Democracy under threat– Leonhardt edition

Of course, if I had read Leonhardt this morning before posting my take on democracy, I could’ve just incorporated his take.  But, it’s really good, so here’s most of it:

But American politics today is not really normal. It may instead be in the midst of a radical shift away from the democratic rules and traditions that have guided the country for a very long time.

An anti-democratic movement, inspired by Donald Trump but much larger than him, is making significant progress, as my colleague Charles Homans has reported. In the states that decide modern presidential elections, this movement has already changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. It has justified the changes with blatantly false statements claiming that Biden did not really win the 2020 election.

The movement has encountered surprisingly little opposition. Most leading Republican politicians have either looked the other way or supported the anti-democratic movement. In the House, Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from a leadership position because she called out Trump’s lies.

The pushback within the Republican Party has been so weak that about 60 percent of Republican adults now tell pollsters that they believe the 2020 election was stolen — a view that’s simply wrong.

Most Democratic officials, for their part, have been focused on issues other than election security, like Covid-19 and the economy. It’s true that congressional Democrats have tried to pass a new voting rights bill, only to be stymied by Republican opposition and the filibuster. But these Democratic efforts have been sprawling and unfocused. They have included proposals — on voter-ID rules and mail-in ballots, for example — that are almost certainly less important than a federal law to block the overturning of elections, as The Times’s Nate Cohn has explained.

All of which has created a remarkable possibility: In the 2024 presidential election, Republican officials in at least one state may overturn a legitimate election result, citing fraud that does not exist, and award the state’s electoral votes to the Republican nominee. Trump tried to use this tactic in 2020, but local officials rebuffed him.

Since then, his supporters have launched a campaign — with the Orwellian name “Stop the Steal” — to ensure success next time. Steve Bannon has played a central role, using his podcast to encourage Trump supporters to take over positions in election administration, ProPublica has explained.

“This is a five-alarm fire,” Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, who presided over the 2020 vote count there, told The 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.” [emphasis mine]

Barton Gellman, who wrote a recent Atlantic magazine article about the movement, told Terry Gross of NPR last week, “This is, I believe, a democratic emergency, and that without very strong and systematic pushback from protectors of democracy, we’re going to lose something that we can’t afford to lose about the way we run elections.”

Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist, notes that the movement is bigger than Trump. “I think things have now moved to the point that many Republican Party officials and elected officeholders are self-starters,” she told Thomas Edsall of Times Opinion.


In plain sight

The main battlegrounds are swing states where Republicans control the state legislature, like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Republicans control these legislatures because of both gerrymandered districts and Democratic weakness outside of major metro areas. (One way Democrats can push back against the anti-democratic movement: Make a bigger effort to win working-class votes.) The Constitution lets state legislatures set the rules for choosing presidential electors.

“None of this is happening behind closed doors,” Jamelle Bouie, a Times columnist, recently wrote. “We are headed for a crisis of some sort. When it comes, we can be shocked that it is actually happening, but we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Here is an overview of recent developments:

Arizona. Republican legislators have passed a law taking away authority over election lawsuits from the secretary of state, who’s now a Democrat, and giving it to the attorney general, a Republican. Legislators are debating another bill that would allow them to revoke election certification “by majority vote at any time before the presidential inauguration.”

Georgia. Last year, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, helped stop Trump’s attempts to reverse the result. State legislators in Georgia have since weakened his powers, and a Trump-backed candidate is running to replace Raffensperger next year. Republicans have also passed a law that gives a commission they control the power to remove local election officials.

Michigan. Kristina Karamo, a Trump-endorsed candidate who has repeated the lie that the 2020 elections were fraudulent, is running for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections. (Republican candidates are running on similar messages in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere, according to ABC News.)

Pennsylvania. Republicans are trying to amend the state’s Constitution to make the secretary of state an elected position, rather than one that the governor appoints. Pennsylvania is also one of the states where Trump allies — like Stephen Lindemuth, who attended the Jan. 6 rally that turned into an attack on Congress — have won local races to oversee elections.

Wisconsin. Senator Ron Johnson is urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to take full control of federal elections. Doing so could remove the governor, currently a Democrat, from the process, and weaken the bipartisan state elections commission.

This is not good.

Democracy in the balance

I just listened to this terrific Fresh Air interview with Barton Gellman about his new Atlantic story on Republican efforts to undermine democracy.  Good God was this scary and concerning. On some level I’ve known this is going on, but, damn to just have the case laid out for how Republicans are systematically working to undermine the integrity of elections.  They’ve seen where they failed in 2020 (e.g., people like Brad Raffensberger in Georgia having integrity) and are specifically working to change those points.  I haven’t had a chance to read all of the article yet, but based on the interview, fair to say it’s an absolute must-read.  Here’s the intro:

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 Donald Trump’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, Trump 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, Donald Trump 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, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power.

Meanwhile, Noah Smith had an interview with Greg Sargent on this general topic as well and sums up the keys:

My key takeaways were:

  • Trump and his allies are trying to install people favorable to the idea of election denial (refusal to certify, etc.) in key positions in Republican-controlled states.

  • U.S. law is fairly vague on how electoral votes are counted, including key details like the role of the Vice President. Amending the Electoral Count Act could fix this procedural ambiguity and lessen the risk of a contested election in 2024. There are also other bills in Congress trying to address this.

  • Manchin might be willing to support a filibuster carve-out to address electoral counting issues.

  • Any attempts by GOP-controlled states to send slates of “fake” electors to Congress will be contested at the state level, but the outcome might also depend on who controls Congress and what the rules for counting the electors are.

  • Many Republicans probably don’t want to subvert the electoral process or have their party controlled by Trump, but Trump’s ability to send primary challengers up against them can cow them into going along.

  • Some Republicans like Glenn Youngkin are winning elections by appeasing movement conservatives without kowtowing to Trump. If these people can prove that Republicans can win without subverting democracy, it might make the party more willing to resist Trump.

  • Progressives aren’t focusing enough on the danger of election denial/subversion in 2024; instead, they’re mainly focused on voting access and on gerrymandering.

  • The focus on voting access (e.g. the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) is morally important for the long term, but in the short term it probably doesn’t affect turnout that much, and even in the long term it might help Republicans instead of Democrats.

  • Gerrymandering is a real problem for Democrats, but so far, state-level independent commissions in blue states have actually hurt the Dems’ electoral chances by preventing them from gerrymandering in retaliation. Meanwhile, red states are not going to do anything about gerrymandering.

In other words, progressives need to reprioritize. They need to put most or all of their focus on preventing Trump from succeeding in 2024 where he failed in 2020. And they should probably quietly look for assistance from those Republicans who have no desire to turn their party into a movement for Trumpist insurrection. Otherwise we could stumble into a catastrophe in just a few years.

Yep.  Honestly, nothing in politics is more important right now.  Honestly, I should be writing more about this than Covid (alas, the heart wants what it wants). On some level we’re all just quite of sitting by hooping this doesn’t go as bad as it very clearly could.  Saw a great tweet the other day along the lines of… turns out democracy doesn’t die in darkness, but in broad daylight.  

To some degree, we can just say, “well, the American people just doesn’t care enough about this.”  But, you know what the American people care about? What politicians of their party and the media tell them to care about.  So, the media needs to be more insistent on the threats to our democracy. But, really, Democratic politicians need to take leadership in this.  If Democratic politicians talk compellingly about this and the public still doesn’t care, okay, blame the public.  But our political leaders need to treat this with the urgency it demands. 

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