Americans must choose between a future of authoritarian Trumpism or preserving democracy


An election is “only fair if we won” is the mantra of the Party of Trump. Remember the close elections we had here in Arizona in 2018 in which Democrats won statewide seats, including a Senate seat, for the first time in years?

President Trump and Republicans in Arizona and nationally stoked claims of deliberate election fraud with no evidence. Trump, Republicans call vote count into question amid tight McSally-Sinema race for Senate.

Prominent Republicans and Democrats with knowledge of the election system in Arizona dismissed the claims of wrongdoing and scolded naysayers for perpetuating fraud concerns with no evidence. Despite rampant claims, there is no evidence of voter fraud in Arizona.

On Tuesday, there was a close election for governor in Kentucky, in which Democrat Andy Beshear won. Incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede and is now demanding a recanvass of the votes and an investigation into voting “irregularities.” Bevin has refused to provide details of his claim.

On Wednesday, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers raised the prospect that his institution, not the voters, could determine the outcome of the race. Election law expert Richard Hasen explains How Matt Bevin Could Steal the Kentucky Governor’s Election:

[H]ere’s where things can get weird. Kentucky has a set of rules to resolve contested elections, but those rules do not apply to a governor’s race. Instead, the state constitution provides that “Contested elections for Governor and Lieutenant Governor shall be determined by both Houses of the General Assembly, according to such regulations as may be established by law.” According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the last time the Legislature resolved a governor’s race under this procedure was 1899.

Note: Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has since said that Gov. Matt Bevin should concede his loss to Democrat Andy Beshear if next week’s recanvass doesn’t significantly change the vote totals. “It’s time to call it quits and go home, say he had a good four years and congratulate Gov.-elect Beshear,” Stivers said in a brief Friday interview at the Capitol. Senate president says Bevin should concede election if recanvass doesn’t alter vote totals.

But before Stivers’ change of position, Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli “Chem Trails” Ward decided to weigh in on the Kentucky results, with her authoritarian insights. Steve Benen reports, When Republicans’ hostility toward democracy gets overt:

After Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D) narrowly won in Kentucky this week, Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, published a tweet featuring images of the Bluegrass State that were similar to Trump’s national map, with much of Beshear’s support concentrated in smaller geographic areas with larger populations.

For Ward, this pointed to a problem in need of a solution – such as a state-based electoral college. It didn’t take long for the Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts to note the problem.

Republicans, take heart. Arizona state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward has a truly genius idea for the party’s next move in light of this week’s election losses in three states.

While some Republicans are warning that the results in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky should serve as a wake-up call, Ward has a different vision for how to stop the bleeding.

It’s simple, really: just cut back on democracy.

Quite right. As the chair of the Arizona GOP sees it, if a Democrat wins an election, the proper response is to explore ways to dilute the electoral power of areas where there are more voters. That way, Republican candidates can win – whether voters like it or not.

A CNN analysis noted in response, “The problem with Ward’s argument is, well, it’s dumb. Very dumb.”

That’s more than fair under the circumstances. But it’s arguably incomplete, because the idea that American voters shouldn’t decide the outcome of American elections is as pernicious as it is foolhardy.

As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it yesterday, in response to Ward, “A widely held Republican belief about democracy in 2019, held by both elite and rank and file, is that the GOP should not be denied power simply because a majority of the electorate does not want them to wield it.”

If we were simply talking about an unfortunate tweet from a Republican operative in Arizona, it’d be easier to overlook the incident as trivia.

But Ward’s argument is part of a much larger mosaic. There are reports out of Kentucky, for example, exploring whether and how Matt Bevin (R) can remain as governor, despite receiving fewer votes. This comes on the heels of Republican lawmakers in several states balking at voter-approved ballot measures the GOP didn’t like.

That came on the heels of truly ridiculous Republican power-grabs in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, where voters had the audacity to support Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

That came on the heels of GOP officials in several states imposing heavily gerrymandered maps on the electorate after the 2010 midterms.

In too many instances, the party’s hostility toward democracy is overt. It’s unapologetic. It’s practically daring people to care.

