The 2024 Election Could Make History (Dismal History)

Unless all 50 Senate Democrats agree to protect voting rights this year, our next president might be someone who got fewer votes and didn’t even win the Electoral College. Here’s a brief preview from a profile of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) in The New Republic:

These next three years will test our democracy in ways it hasn’t been tested since the 1860s, or maybe ever. The scenario is pretty straightforward. The Republicans retake the House in the midterms. Immediately, any chance of Biden passing meaningful legislation is dead, but that’s the least of it. The GOP will launch hearing after hearing, issue subpoena after subpoena; they will find some flimsy rationale on which to impeach Biden, and they will stretch it out as long as possible. T____ will run—as Raskin put it, “for psychological, political, and financial reasons”—and he will be the GOP nominee, Raskin has little doubt. Assuming Biden seeks reelection, the election will probably be close, because elections just are these days.

If Biden wins by a matter of several thousand votes in a few states, as he did in 2020, the T____ machinery will kick into gear to steal the election. Republican election commissioners and state legislators and even some governors will put forward pro-T____ electors. The House of Representatives will not vote to certify Biden’s win in January 2025, which will toss the election to the House, which will make T____ president. (When a presidential election gets thrown to the House, under the Twelfth Amendment, the vote is by state delegation, so North Dakota has the same voting power as California; Republicans now control, and will likely in 2025 still control, a majority of state delegations, and Liz Cheney will probably be gone, meaning that Wyoming will go pro-T____.) For the second time in the history of the United States, the other time being 1824, Congress will have installed as the president a candidate who did not win a plurality of votes in either the Electoral College or the popular vote.

“D____ T____ [and Republican officials have] now converted every formerly ministerial step of the process into a moment for partisan rumble and contest,” Raskin told me. “So when we’re talking about the certification of the state popular vote, the governors’ certification of the electors, the electors meeting, and then the January 6th joint session receipt of the electors … all these phases of the process have now been turned into yet another opportunity for partisan combat.” There is no question in Raskin’s mind that this is what T____ and his supporters will try to do.

The [House] select committee on January 6 ties in directly here. Aside from trying to get to the bottom of who did what before and on the infamous date, Raskin wants the committee to try to take steps to safeguard democracy from attack by T____ or any future T____ wannabe. “Our select committee, I believe, should do whatever it can to reform the Electoral Count Act, to make it conform as much as possible to the popular will,” he said, referring to the 1887 act that spells out—confusingly, ambiguously, contradictorily—the presidential election certification process.

That obviously won’t be possible if Republicans retake the House. In the majority, the GOP will likely do all it can to subvert democracy and preemptively make people distrust the electoral process. 

Three Voices on the Current Crisis

First, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post summarizes the danger we face. Then, what President Biden could be doing about it. Finally, a look at America from an outsider’s perspective:

Right now, much of the [Republican Party] has decided that an effort by its own leader, D____ T____, to overthrow U.S. democracy through corrupt pressure on many government actors, and then through mob violence, doesn’t require a national response.

Many Republicans are vying for positions of control over our election machinery for the all-but-openly declared purpose of subverting future losses. Republicans calling on the GOP to stand down from this madness, and who resisted the last coup effort, face primaries and censure.

And Republicans are entrenching voter suppression everywhere. They are justifying all this by feeding GOP voters lies about the integrity of our election system, inviting them to tell themselves antidemocratic tactics — or even subverting election losses — are their appropriate recourse.

We could be protecting the system from these threats. But we are not.

Next, Brett Edkins of Talking Points Memo on what President Biden needs to do:

If President Biden wants to lead on strengthening democracies around the world, and restore America’s credibility and soft power globally, he must do more to get our house in order. He can begin by leveraging his 36 years of Senate experience and the enormous influence he wields as the President of the United States to push for change here at home and deliver on his campaign promise to “defend democracy” and “guarantee that every American’s vote is protected.” 

