Trump at a rally in Arizona
Trump at a rally in Arizona (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

In Octo­ber of 2020, Wired Mag­a­zine ran a cov­er sto­ry about the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that was titled Amer­i­can Hus­tle. The sub­head­line of the piece con­sist­ed of two parts. The first read: US elec­tions are in the mid­dle of a major reboot. Our democ­ra­cy will come out stronger.* The sec­ond part, which was placed at the bot­tom of the page, read: *It just has to sur­vive the next few weeks.

Sev­en months after that arti­cle ran, it is clear that while our democ­ra­cy sur­vived the 2020 elec­tions, we did­n’t come out stronger. To the con­trary: recent events sug­gest that the Repub­lic’s future remains grave­ly endangered.

That is prin­ci­pal­ly because the Repub­li­can Par­ty has com­plet­ed its trans­for­ma­tion from a once hon­or­able polit­i­cal par­ty that stood against slav­ery and saved the Union (the Grand Old Par­ty) to an unpa­tri­ot­ic cult staunch­ly and absurd­ly devot­ed to the ven­er­a­tion of a nar­cis­sis­tic sociopath: Don­ald John Trump.

Despite hav­ing lost the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, despite hav­ing lost his social media mega­phones, despite hav­ing been forced to vacate the White House and leave office, and despite the events of Jan­u­ary 6th, in which his fol­low­ers attacked the U.S. Capi­tol at his urg­ing, Trump remains in con­trol of the Repub­li­can Par­ty and all its organs, from the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee on down.

Trump is already con­sid­ered the pre­sump­tive 2024 nom­i­nee by many Repub­li­can oper­a­tives and pun­dits, and con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans have decid­ed to stick with him, with only a few excep­tions, like the recent­ly can­celed Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illi­nois. Mean­while, in swing states where they have tri­fec­tas, Repub­li­cans enraged that Trump no longer sits in the White House have gone into over­drive pass­ing laws aimed at pre­vent­ing Democ­rats from hav­ing a chance of win­ning any future elec­tion, whether in 2022, 2024, or beyond.

In a recent blog post, Trump made it abun­dant­ly clear how dis­ap­point­ed he is that his fol­low­ers and loy­al enablers did­n’t put up more of a fight for him in the after­math of the elec­tion. By did­n’t put up more of a fight, I mean that Trump is  clear­ly angry that cer­tain peo­ple did­n’t abuse their author­i­ty to throw out the elec­tion results and sim­ply keep in pow­er through any means necessary.

Here’s Trump in his own words (May 15th, 2021):

The 2020 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion was, by far, the great­est Elec­tion Fraud in the his­to­ry of our Coun­try. The good news is, the Amer­i­can peo­ple get it and the truth is rapid­ly com­ing out! Had Mike Pence had the courage to send the Elec­toral Col­lege vote back to states for recer­ti­fi­ca­tion, and had Mitch McConnell fought for us instead of being the weak and pathet­ic leader he is, we would right now have a Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent who would be veto­ing the hor­rif­ic Social­is­tic Bills that are rapid­ly going through Con­gress, includ­ing Open Bor­ders, High Tax­es, Mas­sive Reg­u­la­tions, and so much else!

Had Mike Pence had the courage to send the Elec­toral Col­lege vote back to the states for recer­ti­fi­ca­tion. That’s what Trump want­ed his Num­ber Two to do: dis­re­gard the elec­tion result and get to work on fix­ing things so that he, Don­ald John Trump, would remain in pow­er even though he had lost.

Trump’s state­ment did not explic­it­ly refer to any­one besides Pence and McConnell, but it’s clear from his behav­ior and his taped calls with Geor­gia’s Brad Raf­fensperg­er that he expects the same loy­al­ty from all Repub­li­cans — espe­cial­ly Repub­li­cans whose job it is to admin­is­ter elec­tions at the state and local level.

Repub­li­can elec­tion offi­cials who did­n’t betray their oaths and fix things for Trump have since come under heavy fire in their own par­ty and with­in their own cir­cles for the sin of hav­ing allowed Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy to sur­vive into 2021.

2020 is now in the rearview mir­ror, and even many of Trump’s enablers in Con­gress claim they’ve moved on (Lind­sey Gra­ham, etc.), but the 2022 midterms are right around the cor­ner, and every­one needs to be pre­pared for them.

And when I say pre­pared, I mean be pre­pared for much more than ger­ry­man­der­ing, cheat­ing, and vot­er sup­pres­sion. See, that’s the old playbook.

There’s a new play­book now and new expec­ta­tions that Trump and his rabid fol­low­ers have set for all Repub­li­cans work­ing in elections.

As David Atkins recent­ly not­ed: “We spend a lot of time talk­ing about bal­lot access. But I don’t think we’ve spent enough time talk­ing about what hap­pens when Repub­li­cans at every lev­el sim­ply refuse to cer­ti­fy Demo­c­ra­t­ic wins at any lev­el, in any process they con­trol. Because that is going to happen.”

“A Demo­c­rat wins a major race, for Gov­er­nor or Sen­ate, in 2022, in a state con­trolled by ‘if a Demo­c­rat wins it must be fraud’ Repub­li­cans, and the state cer­ti­fies that the Repub­li­can won, because, you know, fraud. We all under­stand there’s a good chance this hap­pens, right?” Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Chris Mur­phy of Con­necti­cut asked rhetor­i­cal­ly this morn­ing in a tweet.

