition that explicitly and publicly includes all small-d democratic Republicans. This means Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, the Bush establishment network and other conservatives (as well as major business leaders and Christian leaders) need to publicly join and support a fusion ticket with the Democratic Party.

I know that many Democrats will recoil at this idea. Some anti-Trump Republicans will, too. It has real downsides and could forestall progress on other important issues, starting with climate change. I also know that some progressives believe that Liz Cheney and her father have helped create the radicalized Republican Party and are themselves part of the problem with American democracy.

But whatever you think of their policy views, that last claim strikes me as inconsistent with American history. Opposing abortion, gun control and environmental regulation is well within the bounds of this country’s democratic traditions. So is — uncomfortable as this may be to acknowledge — starting a disastrous foreign war, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did in Iraq, or playing hardball over vote counting, as they did in Florida in 2000. Democratic presidents have done those things, too.

Violently attacking the Capitol is not consistent with American democratic traditions. Nor is trying to airbrush the horror of that attack, as many top Republican officials have. Nor are flamboyant, repeated lies about election results — and promises to act on those lies in the future.

“The vast majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats — want to live in a country that continues to be characterized by the freedoms that we enjoy and that they are fundamentally faithful to the Constitution,” Cheney told “The Daily.” “It’s a dangerous moment. The stakes are really high.”

You can listen to Cheney’s interview with my colleague Michael Barbaro here.

  • A year after the attack, Trump remains the G.O.P.’s dominant figure.

  • Merrick Garland, the U.S. attorney general, vowed to hold the perpetrators of the attack “at any level” accountable.

  • The House committee investigating the attack aims to release a final report by November.

  • The attack casts a pall over Congress, Carl Hulse writes. Staff members are frightened to go to work, and lawmakers are checked for weapons.

  • FiveThirtyEight’s Alex Samuels wrote about the noose, Confederate flag and other symbols of white supremacy at the riot.

  • Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, spoke to NPR’s Terry Gross about losing his son to suicide days before the attack.

  • The Argument” podcast asks if America is sliding toward authoritarianism.

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Getting a Pfizer shot at a school in the Bronx last year.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
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A fire official said 26 people were in the three-story home.Credit…Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

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Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Kathleen Hennessey is joining The Times’s Politics desk as an editor.

Here’s today’s front page.

The Daily” is an interview with Liz Cheney. “Sway” features George Farmer of Parler.

Natasha Frost, German Lopez, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti, Ashley Wu and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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