Nancy LeTourneau at the Political Animal Blog recently opined about the possibility that Donald Trump will not concede an election loss and question the validity of the election — something he threatened to do in 2016 before his surprise win — creating a constitutional crisis. There are influencers on the right who are already encouraging this. Conservative Columnist Urges the GOP to Abandon the Rule of Law:

I have been hesitant to engage in the discussion about what will happen if Donald Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to concede. That is because merely talking about the possibility gives it some credibility that is explosively dangerous. In my mind, I’ve weighed that against the problem of ignoring the mounting evidence that it is actually a possibility. So I’ve never been completely comfortable with either option.

Writing at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway has finally convinced me that it is time to break the silence. We’ve now gone beyond Trump joking (?) about serving more than two terms, while some of his more rabid supporters talk about a new civil war. But before getting to what Hemingway wrote, it is helpful to note that in 2013, Ben Domenech announced the launch of the Federalist by comparing it to the original Time magazine.

Henry Luce’s magazine aimed to cover and distill the news of politics, economics, world affairs and culture for the nation’s rising middle class. It leaned to the political right, with a small-c conservatism equipped with a populist respect for the middle class reader outside of New York and Washington, and an abiding love for America at a time when snark and cynicism were not considered substitutes for smart analysis.

As conservative commentator Matt Lewis wrote, the publication that originally warned of the danger of electing Donald Trump, got co-opted.

The larger point here is that the Trump presidency is dangerous for conservatives, in part because it confuses things. It’s hard to justify your existence as a balance to the liberal media if you are spending most of your time criticizing a Republican president. If you’re not keen on defending the indefensible (which would be most of Trump’s rhetoric), you end up making a lot of tu quoque arguments that become hackneyed and predictable.

The Federalist, of course, is not uniquely guilty of this. “I think this is a virus that has affected at least 80 percent of the conservative media,” says John Ziegler.

The Federalist has now become home to conspiracy theories in defense of the president, like the one about former CIA Director John Brennan plotting with the intelligence services of our foreign allies to frame the Trump campaign. But this is a virus that hasn’t simply infected conservative media. Senator Lindsay Graham is a perfect example of a Republican politician that followed the same path.

I point all of this out because it appears that the Federalist is a pretty good representative of what the Republican establishment has become in the Trump era, which is why it is important to pay attention to what Hemingway recently wrote.

Her point is captured in the headline: “The GOP Has a Choice: Fight Anti-Trump Coup Effort or Surrender Government to Democrats.” What is most notable is that Hemingway isn’t counseling Republicans to gather evidence and identify witnesses to defend the president during the impeachment inquiry. Instead, she points to what has been labeled the “Brooks Brothers Riot” during the recount of the 2000 election in Florida. As Joe Conason wrote at the time, that was the moment Republicans abandoned the rule of law.

That lawless incident was the “bourgeois riot” of Nov. 22, incited on the airwaves by Rush Limbaugh and a Cuban-American radio station, and then praised on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal the next day by Paul Gigot (who also regularly appears on the very civilized and genteel PBS Newshour). According to Mr. Gigot, the white riot that stopped the manual counting of votes in Miami-Dade was sparked by a command to “shut it down” from Representative John Sweeney of upstate New York. In other words, an elected Republican Congressman-who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States-unashamedly incited a mob.

What Mr. Gigot omitted from his eyewitness account of that event showed up in the pages of The New York Times, which reported that “several people were trampled, punched or kicked” during a fracas outside the office of the county supervisor of elections that continued until sheriff’s deputies restored order. Republican thugs also assaulted the Democratic county chairman because they mistakenly believed that he had absconded with a single ballot.

That is what Hemingway is recommending when she urges the GOP to fight. But she’s not merely talking about fighting against the impeachment process.

What we are facing now is not partisan warfare…It represents a fatal threat to our system of government, and if this coup succeeds — whether through impeachment proceedings, or through an election that (if the last three years are any indication) the other side is clearly willing to steal by hook or by crook — the nation will cease to be a constitutional, democratic republic.

Hemingway just set the stage for Republicans to claim that the 2020 election was stolen if Trump loses, all without providing a shred of evidence. Her remedy is to abandon the rule of law and engage mobs in an effort to intimidate their opponents. To the extent that the Federalist is representative of “establishment Republicans,” it is impossible to capture the danger of what is being proposed.