“If you swapped today’s GOP for the one that exist­ed only six months ago and re-ran the 2020 elec­tion, you would have had duel­ing slates from all of the swing states sent to the elec­toral col­lege. That’s how fast it’s moved and it’s not slow­ing down,” Gabriel Rosen­berg wrote in a May 10th tweet.

Just a few months pri­or, in Feb­ru­ary, Rosen­berg had made the same point in a long, out­stand­ing Sub­stack essay, The Apophenic Thrall:

Because of the poor design of the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal sys­tem, the GOP will con­tin­ue to hold numer­ous veto points and it could plau­si­bly win the Pres­i­den­cy in the near future.

What’s also obvi­ous to me is that if we had been faced in 2020 with the GOP as it will be in 2022, none of the state lev­el GOP oper­a­tives who refused Trump’s vote-rig­ging alle­ga­tions would do so.

We’d have GOP elect­ed offi­cials refus­ing to cer­ti­fy elec­tion results and state leg­is­la­tures send­ing com­pet­ing slates of electors.

That much has changed in the last two months alone and it will prob­a­bly get worse in the next twen­ty-four months.

I wor­ry both about the ten­den­cy to write Trump­ism off as “ more of the same” from left crit­ics — the insti­tu­tion­al dif­fer­ences alone are sig­nif­i­cant and like­ly to have impor­tant con­se­quences — and of the ten­den­cy of cen­trist crit­ics to refuse to com­mit to the big changes that might pre­empt the right’s anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic moves.

As I put it on Twit­ter, “anti-Trump” Repub­li­cans who do not back sub­stan­tial polit­i­cal reforms, such as a new Vot­ing Rights Act, are effec­tive­ly pro-Trump at this point.

“Pret­ty clear at this point that if Repub­li­cans con­trol Con­gress in 2024 a Demo­c­rat will not be allowed to win the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” The Week’s Nation­al Cor­re­spon­dent Ryan Coop­er agreed in a reply to Rosen­berg on May 10th.

Jamelle Bouie piled on lat­er that same day: “Yep. ‘A Demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion vic­to­ry is inher­ent­ly ille­git­i­mate’ is already Repub­li­can Par­ty dog­ma and should Biden/Harris win by a sim­i­lar­ly slim mar­gins in 2024, Repub­li­cans will sim­ply refuse to cer­ti­fy the results. Hell, we’ll prob­a­bly see this even if they aren’t slim.”

The kind of thug­gery that we most need to be pre­pared for in the next two elec­tions is like­ly that of the soft coup variety.

A soft coup, also known as a silent coup, is “a coup d’é­tat with­out the use of vio­lence, but based on a con­spir­a­cy or plot that has as its objec­tive the tak­ing of state pow­er by par­tial­ly or whol­ly legal means, in order to facil­i­tate an exchange of polit­i­cal lead­er­ship and in some cas­es also of the cur­rent insti­tu­tion­al order.”

Stag­ing a soft coup is what Trump want­ed to do back in the win­ter, and it’s what he and his rabid fol­low­ers will want Repub­li­can elec­tions offi­cials to do next time the results show Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates ahead in a swing state or red state.

Here in Wash­ing­ton State, it’s unlike­ly we would see this kind of behav­ior either in 2022 or 2024, and that’s not just because of the state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic tilt.

It’s because Repub­li­cans involved in elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton State, like Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman, have no inter­est in being lack­eys for Don­ald Trump, no mat­ter what kind of pres­sure they’re sub­ject­ed to by Repub­li­can PCOs. Notice that Wyman has spo­ken out force­ful­ly, ear­ly, and often against the Ari­zona Repub­li­cans’ fake audit oper­a­tion of Mari­co­pa Coun­ty’s ballots.

Those coun­ty audi­tors who are Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton have sim­i­lar pos­tures, by all rep­utable accounts. That’s good news for the Ever­green State.

But what about the states that will decide the com­po­si­tion of the House major­i­ty for the next Con­gress? Texas, Flori­da, Geor­gia, and Ari­zona have Repub­li­can tri­fec­tas run­ning their state­hous­es. Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, and North Car­oli­na, mean­while, have Repub­li­can-con­trolled Legislatures.

The local elec­tions offi­cials in those states sad­ly don’t all appear to be peo­ple who are pre­pared to put coun­try ahead of par­ty when under mas­sive pressure.

If safe­guards can­not be put into place to pro­tect ahead of the 2022 midterms, whether through fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion like H.R. 1, or court action, or fierce local resis­tance to bad state laws and dic­tates, we could be in huge trouble.

As Jamelle Bouie said, it’s hard to fath­om a Repub­li­can Con­gress cer­ti­fy­ing a Biden/Harris vic­to­ry in 2024, or a Harris/? vic­to­ry if Biden does­n’t run again.

It’s trag­ic that Repub­li­cans in our coun­try have sunk this low. But we should­n’t think for a sec­ond that it can’t get worse, because it absolute­ly can get worse.

The best way to ensure that the cri­sis we’re in does­n’t get worse is to make the most of the time we have to get ready for the midterms.

And by “we,” I mean every­one who cares about the future of our coun­try, not just the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and Demo­c­ra­t­ic aligned orga­ni­za­tions. Every patri­ot­ic Amer­i­can, regard­less of par­ty and regard­less of ide­ol­o­gy, should be com­mit­ted to ensur­ing that the midterms are con­duct­ed fair­ly and the true win­ners seated.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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