President Biden must publicly call on the Senate to end the outdated filibuster that has allowed Senate Republicans to block legislation that the vast majority of Americans supportfrom establishing an independent January 6th Commission to passing critical voting rights legislation. The White House teased that the President would soon outline his stance on “fundamentally altering” the filibuster, but the issue has taken a backseat to other legislative pursuits. This is a missed opportunity.

The President of the United States has the largest soapbox on the planet, and President Biden has unique credibility to push recalcitrant Senate Democrats to reform the filibuster and restore the Senate to a genuinely deliberative body capable of passing legislation by majority vote (though it goes without saying, there are a couple of Democrats in particular who are hamstringing not just filibuster-nixing efforts but also much of his legislative agenda, too). Then, Senate Democrats would be able to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the D.C. Statehood Act to ensure that every eligible citizen can access the ballot box. 

President Biden should also rally Congress behind the Protecting Our Democracy Act (PODA), which includes provisions that have garnered bipartisan support in the past. This legislation would restore our constitutional checks and balances to ensure that no future president, regardless of party, is able to undermine our democracy by abusing the power of their office. PODA is expected to clear the House of Representatives this week, but its path through the Senate is uncertain. Surely, the endorsement of the President of the United States would highlight the critical importance of its passage into law. [Someone at the White House would like to hear from you.]

Finally, Fahrad Manjoo of The New York Times on “The Year America Lost Its Democracy”:

The foreign-policy journalist Joshua Keating used to write a series for Slate called “If It Happened There,” in which he reported on political and cultural developments in the United States in the tone of an American foreign correspondent sending dispatches from a nation on the other side of the globe.

Keating’s series was partly a joke about Western paternalism. But by illuminating the terrifying fragility of our own glass house, the trope also offered Americans the powerful gift of perspective. For instance, see how Keating’s headline on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — “Death of Hard-Line Jurist Throws Regime Into Chaos” — neatly underlined the quaint capriciousness of a political system in which one unelected judge’s sudden demise can call into question fundamental rights across the land.

As an immigrant to the United States from one of the world’s long-troubled regions, I’ve found myself thinking of Keating’s series quite a lot this year. Adopting an outsider’s point of view has helped to clarify the terrible stakes of the political game now playing out across the country — and has filled me with a sense of deep despair and foreboding.

Because if the assaults on democracy that occurred in America in 2021 had happened in another country, academics, diplomats and activists from around the world would be tearing their hair out over the nation’s apparent unraveling. If you were a reporter summing up this American moment for readers back home in Mumbai, Johannesburg or Jakarta, you’d have to ask whether the country is on the brink: A decade from now, will the world say that 2021 was the year the United States squandered its democracy?

If that sounds hyperbolic, consider the year’s many lowlights. Begin, of course, on Jan. 6: Followers of Ousted President Storm National Legislature.” Then, when Republicans in Congress turned against an independent inquiry into the Capitol attack and punished the few in their party who supported it: “Bowing to Former Strongman, Opposition Blocks Coup Investigation, Expels Dissenters.” Or when, despite turning up no evidence of significant electoral mischief in the 2020 presidential election, Republican-led legislatures in more than a dozen states began pushing new laws to restrict voting rights, including several that put partisan officials in charge of election administration: “Provincial Lawmakers Alter Election Rules to Favor Deposed Premier.”

And then last month, when more than 150 academic scholars of democracy put out a letter urging Congress to pass legislation to protect American elections from partisan takeover. Headline: “Experts Sound Alarm Over Democratic Backsliding in Nuclear-Armed Superpower.” Pull quote: “This is no ordinary moment in the course of our democracy,” the scholars wrote. “It is a moment of great peril and risk.”