During Trump’s presidency we’ve seen a lot of references to a “constitutional crisis.” But nothing we’ve witnessed so far compares to what Hemingway is suggesting. The true test of whether Majority Leader McConnell and his Republican colleagues in congress are able to put country over party will come if Trump and his supporters take her advice. Our democratic republic will be on the line, with no one but them to save it.

Thomas Pepinsky, professor of government at Cornell University and a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, recently warned at Politico that “Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order.” Why the Impeachment Fight Is Even Scarier Than You Think:

Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

And there are serious consequences: An emerging regime cleavage in the United States brought on by President Donald Trump and his defenders could signal that the American public might lose faith in the electoral process altogether or incentivize elected politicians to mount even more direct attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. Regime cleavages emerge only in governing systems in crisis, and our democracy is indeed in crisis.

* * *

[P]artisan disagreement over policy has turned into a partisan divide over political legitimacy. This cleavage shows up in discourse across the American political spectrum that labels one’s political opponents as un-American, disloyal, even treasonous. But it is clearest in the argument that it would amount to a “coup” to remove the president via conviction in the Senate, and thus that the regular functioning of the legislative branch would be illegitimate. These divisions are over the laws that set out plainly in our Constitution how the president can be subject to sanction.

* * *

Regime cleavages, by contrast, focus the electorate’s attention on the political system as a whole. Instead of seeking office to change the laws to obtain preferred policies, politicians who oppose the democratic order ignore the laws when necessary to achieve their political goals, and their supporters stand by or even endorse those means to their desired ends.

* * *

As Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have argued, democracy can manage political conflict only if citizens and politicians allow the institutions of democracy—elections, representative bodies, the judiciary—to do so. Parties and politicians must not be rewarded for refusing to adhere to laws and institutions.

* * *

Our regime cleavage has not yet hardened to the extent that it has in [other] countries, but if it does, it will not be possible to elect a president who can “end the mess in Washington” because both sides of the regime cleavage will argue that the other is illegitimate and undemocratic. Voters, understandably, will lose what faith they have left in the value of democracy itself. In the worst-case scenario, presidents and their supporters would be entirely unaccountable to Congress, while their opponents would reject the legitimacy of the presidency altogether.

Even worse: What if Trump refuses to acknowledge defeat by a Democratic opponent in 2020? What would happen in that case? Might the president’s supporters resort to violence? Might broad segments of the GOP simply refuse to recognize an elected Democratic executive as well?

Pepinsky concludes “If we fail to agree on and abide by our common democratic principles, our emerging regime cleavage will harden, and the future for American democracy will be bleak.

Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman answers Pepinsky’s hypotheticals: “The modern GOP just doesn’t consider it legitimate for Dems to hold power.” GOP lawmakers would rather ‘collude with foreign powers’ than see Democrats back in power:

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning that highlighted reporting in USA Today that Republicans in Kentucky are searching for ways to overturn the voting on Tuesday and hand the governorship back to ousted Matt Bevin, the New York Times columnist said the GOP no longer cares about what is right or legal.

“Seeing a lot of pieces about why GOP politicians are standing behind Trump even though they know he grotesquely abused power and betrayed US interests. Usually framed in terms of primary challenges, etc. But is this overthinking?” the columnist suggested.

Krugman then proposed an alternative theory, positing that there is nothing Republican lawmakers won’t defend because “the modern GOP just doesn’t consider it legitimate for Dems to hold power.”

“There’s a lot of evidence from state-level races that the modern GOP just doesn’t consider it legitimate for Dems to hold power, no matter what,” he wrote. “By this standard, doing whatever it takes to keep Ds out, even if it involves colluding with foreign powers.”

He then added, “And/or massively abusing the power of office is perfectly OK. In other words, no reason to believe that most Rs are really troubled by revelations about Trump’s actions. Dems are the enemy, and rule of law is just something they pretend to care about.”

Americans must choose between a future of authoritarian Trumpism or preserving democracy. Democracy itself is on the ballot.


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