It took exactly one day for three conservative elected officials in one of Pennsylvania’s most reliably conservative counties to decide, after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, that they were done with the Republican Party.
No hemming or hawing.
And from a group that included even a former leader of the Lancaster County Republican Committee, business owner Ethan Demme.
In a Jan. 7 letter to the county party, Demme and two fellow East Lampeter Township supervisors made clear something that even fellow Republicans who feared for their lives inside the Capitol have not done: They declared that they have limits.
No longer would they associate with a party whose moral decrepitude had fueled the rampage that resulted in five deaths. They announced they were dumping their party, despite the fear of further violence nationwide from extremists from within their ranks, and despite feared attacks at the inauguration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
In saying good-bye to their party and becoming independents, they also ousted Republicans from controlling township government. All of this in a county so important to Republicans that presidential hopefuls know to make one or more stops through Amish country every four years.
“The denial of the 2020 election results by members of our party and elected officials in Lancaster County is outrageous,” they wrote to their GOP chief. “Our neighbors voted, those votes became the certified election results and were upheld by our judicial system. Continuing to deny these facts has damaged our system of government and has fomented the seeds of sedition, resulting in violence in our nation’s Capitol.
“The Republican Party we once knew is gone and has left us behind,” they continued. “As a result, we are disaffiliating from the Republican Party and will seek to work as Independents with anyone who strives for good government, decency for his neighbors, and the rule of law.”
In firing off this disavowal of Trumpism, these men did something that most Republican U.S. senators and House members who were barricaded inside the Capitol failed to do.
The trio also did this before the world had seen subsequently released video footage showing law enforcement officers being pummeled by the pro-Trump crowd. Nor had we yet seen the images of an officer howling in pain while attackers crushed him in a doorway.
The Lancaster County Republicans made their statement before understanding, as we learned Friday in the Washington Post, that Republican Vice President Mike Pence and his security handlers had evaded the bloodthirsty mob by just a matter of seconds.
And yet, even that foresight of conviction, outstanding as it appears, may be of little consequence in light of the silence over the last week and a half by many others in elected office in their party.
“It’s pure politics at this point,” Demme said when we spoke by phone Thursday, the morning after the Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump with only a handful of brave Republicans joining in the vote. “They’re unwilling to take a stand. You had only 10 congressmen vote for impeachment on the Republican Party. That number should have been a lot higher.”
» READ MORE: The Capitol mob came dangerously close to Pence
A week ago I noted optimism that several Republicans far from Washington were “stepping out of silence” to condemn the insurrection incited by their president. But not enough had yet joined them. I urged for that chorus to swell. To cleanse the party of its most corrosive elements.
It did not, by and large, happen.
We know that incumbents are afraid of losing their next election if they do. We hear that some are also afraid of being attacked by the extremists in their own party. Physically attacked.
This doesn’t leave us with much hope of defusing this horrid situation.
The party is to blame for the handcuffs that bind its members today. Its leaders spent decades tolerating and, with Trump over the last four years, fomenting racial, cultural, and economic resentment by elements on the fringes of its voter base.
Demme was one of the few who didn’t wait for the calamitous Capitol riot to find moral clarity.
He is a self-proclaimed “Never Trumper.” Even before Trump’s November 2016 win, he had stood picketing against the reality-TV sensation’s candidacy. In one such picketing outing, Demme faced pro-Trump Republicans across the way.
Joining him this month in disavowing membership to the party were East Lampeter Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey B. Meyer and Vice Chairman John Blowers. (Meyer declined to be interviewed by phone when I reached him by email. Blowers did not return a phone message.)
Demme says the plan, post-letter, is to find like-minded conservatives for whom the extremist lunacy that Trumpism has brought to the surface is a bridge too far.
The goal: Recruit and run moderate independents in general elections two years from now to defeat far-right candidates who take the GOP nomination in the primary. (Independents are barred from participating in primaries in Pennsylvania.)
“I think the 2022 elections are going to be where the rubber meets the road for some of these folks,” Demme said. “And they need to be challenged at the ballot box.”
“I’m talking with folks, we have a meeting today, we’re organizing,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘Who can we recruit to run?’”
We should not have to lionize people like Demme as heroes. His party and voters allowed this extremism to take root over decades of winks and nods. Even he remembers finding and trashing a bookshelf full of John Birch Society books at party headquarters when he won the county committee chief post about a decade ago.
His insider’s horror about today, however, deserves attention.
“It became apparent, especially postelection, that the party allowed this to happen and has done nothing to stop it,” he said. “I don’t see it reforming. Any reform will have to come from outside of the party.”