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caption: Public affairs consultant Chris Vance
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Public affairs consultant Chris Vance
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Vance

Independent Chris Vance still wary of ‘the road towards fascism’

Local reaction now, to the phone call heard 'round the world this weekend of President Donald Trump pressuring Georgia’s Secretary of State to overturn the election:

“Look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.”

Public affairs consultant Chris Vance is a former Republican state lawmaker and former chair of the Washington State Republican Party. He's now an independent.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Vance was not surprised at what he heard on that phone call.

This is how Donald Trump thinks the world works, that he can just threaten and bully and get what he wants. He's never understood that we live in a constitutional republic, where there are rules, even for the president, and he has put us into a constitutional nightmare that is going to be damaging to this country for decades, probably.

A few days ago, you tweeted “Democrats, independents, former Republicans, and the small number of surviving Rs who put country before party, need to stay together and save America from fascism.” Fascism is not a term used lightly, especially by people talking about their former party.

That's right. And I've often qualified it with proto-fascism or authoritarianism. But we're on the road towards fascism, where the rules don't matter, the constitution doesn’t matter. It's all about just achieving what you want for your party. And we're on that road.

A coalition came together this year, as I described, of Democrats, former Republicans, and independents, to support Joe Biden. And that coalition needs to stay together. The big issue now in America is, do you or do you not support the Constitution and the rule of law? All other political and policy calculations need to be set aside. This is now about defending democracy.

To what extent do you think the release of this tape could be a turning point for some of your former colleagues who are still in the party?

How many turning points do we need? I mean, Trump has done these sort of outrageous things over and over and over again. And more and more Republicans are willing to go along with it. You had 126 members of Congress sign on to a legal brief trying to overturn the election. You've got a bunch of them now who are going to vote on Wednesday to overturn the election.

I think you will see some Republicans stepping away from this. You are seeing that, but overall, the party is committed to Trump and Trumpism. I don't think there's anything now that can change that. I can't imagine anything he would do that would cause these people to abandon him.

In Washington state, House members Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse signed on to that failed brief from Texas that was aimed at discrediting election results in several swing states. That was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. Jaime Herrera Beutler, of the 3rd Congressional District, a Republican, did not sign on to it. What does the split tell you about what's happening now among Washington State Republicans?

Well, the few Republicans remaining in Washington state are hiding and trying to survive, because the base demands their complete loyalty to Donald Trump, which is why you saw Cathy and Dan Newhouse sign on to that letter. Jaime represents a district that is a bit more swing. It's not quite as Republican. That's probably why she did what she did in terms of not signing on.

Let's see how they vote on Wednesday. But all three of those members voted not to impeach Donald Trump when the evidence was overwhelming. And it's all about politics now. You have a lot of members who know who Trump is. They know he's terrible for this country, but they are afraid to oppose him because they will lose their seats. And they enjoy being members of Congress.

January 6 is being framed by some people as a loyalty test when, as far as we know, at least 12 U.S. Senators and 100 Republican members of the House plan to challenge the election results when they're certified in Congress on Wednesday. Do you think the party is going to split over this?

Some Republicans are going to do the right thing on Wednesday, but then they're going to continue to remain Republicans. Senators like Mitt Romney are going to do the right thing, but then continue to support allowing Mitch McConnell to govern the Senate. It’s going to be a divided vote, but the party's not really going to split, because what this election unfortunately showed is that the Republican Party's base of white evangelical Protestants and working-class white voters is big enough for them to win, to compete, to hold majorities and elect a president. So, they have no incentive to change course.

I'm very disappointed to say we are locked into a 50-50 nation, where elections are going to be extremely close and difficult, and one of our two major parties is not loyal to the Constitution or the rule of law. That is extremely dangerous. A lot of us were hoping that 2020 would be the big blue wave that would crush the Republicans and maybe bring them back to their senses, but it didn't happen. So, it's very discouraging. I think politics is going to be trench warfare for the foreseeable future.

When you talk to young people, your own kids, what do you tell them? What do you see for them, the lasting impact of all of this on the future of democracy in this country and their future?

Well, both of whom were pretty much Republicans before then. They recognized Donald Trump for who and what he was very early. They left the Republican Party before even I did. But if I were up in front of a group of students today, I'd be saying nothing is assured. If you want to hold on to this country. If you want to keep the republic, as Benjamin Franklin said, you’ve got to fight for it. We have to fight for it. We have to make sure that the right people win elections, and that people who are willing to destroy the Constitution, never are in a position of power to actually do it.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.