Make no mistake about it, this country is in danger. According to FiveThirtyEight, somewhere around 70% of Republicans believe — without any actual evidence — that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump. The bigger problem is what this portends for the next presidential election. The Republican Party is actively eliminating their members who refused to overturn the election, including representatives like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, governors like Brian Kemp, and even state election officials like Brad Raffensperger.
The result is that if the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in the midterm election, or replace enough state officials with Trump toadies, they will definitely try to overturn the 2024 election. This is not hypothetical, since they already tried the same thing for the 2020 election, including in Congress, in the states, in the courts, with open insurrection, and of course in the right-wing media.
There have been so many occasions where, for one reason or another, the Party might have turned its back on Trump. The Ukraine situation. COVID-19 denial. Losing the election. The insurrection. Demanding fealty to the obvious, and destructive, lie that he actually won the election. And after each of these, the party leaders keep following right along, like they are wearing a collar and Trump is holding the leash. Even people like former Speaker John Boehner, who wrote extensively about all the harm Trump has done to the party, still vote for him.
What that means is that there is no line left that we are willing to say, with confidence, that the current iteration of the Republican Party will not cross. One of the core tenets of representative government—indeed, the core tenet—is that you take your best shot during an election and, whatever happens, you respect the result. That doesn’t mean you have to like the result, and that doesn’t mean you can’t complain about it, but you do have to respect it. Most Republicans appear to have already abandoned that idea, and under that circumstance, it is entirely plausible that the Republicans in Congress, and in particular those in the House, might attempt a coup like this.
That said, we will now repeat something that we have said many times, namely that governance rests on the consent of the governed. There is absolutely no chance that if the election is stolen like this, the citizenry will shrug and say “well, that’s the way it goes.” No, at that point the country would be on the cusp of Civil War v2.0.
Analogies to the American Civil War are no exaggeration. After all, Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, and immediately seven southern states seceded. Back then, the US could possibly have avoided a war by letting them leave, but there is no analogous area of the country where all the pro-Trump states are clustered, and no single issue like slavery at stake.
Heather Cox Richardson makes this argument even stronger:
Trump is systematically going after leading members of the Republican Party, determined to remake it into his own organization. Several former senior White House officials told Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post that “[t]he defeated ex-president is propelled primarily by a thirst for retribution, an insatiable quest for the spotlight and a desire to establish and maintain total dominance and control over the Republican base.” Republican strategist Brendan Buck noted that Trump seems to relish fighting, rather than victory to achieve an end. “Usually,” Buck said, “a fight is the means to an end, but in this case fighting is the end.”
The Republicans are consolidating their control over the machinery of government in a way that indicates they intend to control the country regardless of what Americans actually want, putting Trump and his organization back in charge.
Indeed, the majority of Republicans are following in lockstep with Trump, and are willing to do anything to hurt Joe Biden and the Democrats, even if it means crippling the economy, causing the pandemic to get worse (killing people), lying, or committing treason. They have no positive strategy.
The result is not a democracy nor even a republic.