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Trump's 2020 election lies prove there are no moderate Republicans anymore

The president's dangerous accusations are baseless. And by encouraging them, conservatives are injecting cyanide into the country's polity.
President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Lexington, Kentucky
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hugs President Donald Trump at a rally in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 4, 2019.Yuri Gripas / Reuters file

Today, more than a week since Election Day, GOP leaders across the party are still enabling President Donald Trump's baseless election fraud lies. And what that says, quite simply, is that we're in a lot of trouble as a country.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has won the election. Every one of these Republican members of the House and the U.S. Senate are sophisticated politicians. They all have some fluency in vote counting, and they know Trump lost. The president's dangerous accusations are baseless. And by encouraging them, conservatives are injecting cyanide into the country's polity. It's a lethal poisoning of faith and belief in the system, and it is astonishing to see it playing out in real time.

We are Americans. This is how we pick our leaders, period — full stop. And to see senior elected officials polluting the results of a democratic election in this country in the name of Donald Trump is disgraceful. The entire premise of the president's argument is a farce. It is honestly beyond any capacity I have to articulate it.

And what this tragedy reveals, now, is that there are no moderate Republicans anymore. This is a fantasy. And it's gone. When you have the situation that we're in, which is the refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the election, there's no such thing as a moderate Republican. There cannot be. There are only Trumpists.

This is a personality cult, with a party platform established clearly at the Republican National Convention that requires obedience and loyalty. And all it took was Donald Trump Jr. to make a 2024 threat to get Republicans to fall into line.

Because ultimately, this is not a moment that requires courage; it's a moment that requires an acknowledgment of reality. Stuart Stevens, our friend and colleague, says courage is our heroic American soldiers getting out of their boats on D-Day, even when the soldier in front of them was shot down where they stood. People did that in this country's history to preserve our right to vote. What's happening now is shocking.

And what's worse, too many of these Trumpists kept their jobs. In the end, pain is the only teacher. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a price to pay for most of these senators, other than being confronted with advertisements that showed who they really were. But 2022 will be here sooner than they think.

Like jellyfish in the ocean, Republicans are moving between a bad tide and a good tide. Their virtue may ultimately be amenable to the circumstances of their leader. But it seems to me that Republicans are already auditioning for 2024. This is going to be a very early presidential campaign. And the candidates who will be running will almost certainly be running as Trump candidates.

Covid-19 is going to define the Biden presidency in its first year. We're heading toward a long winter of death in this country, with diseases raging out of control. And Trump will do everything he can to resist cooperation during this vital transition period. This is an unmitigated disaster, and we're still trying to figure a way out.

I do think people are craving competent, decent government. And I also think that type of success will bend the politics towards the president-elect's favor.

But it's time to buckle in. This is going to be a long fight. Election Day was not an end, but a beginning.

As told to THINK editor Meredith Bennett-Smith; edited for clarity.

Listen to Steve Schmidt discuss the consequences of Election Week on "Modern Ruhles," a new podcast from Stephane Ruhle and NBC News THINK, available on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.