In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law. Our next book, Divided We Stand, looks at the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection. Some Republican leaders -- and a measurable number of rank-and-file voters -- are open to violent rebellion, coups, and secession.
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? Trump 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 Trump 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 Trump supporters have meanwhile driven nonpartisan voting administrators to contemplate retirement.
[Democrats] regularly sound the alarm about the threat to democracy, but it is one of many alarms, along with those over the pandemic, child care, health care, criminal justice, guns, climate change. All of these deserve urgent attention, but they can’t be equally urgent. Biden has spent far less of his political capital on saving democracy than on passing an infrastructure bill. According to a Grinnell College poll in October, only 35 percent of Democrats believe that American democracy faces a “major threat.” The figure is twice as large for Republicans—whose belief in a major threat is the threat. Delusion about the danger prevails in both parties.
When Democrats talk about the threat, they focus on disenfranchisement, describing the new Republican election laws as “Jim Crow 2.0.” The language, by provocatively invoking that terrible history, highlights the racial bias in the laws. But the threat we face is a new one; it requires new thinking. Through most of American history, both parties, while excluding large numbers of Americans from the franchise, basically accepted the choice of the electorate—and that is no longer true. The supreme danger now is not that voters in urban counties will have a harder time finding a drop box, or that some states will shorten the mail-ballot application window. The danger is that the express will of the American people could be overthrown.