Thomas L. Friedman: Never forget the names of these Republicans attempting a coup

Republican plotters are ready to sacrifice their souls for Donald Trump.

(Erin Schaff | The New York Times) Supporters of President Donald Trump wave flags as they protest the result of the presidential election in front of the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020. "Make all those who have propagated this Big Lie about election fraud to justify voting with Trump and against our Constitution carry the title — “coup plotter” — forever," writes The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. "If you see them on the street, in a restaurant on your college campus, politely ask them: “You were one of the coup plotters, weren’t you? Shame on you.”

The New Testament asks us in Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”

Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and all their fellow GOP coup plotters clearly have forgotten that verse — if they ever knew it — for they are ready to sacrifice their souls, the soul of their party and the soul of America — our tradition of free and fair elections as the means for peacefully transferring power — so that Donald Trump can remain president and one of these sleazebags can eventually replace him.

The governing “philosophy” of these unprincipled Trump-cult Republicans is unmistakably clear: “Democracy is fine for us as long as it is a mechanism for us to be in control. If we can’t hold power, then to hell with rules and to hell with the system. Power doesn’t flow from the will of the people — it flows from our will and our leader’s will.”

For America to be healthy again, decent Republicans — in office and in business — need to break away from this unprincipled Trump-cult GOP and start their own principled conservative party. It is urgent.

Even if only a small group of principled, center-right lawmakers — and the business leaders who fund them — broke away and formed their own conservative coalition, they would become hugely influential in today’s closely divided Senate. They could be a critical swing faction helping to decide which Biden legislation passes, is moderated or fails.

Meanwhile, the Trump-rump GOP cult would become what it needs to become for America to grow together again — a discredited, powerless minority of crackpots waiting around for Trump’s latest tweet to tell them what to do, say and believe.

I know that fracturing an established party is not easy (or likely). But the principled Republicans, those who have courageously and dutifully defended Joe Biden’s electoral victory, have to ask themselves: “In a few days, when all of this is over, are we going to just go back to business as usual with people who are, in effect, attempting the first legislative coup d’état in American history?”

Because when this episode is over, Trump will be doing or saying something else outrageous to undermine Biden and to make collaboration impossible, and the Trump lap dogs, like Cruz, Hawley, Johnson and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, will be demanding the party go along to serve their political interests, putting the principled Republicans in a daily bind. Every week there will be a new loyalty test.

There is simply no equivalence now between our two major parties. In the primaries, an overwhelming majority of Democrats, led by moderate African Americans, chose to go with the center-left Biden, not the far-left defund-the-police-democratic-socialist wing.

Across the aisle, Trump’s GOP became such a cult that it decided at its convention that it would offer no party platform. Its platform would be whatever its Dear Leader wanted on any given day. When any party stops thinking — and stops drawing any redlines around a leader as unethical as Trump — he’ll keep taking it deeper and deeper into the abyss, right up to the gates of Hell.

Where it’s now arrived.

We saw that this weekend with Trump’s Mafia-like effort to squeeze Georgia’s secretary of state to just “find” him 11,780 votes and declare him the state’s winner by one vote over Biden.

And we will see it in an even uglier version in Wednesday’s session in Congress. The Trump cultists will try to transform a ceremony designed exclusively to confirm the Electoral College votes submitted by each state — Biden 306 and Trump 232 — into an attempt to get Congress to nullify the electoral votes of swing states that Trump lost.

If I were the editor of this newspaper, I’d print all of their pictures on a full page, under the headline: “Never Forget These Faces: These Lawmakers Had a Choice Between Loyalty to Our Constitution and to Trump, and They Chose Trump.”

If you have any doubts that these people are engaged in seditious behavior, their more principled Republican colleagues do not. Speaking of Hawley’s plan to challenge the vote count, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, said: “I am going to support my oath to the Constitution. That’s the loyalty test here.” Added Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” Said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, “I cannot support allowing Congress to thwart the will of the voters.”

So, the coup-plotter caucus will fail. But ask yourself this: What if Trump’s allies controlled the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court and got their way — actually used some 11th-hour legislative maneuver and nullified Biden’s victory?

I know exactly what would have happened. Many of the 81,283,485 Americans who voted for Biden would have taken to the streets — I would have been one of them — and probably stormed the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court. Trump would have called out the military; the National Guard, directed by governors, would have split over this, and we would be plunged into civil war.

That is the sort of fire these people are playing with. Of course, they know it — which makes the efforts of Hawley, Cruz, Johnson and their ilk even more despicable. They have so little self-respect that they’re ready to lick the shine off of Donald Trump’s boots down to his last second in office, in hopes of inheriting his followers — should he not run again in 2024. And they are counting on a majority of their more principled colleagues voting to certify Biden’s election — to make sure their effort fails.

That way, they’ll get the best of all worlds — credit with Trump voters for pursuing his Big Lie — his fraudulent allegation that the elections were a fraud — without plunging us into civil war. But the long-term price will still be profound — diminishing the confidence of many Americans in the integrity of our free and fair elections as the basis for peacefully transferring power.

Can you imagine anything more cynical?

How do decent Americans fight back, besides urging principled Republicans to form their own party? Make sure we exact a tangible price from every lawmaker who votes with Trump and against the Constitution.

Shareholders of every major U.S. corporation should make sure that these companies’ political action committees are barred from making campaign contributions to anyone who participates in Wednesday’s coup attempt.

At the same time, “we the people” need fight the Trump cult’s Big Lie with the Big Truth. I hope every news organization, and every citizen, refers to Hawley, Cruz, Johnson and their friends now and forever more as “coup plotters.”

Make all those who have propagated this Big Lie about election fraud to justify voting with Trump and against our Constitution carry the title — “coup plotter” — forever. If you see them on the street, in a restaurant on your college campus, politely ask them: “You were one of the coup plotters, weren’t you? Shame on you.”

Adopt Trump’s method: Repeat this Big Truth over and over and over until these people can never get rid of it.

It won’t be sufficient to fix what ails us — we still need a new conservative party for that — but it sure is necessary to give others pause about trying this again.

Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.