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Robert S. McElvaine Republicans' efforts to end the American republic makes them Republicans in name only

The Party of Lincoln has given up its claim to that name and that legacy to support an undemocratic effort by a man who isn't even a conservative.
Senate Judiciary Markup
Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Though coined much earlier, the acronym RINO — "Republican in Name Only" — came into broader usage in the early 1990s by those on the extreme right to disparage members of the Republican Party whom they accused of being insufficiently "conservative." These days, though, people disparaged as RINOs are usually much more firm believers in republicanism than those deploying the so-called slur, who have commandeered control of the "Republican" Party and perfected the Orwellian art of using words to mean the opposite of what they are.

Put more plainly, it is the Trump acolytes and members of the Republican Party who have joined in their leader's efforts to overthrow the American republic who are Republicans in Name Only.

The Republican Party, after all, was established in 1854 as a reaction to efforts by Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party to expand the reach of slavery in the United States and the political power of enslavers within the republic. At the first meeting of former Whigs and other anti-Democrat forces in February that year, they tentatively adopted the name as a nod to Thomas Jefferson's Republican faction in the country's early days. In July, a much larger meeting of the nascent party formally adopted the name after having been christened such by New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who wrote that "we think some simple name like 'Republican' would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery."

In less than a decade, the new party's first elected president, Abraham Lincoln, had emancipated the country's enslaved people and he shortly thereafter reunited the republic after secessionist forces tried to tear it apart in a bloody effort to stymie progress toward a more perfect — and less racist — union.

Republicans do not wish to end the republic in which they serve or else they are Republicans in Name Only.

Today's Republicans, who have taken what was once the Democrats' place in fomenting racial discord and in their efforts to tear the very fabric of the nation in two, plainly are not deserving of that inheritance or its name.

So, too, are their efforts to define themselves as conservatives little more than a falsehood. Actual conservatives value responsibility, self-reliance, tradition, norms, law, truth-telling, morality, manners, knowledge, loyalty, success in business, self-control, religious values, patriotism, stability, maturity, marital fidelity, a sense of history, the checks and balances of constitutional government, deliberation, fiscal restraint, accountability, ordered liberty, justice, principle, humility and compassion.

There is no way to justify continuing the false designation of radical rightists as "conservatives" and people willing to end the republic as "Republicans." The dozen-plus elected members of the Republican Party in the Senate and the more than a hundred in the House who announced that they would vote to overturn various states' electoral slates Wednesday should not, despite their nominal party membership, be referred to as "conservatives" or "Republicans."

All who fail to condemn President Donald Trump's phone call threatening and pressuring state officials in Georgia ("So look," he said in a recording made by the office of the Georgia secretary of state Saturday, "all I want to do is this. I just want you to find 11,780 votes" — or exactly one more than he lost by in the state) and who do not forcefully disassociate themselves from his reported musings about declaring martial law to remain in power show themselves to be opposed to conserving our republic.

Today's Republicans plainly are not deserving of the inheritance of Lincoln's party or its name.

The unconscionable effort to keep Trump in office despite the stated will of the people is tantamount to throwing democracy and the American republic into the dustbin of history. Republicans do not wish to end the republic in which they serve or else they are Republicans in Name Only. Conservatives who do not wish to conserve the very foundation of the American experiment — our democratic republic — is no kind of conservative their intellectual predecessors would recognize.

In their 2017 books, "Dark Money" and "Democracy in Chains," Jane Mayer and Nancy MacLean detail how a small number of radical rightists set out to further their cause of "freeing" the superrich from the constraints imposed through democracy by camouflaging their intentions with popular labels that obscured their goals. One example from MacLean: They "more and more adopted the mantle of conservatism, knowing full well that the last thing they wanted to do is conserve, but seeing advantages in doing so."

The only things today's self-styled conservatives seek to conserve are white male control and the bloated fortunes of the superrich. They do not want to conserve; they want to regress. They have made it clear that they wish to "take America back" — presumably to the 1950s, when the superiority of and rule by white men were taken as axiomatic.

But it has increasingly come to appear that the "'50s" to which some in the Trump circles seek to return may be not the 1950s but the 1850s or even the 1750s, when what would become the United States was ruled by a monarch of German descent (or perhaps even the 1650s, before the Enlightenment).

Plainly, the word to describe those with the goals of the ultra-rightists who pose as "conservatives" is "regressives." And one accurate name for those who shroud their anti-republican actions in the false label "Republican" would be the Anti-Republican Party; other truthful designations could include the Authoritarian Party, the Autocracy Party, the Radical Rightwing Party or the Anti-American Party.

Continuing to use familiar, unthreatening names for those politicians and their followers who are unwilling to respect the most fundamental principles of self-government makes us complicit in their assault on our republic. We need to call them what they really are, to make it easier for the public to see what they're doing. We must stop providing cover for their nefarious actions. And there's no better week to start doing so than this one.