Understanding Undecided Voters

Last week, I mentioned an article about undecided voters by MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes. The article was called “Decision Makers”. It’s been described as “one of the few deep dives into voter ignorance and its implications”. Here’s most of it:

For those who follow politics, there are few things more mysterious, more inscrutable, more maddening than the mind of the undecided voter. In [the 2004] election, when the choice was so stark and the differences between the candidates [George Bush and John Kerry] were so obvious, how could any halfway intelligent human remain undecided for long? “These people,” Jonah Goldberg once wrote of undecided voters, . . . when he probably spoke for the entire political class, “can’t make up their minds, in all likelihood, because either they don’t care or they don’t know anything.”

And that was more or less how I felt before I decided to spend the last seven weeks of the [2004] campaign talking to swing voters in Wisconsin. In September, I signed up to . . . knock on doors in “swing wards” with high concentrations of undecided or persuadable voters. During my time in suburban Dane County, which surrounds Madison, I knocked on more than 1,000 doors and talked to hundreds of Wisconsin residents. Our mission was simple: to identify undecided voters and convince them to vote for John Kerry.

My seven weeks in Wisconsin left me with a number of observations (all of them highly anecdotal, to be sure) about swing voters, which I explain below. But those small observations add up to one overarching contention: that the caricature of undecided voters favored by liberals and conservatives alike doesn’t do justice to the complexity, indeed the oddity, of undecided voters themselves. None of this is to say that undecided voters are completely undeserving of the derision that the political class has heaped on them–just that [the political class] may well be deriding [undecided voters] for the wrong reasons.

Undecided voters aren’t as rational as you think. Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We’re giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil.

A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man’s house, she still couldn’t make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the president supported stem cell research [he didn’t]. The office became quiet as we all stopped what we were doing to listen to one of our fellow organizers try, nobly, to disabuse her of this notion. Despite having the facts on her side, the organizer didn’t have much luck.

Undecided voters do care about politics; they just don’t enjoy politics. Political junkies tend to assume that undecided voters are undecided because they don’t care enough to make up their minds. But while I found that most undecided voters are, as one Kerry aide put it to The New York Times, “relatively low-information, relatively disengaged,” the lack of engagement wasn’t a sign that they didn’t care. After all, if they truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t have been planning to vote. The undecided voters I talked to did care about politics, or at least judged it to be important; they just didn’t enjoy politics.

. . . Most undecided voters . . . seem to view politics the way I view laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I’ll never do it before every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.

A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists. In the age of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, pundits agreed that [2004] would be the most foreign policy-oriented election in a generation–and polling throughout the summer seemed to bear that out. In August the Pew Center found that 40 percent of voters were identifying foreign policy and defense as their top issues, the highest level of interest in foreign policy during an election year since 1972.

But just because voters were unusually concerned about foreign policy didn’t mean they had fundamentally shifted their outlook on world affairs. In fact, among undecided voters, I encountered a consistent and surprising isolationism–an isolationism that September 11 was supposed to have made obsolete everywhere but the left and right fringes of the political spectrum. Voters I spoke to were concerned about the Iraq war and about securing American interests, but they seemed entirely unmoved by the argument–accepted, in some form or another, by just about everyone in Washington–that the security of the United States is dependent on the freedom and well-being of the rest of the world.

In fact, there was a disturbing trend among undecided voters–as well as some Kerry supporters–towards an opposition to the Iraq war based largely on the ugliest of rationales. I had one conversation with an undecided, sixtyish, white voter whose wife was voting for Kerry. When I mentioned the “mess in Iraq” he lit up. “We should have gone through Iraq like shit through tinfoil,” he said, leaning hard on the railing of his porch. As I tried to make sense of the mental image this evoked, he continued: “I mean we should have dominated the place; that’s the only thing these people understand. . . .Teaching democracy to Arabs is like teaching the alphabet to rats.” I didn’t quite know what to do with this comment, so I just thanked him for his time and slipped him some literature. . . .

