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.