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STEVE SEBELIUS: American government takes two to tango

Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid last week said something unexpected, especially for a man who led Senate Democrats for 12 years.

Reid said the country needs Republicans.

“I believe in a strong two-party system,” Reid said. “That’s been the strength of our country for generations.”

But, he added, “I think the Republicans need to find their way, because the Republican Party that we have today is not the Republican Party of (former Rhode Island Senator) John Chafee, (former Oregon Senator) Mark Hatfield, those people who were really stalwarts in moving the country forward.”

Also joining the chorus: President Joe Biden.

“We badly need a Republican Party,” Biden said on Wednesday. “We need a two-party system. It’s not healthy to have a one-party system. And I think the Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they’d be at this point.”

Former President Donald Trump maintains an iron grip on most of the Republican Party. Because of Trump, many Republicans at least say things they know, or ought to know, are false, such as the 2020 election was stolen. The disloyal are reviled.

Consider the senseless censure of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, based on claims of election fraud rejected by courts and debunked after an investigation.

Or how about the booing handed out to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney at the Beehive State’s Republican convention on May 1. Romney — one of seven Republicans to vote to convict Trump during his second impeachment in February — was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Or how about the efforts to oust Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney from her No. 3 post in the House GOP caucus? Cheney, who also voted to impeach Trump in February, has maintained that the former president should have no role in the Republican Party. In response, Trump has unleashed scorn and backed a move to install New York Rep. Elise Stefanik in Cheney’s leadership post.

Before Trump, Cheney was regarded as a solid Republican. In fact, the website FiveThirtyEight.com determined she voted with Trump 92.9 percent of the time, a far more Trump-friendly score than Stefanik’s 77.7 percent.

But this isn’t about policy or philosophy. It’s about fealty to a single individual, one whose ego brooks no dissent. Praise him, and your sins are forgiven. Abjure him, and you are an enemy.

That’s not a political party, it’s a cult. And like many personality cults, Trump’s led inevitably to homicide, as his energized forces stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the legitimate results of the Electoral College vote.

Some on the right may argue Democrats have built movements around personalities such as Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But none of them has ushered their followers to the Capitol to thwart a democratic process, nor demanded unyielding personal loyalty as the price of admission.

Equally unhelpful — although not as immediately perilous — is the attitude expressed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said in a Wednesday news conference that “100 percent” of his focus was on board with stopping the Biden administration. Political junkies will recall he said something similar after Obama’s election, saying his top goal was to make Obama a one-term president.

As conservative commentator Bill Kristol said on MSNBC, a normal minority leader should say he or she will work with the administration where they have common interests, try to persuade the administration on areas where they disagree and oppose it when principle makes compromise impossible.

Voters in 2020 sent a divided government to Washington, D.C., presumably expecting lawmakers to work together to solve problems for the common good. A compromise between those of strongly held opposing views is the American way. But that can’t happen if one of the two parties features members who can’t or won’t acknowledge reality.

And it’s not as if there’s no need for traditional Republican opposition in the current debate. Biden has proposed trillions in new spending, but the Republicans speaking up for fiscal restraint — as they tend to do when a Democrat occupies the Oval Office — are drowned out by the Republicans who won’t even acknowledge that Biden is the legitimate president.

That must change, or we risk losing the ability to govern by consensus entirely. That requires at least two functioning, adversarial parties.

Or as Reid put it during his interview, “And that’s why you have people who want a good Republican Party, projects like the Lincoln Project, (that) are doing everything they can to re-establish the Republican Party, a party of problem solvers, not a party of goofballs led by our former president.”

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