That may have been the most explicit articulation I heard of this mindset–but it wasn’t an isolated incident. A few days later, someone told me that he wished we could put Saddam back in power because he “knew how to rule these people.” While Bush’s rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy played well with blue-state liberal hawks and red-state Christian conservatives who are inclined towards a missionary view of world affairs, it seemed to fall flat among the undecided voters I spoke with. This was not merely the view of the odd kook; it was a common theme I heard from all different kinds of undecided voters. . . .

The worse things got in Iraq, the better things got for Bush. Liberal commentators, and even many conservative ones, assumed, not unreasonably, that the awful situation in Iraq would prove to be the president’s undoing. But I found that the very severity and intractability of the Iraq disaster helped Bush because it induced a kind of fatalism about the possibility of progress. Time after time, undecided voters would agree vociferously with every single critique I offered of Bush’s Iraq policy, but conclude that it really didn’t matter who was elected, since neither candidate would have any chance of making things better. Yeah, but what’s Kerry gonna do? voters would ask me, and when I told them [Kerry’s ideas] they would wave their hands and smile with condescension, as if that answer was impossibly naïve. C’mon, they’d say, you don’t really think that’s going to work, do you?

To be sure, maybe they simply thought Kerry’s [plan] was a lame idea. But I became convinced that there was something else at play here, because undecided voters extended the same logic to other seemingly intractable problems, like the deficit or health care. On these issues, too, undecideds recognized the severity of the situation–but precisely because they understood the severity, they were inclined to be skeptical of Kerry’s ability to fix things. Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general. Kerry, by mere dint of being on the ballot, was somehow tainted by Bush’s failures as badly as Bush was.

As a result, undecideds seemed oddly unwilling to hold the president accountable for his previous actions, focusing instead on the practical issue of who would have a better chance of success in the future. Because undecideds seemed uninterested in assessing responsibility for the past, Bush suffered no penalty for having made things so bad; and because undecideds were focused on, but cynical about, the future, the worse things appeared, the less inclined they were to believe that problems could be fixed–thereby nullifying the backbone of Kerry’s case. Needless to say, I found this logic maddening.

Undecided voters don’t think in terms of issues. Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the “issues.” That is, while they might favor Kerry on the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage, they also support social welfare programs. . . . More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I’d just asked them to name their favorite prime number.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn’t name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The “issue” is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It’s what makes up the subheadings on a candidate’s website, it’s what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it’s what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it’s what we always complain we don’t see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a number of committed voters in both camps . . . ) At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics–maybe, I thought, “issue” is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they’re being quizzed on a topic they haven’t studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what’s been happening in the country in the last four years?”

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

To cite one example: I had a conversation with an undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman’s car after having worked a week straight. He didn’t think the accident was his fault and he was angry about being sued. “There’s too many lawsuits these days,” he told me. I was set to have to rebut a “tort reform” argument, but it never came. Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn’t think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. “The last job was unionized,” he said. “They would have covered my expenses.” I tried to steer him towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers’ rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn’t seem to think there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He made neither, and remained undecided.

In this context, Bush’s victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed “values” as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn’t the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like “character” and “morals.” Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values–we all know what’s right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don’t even grasp what issues are?

Liberals like to point out that majorities of Americans agree with the Democratic Party on the issues, so Republicans are forced to run on character and values in order to win. . . . But polls that ask people about issues presuppose a basic familiarity with the concept of issues–a familiarity that may not exist.

As far as I can tell, this leaves Democrats with two options: either abandon “issues” as the lynchpin of political campaigns and adopt the language of values, morals, and character as many have suggested; or begin the long-term and arduous task of . . . convincing undecided voters to believe . . . in the importance of issues. . . .

If You Care About American Democracy and the Truth

The Atlantic magazine isn’t afraid to publish long articles. Today they published one that every American who cares about the future of this country should read, or at least skim (or, if you happen to be reading this, trust your humble blogger to summarize. The Atlantic article is 13,000 words long. This post, with my contributions in italics, is 2,600).

