When Republicans used their first filibuster of the Joe Biden era to block a comprehensive investigation of the deadly Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol, much of the press rushed in to announce the stunning move was done because the GOP’s remains in the “grip” of Trump. Republicans refused to set a up a fact-finding commission into the murderous insurrection because they “feared” Trump’s wrath, news consumers were told:

  • “Their opposition highlights the hold former President Donald Trump still holds on most of his party.” (CNN)
  • “There’s the fear of openly defying Trump and earning the enmity of his supporters, since those deemed insufficiently loyal to the former president tend to see their jobs put at risk.” (Vox)
  • “Trump’s grip over Republicans hardens as party cleaves to election ‘big lie’” (The Guardian)

And writing in the Washington Post, Dan Baltz confidently insisted that Republicans, “fear Trump and they fear his followers, who now dominate the GOP rank-and-file, and so they voted on Friday to protect the former president by obstructing the commission.”

The clear implication is that Republicans were forced by Trump to take a position on the January commission that they did not agree with; that Republicans in the U.S. Senate are honest and decent people who put country over party, but they’re not able to do that right now because they live in fear of Trump’s power and political wrath.

Note, however, that none of these stories featured statements from Republican senators claiming that they were “afraid” of Trump, or that’s why most voted to scuttle the fact-finding mission. Reporters made that conclusion themselves as a way to explain dangerous GOP behavior — as a way to cover for the GOP instead of telling the glaring truth, which is that Republicans couldn’t care less what caused the bloody insurrection, or if it happens again.

This “grip” narrative is nonsense and it needs to stop —the Republican Party in recent weeks and months has made it clear with its anti-voter drive that it no longer adheres to the tenets of democracy, and that it is determined to permanently wound free and fair elections, passing laws that make it harder, and in many cases, impossible for lawful Americans to vote. Republicans are doing this because they want to. Not because they’re quivering at the sight of Trump.

Emphasizing the idea that fear of Trump is motivating Republicans “risks misleading people about the true nature of the threat posed by the GOP’s ongoing radicalization,” Post columnist Greg Sargent correctly noted weeks ago. “It implies that Republicans would prefer on principle to stand firm in defense of democracy but are not doing so simply out of fear of facing immediate political consequences.”

If you were part of an amoral political movement, wouldn’t you want to attack free and fair elections in order to give yourself a permanent advantage? If you had no concern for democracy, wouldn’t you set out to make sure future Democratic victories could be invalidated? That’s what Republicans are now doing, without pause, and out in the open.

In Texas, Republicans held an all-night legislative session over the Memorial Day weekend to try to pass one of the most stunning voter suppression laws in the country. The bill was written behind closed doors. The law moves to, “cut back early voting hours, ban drive-thru voting, further clamp down on voting-by-mail rules and enhance access for partisan poll watchers,” the Texas Tribune reported. It’s designed to curb voter fraud that does not exist in Texas. (Republicans failed to pass the bill before the Sunday midnight deadline for the legislative session expired. They will likely seek a special session this summer to act again.)

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, the farcical “audit” continues unabated, as the unhinged Republican Party there repeatedly tries to conjure up different election results than the ones that handed Biden a 2020 victory there. The clownish ballot review, conducted by a private security company called Cyber Ninjas with a MAGA CEO, has drawn widespread fire for its lack of professionalism and chain of custody, and for chasing conspiracy claims, such as hunting for bamboo fibers in ballots supposedly shipped in from Asia.

All across the country, Republican legislatures have moved swiftly to make sure that fewer people vote in upcoming elections.

These partisan, sustained attacks on democracy have nothing to do with Trump’s day-to-day involvement in the GOP. He simply arrived five years ago and tapped into the party’s obvious authoritarian leanings and gave it political permission to pursue an agenda built around throwing out millions of legitimate votes each election cycle.

As longtime conservative commentator Charlie Sykes recounted that following Trump’s 2016 win and what it unleashed, he and fellow pundit George Will “had to admit that we obviously didn’t understand what the conservative movement was about, that all the intellectual cover of the right had been this tiny, thin layer on top of this molten something or other that turned out to be pretty ugly.”  

The media need to stop pretending Trump is steering the Republicans’ eager descent into madness. The press needs to acknowledge, in its straight news coverage, that the GOP is no longer a mainstream player and is quickly evolving into something very different and unparalleled. And that Republicans are making these un-American moves freely and of their own accord.