Here’s the Craven GOP Plan For Ending Democracy
Donald Trump and the Republican Party are working to end democracy, what (ironically) the Founders called “a republican form of government,” here in the United States.
One of the hottest topics in the news today is Barton Gellman’s article in The Atlantic that posits an overthrow of the American political system by a determined group of neofascist Republicans (my phrase, not his) intent on taking full control of the American government by corrupting the election of 2024. It’s a brilliant article and everybody should read it.
This is not a new idea, however. Trump tried it in January of this year, and some of us wrote before the 2020 election warning that he was planning just that (as had Gelman in September 2020). I’d been tipped off in February, 2020 by a Republican friend then living in DC that it was coming, based on “the 1876 strategy,” and, on March 13, 2020 I published an article on Alternet laying out exactly what Trump was going to do and how.
It didn’t require prescience. The GOP had done it before, back in the election of 1876 when Democrat Samuel Tilden won both the electoral college and the popular vote, but because four states submitted dueling slates of electors, the election got thrown to the House of Representatives where the majority Republicans put GOP candidate Rutherford B. Hayes in as president.
Republicans in Florida had also proposed doing the same thing after the near-tie in the 2000 election in that state, trying to call the state legislature into special session to award the state’s electoral votes to George W. Bush if it looked like the Florida Supreme Court-mandated recount of the state was going Al Gore’s way.
Fully twenty-one years before Trump tried the same trick, David Barstow and Somini Sengupta wrote for the New York Times on November 28, 2000 that Jeb and George W. Bush were discussing it:
“The president of Florida’s Senate said today that Gov. Jeb Bush had indicated his willingness to sign special legislation intended to award Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes to his brother Gov. George W. Bush of Texas even as the election results were being contested.”
Barstow and Sengupta added:
“[T]alk of a special legislative session continued unabated here today as local Republicans fretted about the possibility that the justices on the Florida Supreme Court, all appointed by Democrats, might uphold the challenge by Vice President Al Gore [for a statewide recount], ultimately awarding him the state’s electoral votes.”
As I wrote eight months before the 2020 election, predicting that Trump would do what Bush considered trying twenty years earlier:
Thus, through simple brute force, if Trump, Fox News and Limbaugh, et al, were to loudly claim that there was “voter fraud” in any or all of those states and succeed in casting doubts about the integrity of an election that would put a Democrat in the White House, the manufactured conflict could be resolved [in the House] and the election given to Trump by one or more state legislatures as Florida threatened to do in 2000.
This has been a long time coming.
Conservatives, inflamed by the 1954 Brown v Board decision ending segregated public schools, have argued since that era that racial integration, regulation of corporate polluting, and taxing the morbidly rich are all aspects of an anti-American form of creeping “socialism” infecting our body politic.
After John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in a tight election, Republicans began a drumbeat of propaganda suggesting that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had rigged manual voting machines for Kennedy and then tossed them in the Chicago River to cover up his crime. There’s no evidence of that, and even if Illinois had gone for Nixon the election would still have gone to Kennedy (Texas, it turns out, was the decisive state), but to this day most Republicans believe that “voter fraud” origin story.
In 1971, Lewis Powell wrote his infamous memo urging businesses and the morbidly rich to jump into politics to rescue “the American free enterprise system” from creeping socialism: he specifically identified Ralph Nader and his consumer movement as the point of the spear that could bring down our country.
The next year Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court, which then went on to explicitly legalize political corruption and bribery in their Buckley v Valeo and Boston v Bellotti decisions (Powell wrote the opinion in the latter), and later doubled-down on “money isn’t a bribe, it’s ‘free speech’” and “corporations are people, so they can participate in electioneering, too” in their 2010 Citizens United debacle.
Republicans are so convinced that their cause is righteous and “socialism” is so dangerous to America that Ronald Reagan’s campaign apparently used that as justification for cutting a deal with Iran to hold the hostages in 1980, destroying Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.
Five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court similarly overturned the Florida Supreme Court-mandated recount of the 2000 vote because, as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
“The counting of votes … does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.”
Between gerrymandering and the Senate being organized in a way that lets Senators representing about a quarter of the country’s voters block any meaningful legislation, America has only a tenuous hold on democracy.
In multiple states, most conspicuously Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a majority of voters statewide vote for Democrats but Republicans nonetheless control the state legislatures and congressional delegations.
And in the Senate, as Senator Angus King noted, 41 senators who represent only 24 percent of Americans can block anything they want.
But that’s just the beginning. Trump, like Florida Republicans nearly tried in 2000, is working to rig the states’ electoral systems so no matter how many Americans vote for his opponent in 2024, he still becomes president.
Our media continues to treat the threat of Trump, the rightwing billionaires helping him, and his toadies in the GOP as a singular and unique event that must be stopped before 2024.
It is neither singular nor unique. Republicans have done it before and, unless they are stopped now, will try it again and again until they finally destroy any last remnant of meaningful resistance.
They’re laying the groundwork in every state. Reporters for The Salt Lake Tribune just discovered an effort Utah, and it’s an alarming read.
At the moment, our best hope to make America a republic where the will of the majority of the voters is recognized is to update our nation’s election laws to fulfill the guarantee of Article 4 of the Constitution that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”
There are three pieces of voting rights legislation that have all passed the House of Representatives and are now being filibustered by Republicans in the Senate that, collectively, would accomplish this.
If President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Schumer take this seriously enough to do whatever is necessary to put them into law, it may save our form of government from destruction.
This may be our last chance to avoid Ben Franklin’s warning that we have “a republic, if you can keep it.”
Ironically, it may also be our best chance to revive democracy in America and, by example, around the world.