The article is called “T____’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”. Its subtitle is “January 6 was practice. [The] GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election”. Its author is Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. It’s truly scary if you care about democracy. Here’s how it begins:

Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied D____ T____’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, T____ and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.

Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, D____ T____ will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say—prevent T____ from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power.

As we near the anniversary of January 6, investigators are still unearthing the roots of the insurrection that sacked the Capitol and sent members of Congress fleeing for their lives. What we know already, and could not have known then, is that the chaos wrought on that day was integral to a coherent plan. In retrospect, the insurrection takes on the aspect of rehearsal.

Even in defeat, T____ has gained strength for a second attempt to seize office, should he need to, after the polls close on November 5, 2024. It may appear otherwise—after all, he no longer commands the executive branch, which he tried and mostly failed to enlist in his first coup attempt. Yet the balance of power is shifting his way in arenas that matter more.

T____ is successfully shaping the narrative of the insurrection in the only political ecosystem that matters to him. The immediate shock of the event, which briefly led some senior Republicans to break with him, has given way to a near-unanimous embrace. Virtually no one a year ago, certainly not I, predicted that T____ could compel the whole party’s genuflection to the Big Lie and the recasting of insurgents as martyrs. Today the few GOP dissenters are being cast out. “2 down, 8 to go!” T____ gloated at the retirement announcement of Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment.

T____ has reconquered his party by setting its base on fire. Tens of millions of Americans perceive their world through black clouds of his smoke. 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. This is not some transient or loosely committed population. T____ 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.

Gellman then writes in detail about a typical proponent of the Big Lie: a retired New York City Fire Department captain, 61 years old, who has no doubts about the 2020 election:

“There ain’t no fucking way we are letting go of 3 November 2020,” he said. “That is not going to fucking happen. That’s not happening. This motherfucker was stolen. The world knows this bumbling, senile, career corrupt fuck squatting in our White House did not get 81 million votes.”

This retired fire fighter is totally immersed in the Big Lie and related propaganda. Gellman then explains who showed up in Washington on January 6 and are among the Big Lie’s most ardent supporters:

The findings were counterintuitive. Counties won by T____ in the 2020 election were less likely than counties won by Biden to send an insurrectionist to the Capitol. The higher T____’s share of votes in a county, in fact, the lower the probability that insurgents lived there. Why would that be? Likewise, the more rural the county, the fewer the insurgents. The researchers tried a hypothesis: Insurgents might be more likely to come from counties where white household income was dropping. Not so. Household income made no difference at all.

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state. . . . 

What [researchers saw] in these results did not fit the government model of lone wolves and small groups of extremists. “This really is a new, politically violent mass movement,” he told me. “This is collective political violence.”

In other words, white people, average age 40, who think they, the real Americans, are being replaced by people with darker skins. It turns out that Gellman’s NYFD retiree fits the bill. He lives in The Bronx, an urban area with changing demographics, and is filled with resentments about minorities being given preferential treatment (even though he got a job with the NY City Fire Department and rose to the rank of captain).

Next, Gellman delves into the way T____, his lawyers and supporters tried to fix the 2020 election by getting courts and state legislatures to intervene and by interfering with the election’s certification by Congress on January 6. T____ and his movement didn’t get it done, but learned a lot in the process. They plan to do much better next time:

A year ago I asked the Princeton historian Kevin Kruse how he explained the integrity of the Republican officials who said no, under pressure, to the attempted coup in 2020 and early ’21. “I think it did depend on the personalities,” he told me. “I think you replace those officials, those judges, with ones who are more willing to follow the party line, and you get a different set of outcomes.”

