The semi-loyalty of leading conservative politicians fatally weakened the immune system of French democracy. The Nazis, of course, finished it off.
A half-century later, Spanish politicians responded very differently to a violent assault on Parliament. After four decades of dictatorship, Spain’s democracy was finally restored in the late 1970s, but its early years were marked by economic crisis and separatist terrorism. And on Feb. 23, 1981, as the Parliament was electing a new prime minister, 200 civil guardsmen entered the building and seized control at gunpoint, holding the 350 members of Parliament hostage. The coup leaders hoped to install a conservative general — a kind of Spanish Charles de Gaulle — as prime minister.
The coup attempt failed, thanks to the quick and decisive intervention of the king, Juan Carlos I. Nearly as important, though, was the reaction of Spanish politicians. Leaders across the ideological spectrum — from communists to conservatives who had long embraced the Franco dictatorship — forcefully denounced the coup. Four days later, more than a million people marched in the streets of Madrid to defend democracy. At the head of the rally, Communist, Socialist, centrist and conservative franquista politicians marched side by side, setting aside their partisan rivalries to jointly defend democracy. The coup leaders were arrested, tried and sentenced to long prison terms. Coups became virtually unthinkable in Spain, and democracy took root.
That is how democracy is defended. Loyal democrats join forces to condemn attacks on democracy, isolate those responsible for such attacks and hold them accountable.
Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party more closely resembles the French right of the 1930s than the Spanish right of the early 1980s. Since the 2020 election, Republican leaders have enabled authoritarianism at four decisive moments. First, rather than adhering to the cardinal rule of accepting election results after Joe Biden won in November, many Republican leaders either questioned the results or remained silent, refusing to publicly recognize Mr. Biden’s victory. Vice President Mike Pence did not congratulate his successor, Kamala Harris, until the middle of January 2021. The Republican Accountability Project, a Republican pro-democracy watchdog group, evaluated the public statements of 261 Republican members of the 117th Congress after the election. They found that 221 of them had publicly expressed doubt about its legitimacy or did not publicly recognize that Biden won. That’s 85 percent. And in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, nearly two-thirds of House Republicans voted against certification of the results. Had Republican leaders not encouraged election denialism, the “stop the steal” movement might have stalled, and thousands of Trump supporters might not have violently stormed the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election.