A lot of people, including some Democrats, would like to believe that the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol was a one-time event. But Republicans are already putting the strategy in place to ensure that they can overturn the next presidential election with or without any violence. The plan for this silent coup is being played out in plain sight.
Across the country, Trump followers who believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen are running for positions as elected officials. And they are winning.
At the same time, Republican state legislators are passing bills that strip nonpartisan election officials of their duties. Instead, election results are being turned over to Republican loyalists who will clearly do whatever the party needs to win, regardless of the actual popular vote.
Perhaps most frightening of all, Trump has convinced a majority of Republicans to accept his lie that he actually won the election. In doing so, he has eviscerated one of the basic tenets of democracy: a belief in free and fair elections.
The fiery rhetoric that portrays Democrats as enemies of America and a threat to liberty fuels the erosion of democratic ideals even further. In the face of a threat that rank-and-file Republicans consider evil and outright satanic, violence becomes a viable, perhaps inevitable alternative.
“This is a five-alarm fire,” Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, told The New York Times. “If people in general, leaders and citizens, aren’t taking this as the most important issue of our time and acting accordingly, then we may not be able to ensure democracy prevails again in ’24.”
Driving it all is Trump himself. To most Americans, he’s the former guy, as President Biden has dubbed him. But to his followers, he is the undeniable leader of his party and the country.
“His deepest source of strength is the bitter grievance of Republican voters that they lost the White House, and are losing their country, to alien forces with no legitimate claim to power,” Barton Gellman wrote in a cover story for the Atlantic. “This is not some transient or loosely committed population. Trump has built the first American mass political movement in the past century that is ready to fight by any means necessary, including bloodshed, for its cause.”
Trump is not particularly smart, but he possesses a kind of amoral cunning largely unknown in American politics. Trump doesn’t pretend to believe in basic principles of democracy, like fair elections or honest intentions by his opponents.
It’s all about him winning, and to do so, he’ll destroy everything in sight. Including this country.
Sadly, the GOP establishment had spent years priming its base to go all-in on buying Trump’s lies. Now the establishment has to follow Trump’s whims. Any Republican who dares to tell the truth, like Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) or Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), risk their political career.
Meanwhile, Democrats seem prepared to believe that we dodged a bullet on January 6. The truth is that the clock ran out before the coup could be completed. Republicans are making sure that won’t happen next time.
Packing election boards, turning certification of elections over to partisan hacks, and restricting voting by Democratic constituencies are just parts of the plan. Republican lawyers are already developing an argument for the right wing of the Supreme Court to allow states to declare the loser of the popular vote the winner of the state’s electoral votes.
Essentially, the basis for their argument will be that state legislatures have complete control over who gets named a presidential elector. Any action not specifically approved by the legislature, like keeping the polls open to allow people in line the time to vote, would be grounds to dismissing the results.
Four of the conservative Supreme Court justices have already signaled that they like this argument. There’s little reason to think the newest member of the bench, Amy Coney Barrett, would think otherwise.
If Donald Trump runs again in 2024, all the groundwork will be in place for him to return to the White House. Whether he wins or not will be immaterial. At that point, the great American experiment in democracy will come to a close.