Today that reads like a coup plotter’s to-do list. Since the 2020 election, Trump’s acolytes have set about methodically identifying patches of resistance and pulling them out by the roots. Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, who refused to “find” extra votes for Trump? Formally censured by his state party, primaried, and stripped of his power as chief election officer. Aaron Van Langevelde in Michigan, who certified Biden’s victory? Hounded off the Board of State Canvassers. Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona, who signed his state’s “certificate of ascertainment” for Biden? T____ has endorsed a former Fox 10 news anchor named Kari Lake to succeed him, predicting that she “will fight to restore Election Integrity (both past and future!).” Future, here, is the operative word. Lake says she would not have certified Biden’s victory in Arizona, and even promises to revoke it (somehow) if she wins. None of this is normal.

Arizona’s legislature, meanwhile, has passed a law forbidding Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, to take part in election lawsuits, as she did at crucial junctures last year. The legislature is also debating an extraordinary bill asserting its own prerogative, “by majority vote at any time before the presidential inauguration,” to “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election.” There was no such thing under law as a method to “decertify” electors when T____ demanded it in 2020, but state Republicans think they have invented one for 2024.

In at least 15 more states, Republicans have advanced new laws to shift authority over elections from governors and career officials in the executive branch to the legislature. Under the Orwellian banner of “election integrity,” even more have rewritten laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Death threats and harassment from T____ supporters have meanwhile driven nonpartisan voting administrators to contemplate retirement. . . . 

Amid all this ferment, T____’s legal team is fine-tuning a constitutional argument that is pitched to appeal to a five-justice majority if the 2024 election reaches the Supreme Court. This, too, exploits the GOP advantage in statehouse control. Republicans are promoting an “independent state legislature” doctrine, which holds that statehouses have “plenary,” or exclusive, control of the rules for choosing presidential electors. Taken to its logical conclusion, it could provide a legal basis for any state legislature to throw out an election result it dislikes and appoint its preferred electors instead. . . . 

Four justices—Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas—have already signaled support for a doctrine that disallows any . . .  deviation from the [explicit] election rules passed by a state legislature [such as a judge extending voting hours]. It is an absolutist reading of legislative control over the “manner” of appointing electors under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s last appointee, has never opined on the issue. . . . 

T____ is not relying on the clown-car legal team that lost nearly every court case last time. The independent-state-legislature doctrine has a Federalist Society imprimatur and attorneys from top-tier firms like Baker Hostetler. A dark-money voter-suppression group that calls itself the Honest Elections Project has already featured the argument in an amicus brief.

“One of the minimal requirements for a democracy is that popular elections will determine political leadership,” Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School expert on election law, told me. “If a legislature can effectively overrule the popular vote, it turns democracy on its head.” Persily and UC Irvine’s Hasen, among other election-law scholars, fear that the Supreme Court could take an absolutist stance that would do exactly that.

Gellman’s conclusion:

There is a clear and present danger that American democracy will not withstand the destructive forces that are now converging upon it. Our two-party system has only one party left that is willing to lose an election. The other is willing to win at the cost of breaking things that a democracy cannot live without.

Democracies have fallen before under stresses like these, when the people who might have defended them were transfixed by disbelief. If ours is to stand, its defenders have to rouse themselves. . . . 

Biden’s list of remedies [is] short and grossly incommensurate with the challenge. He expressed support for two bills—the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—that were dead on arrival in the Senate because Democrats had no answer to the Republican filibuster. He said the attorney general would double the Department of Justice staff devoted to voting-rights enforcement. Civil-rights groups would “stay vigilant.” Vice President Kamala Harris would lead “an all-out effort to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote, and then get the vote out.”

And then he mentioned one last plan that proved he did not accept the nature of the threat: “We will be asking my Republican friends—in Congress, in states, in cities, in counties—to stand up, for God’s sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our elections and the sacred right to vote.”

So: enforcement of inadequate laws, wishful thinking about new laws, vigilance, voter education, and a friendly request that Republicans stand athwart their own electoral schemes.

Conspicuously missing from Biden’s speech was any mention even of filibuster reform, without which voting-rights legislation is doomed. Nor was there any mention of holding T____ and his minions accountable, legally, for plotting a coup. . . .  Absent consequences, they will certainly try again. An unpunished plot is practice for the next.

