Absent an overwhelming mobilization by Democrats, Republicans have a good chance of winning the House in 2022. Redistricting alone will probably give them several new seats. They could win the Senate as well. If Biden or another Democrat prevails in 2024, a House run by Kevin McCarthy, the craven minority leader who helped push Cheney out, seems likely to collaborate in right-wing schemes to change the result.
Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election revealed how much our democracy depends on officials at all levels of government acting honorably. Republicans on state boards of election, like Aaron Van Langevelde in Michigan, had to certify the results correctly. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had to resist Trump’s entreaties to “find” enough missing votes to put him over the top. Republican state legislatures had to refuse Trump campaign pressure to substitute their own slate of electors for those chosen by the people. Congress had to do its job in the face of mob violence and count the Electoral College votes. Trump’s rolling coup attempt didn’t succeed, but it did reveal multiple points at which our system can fail.
Since the election, Republicans, driven by the lie that is now their party’s central ideology, have systematically attacked the safeguards that protected the last election. They have sent the message that vigorous defense of democracy is incompatible with a career in Republican politics. (Besides losing her leadership role, Cheney could easily lose her House seat.) Michigan Republicans declined to renominate Van Langevelde to the Board of State Canvassers. Raffensperger will most likely face a tough primary challenge in 2022. As Politico reported, in the next election, there will be secretary of state races in five of the 10 closest battleground states. Republican candidates for those offices will have an incentive to pretend to believe that a great injustice was done to Trump in 2020, and pledge to help rectify it.
Republicans in states like Arizona have proposed laws that would allow state legislatures to override the popular vote and choose their own electors. Right now, these bills have little chance of passing, but other measures to involve state legislatures in vote counting and election certification are being enacted. Georgia’s new voting law, for example, gives the legislature the power to choose the head of the State Election Board — a position formerly held by the secretary of state. The board, in turn, will be invested with the power to investigate and replace local election officials.
Think about what 2020 would have been like if Trump loyalists had controlled the local and state level counting and certification process. “Raffensperger did a tremendous job communicating throughout the vote-counting process his confidence in the processes, his confidence in the results,” said Jess Marsden, another lawyer for Protect Democracy who researches state laws. “You could imagine that a different person in that role could have very much clouded the public perception of the vote-counting process, in a way that would have validated later efforts by legislators to undo the certification to the extent that state law allows.”
The be-very-complacent-about-Trump’s-authoritarianism crowd likes to dismiss Republican authoritarianism are mere concern about “norms.” But as Julia Azari wrote the issue here isn’t “norms” in an abstract sense but commitment to democratic values. Even a brilliantly conceived set of formal rules is vulnerable to powerful actors who reject democracy in principle, and to put it mildly American election rules are far from brilliantly conceived.