T____ came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again, and his position is growing stronger. Republican acolytes have identified the weak points in our electoral apparatus and are methodically exploiting them. They have set loose and now are driven by the animus of tens of millions of aggrieved T____ supporters who are prone to conspiracy thinking, embrace violence, and reject democratic defeat. Those supporters, [the] “committed insurrectionists,” are armed and single-minded and will know what to do the next time T____ calls upon them to act.

Democracy will be on trial in 2024. A strong and clear-eyed president, faced with such a test, would devote his presidency to meeting it. Biden knows better than I do what it looks like when a president fully marshals his power and resources to face a challenge. It doesn’t look like this.

The midterms, marked by gerrymandering, will more than likely tighten the GOP’s grip on the legislatures in swing states. The Supreme Court may be ready to give those legislatures near-absolute control over the choice of presidential electors. And if Republicans take back the House and Senate, . . .  the GOP will be firmly in charge of counting the electoral votes.

Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, D____ T____ may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance.

Unquote.

Maybe the president, the vice president, the attorney general, your senators, your member of Congress, your governor, your state legislators and people you know personally need to be more concerned about what’s happening and do something, anything, to stop it. There’s no better time than the present to act.

You Hope the Uninformed and Misinformed Even Out at the Polls

Shall we consider why American politics is so screwed up? One reason is a 232-year old Constitution that favors minority rule and is hard to amend. Another is that one of our major political parties is now as radical and authoritarian as certain small right-wing parties in other countries. There’s also the quality of the electorate. Many people don’t bother voting, can’t vote or face too many obstacles, such as waiting in line for hours instead of minutes. Of the people who do vote, many don’t have a clue, either because they’re uninformed or misinformed. David Roberts (of the Volts newsletter) expands on the uninformed issue (the misinformed issue is better understood):

One of the most pernicious aspects of political commentary is how much it relies on polls and surveys that give people a list of options and ask which they care about or believe. It gives the impression that the mass of voters are out there knowing things and worrying over “issues.”

In fact, anyone who looks into it closely finds basically the same thing: voters don’t know anything. They have all kinds of wacky and weird beliefs. They don’t necessarily care about — can’t even necessarily identify — “issues” as political types think about them.

So, so, so much of political commentary is DC/NY City political obsessives retconning voter behavior to render it a rational, or at least legible, response to actual facts and circumstances. It’s like a fun pattern-finding game they all play together. [Note: “retconning” was new to me. It refers to “retroactive continuity”, the practice of going back and changing something in a story, like the way Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and then brought him back to life, saying the death had been staged all along.]

One example I think about a lot: Obama’s election/presidency basically signaled to a bunch of non-college-educated white folks that Democrats are the party of racial equality. (They did not, as it turns out, view that as a good thing.) Now, to a political type the notion that Democrats are on the side of racial equality is so obvious, so foundational to modern politics, that it’s genuinely difficult to imagine not knowing it. Civil Rights Act? Voting Rights Act? WTF? It’s been decades of this stuff. And I will give you $1,000 if you can find me a political commentator who said, when Obama was elected, “hey, a bunch of people didn’t know where the parties stood on racial equality & this is going to tip them off.” It’s hard to put yourself in the headspace of not knowing things.

Basically every open-ended survey or questionnaire finds this — just depthless ignorance about the very basics of US government and public life — but pundits strategically forget it when they want to ascribe some elaborate belief or intention to a voting result.

Or when they want to play populist and scold people who point out this baseline ignorance. “How dare you look down on hardworking heartland folks etc.”

Basically most punditry strikes me as equivalent to some ancient shaman squinting at chicken bones and finding patterns/truths.

Unquote.

Roberts then suggests reading an article by the MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes:

As several people have noted, this classic . . .  is one of the few deep dives into voter ignorance and its implications. Foundational reading for anyone interested in politics: “Decision Makers”.

I plan to read it.