The are times in history when it is crucial to take a step back and attempt to view what’s happening not in the vacuum of the present–with all its shifting considerations and interests–but in the vast expanse of the future, knowing that the actions we take today will have consequences that reverberate far past our short time here. In America, and all over the world, now is one of those times. The tumultuous world we are experiencing today will be studied by future students. What will they learn of this current generation? More importantly, how will they be impacted? Will they learn that we had the strength and courage to protect our democracy? Or will they learn that we were cowards that allowed despotic leaders to disintegrate our republic? Only we can decide.
Democracy Won, For Now
Many believe democracy is under attack by Donald Trump and a faction of the Republican Party leadership and voters. Democratic campaign strategies often center around this claim, but the threat to democratic rule in this country is far more than a Democratic talking point. It is real, it is tangible, and it is pressing. The movement is built to challenge rightful election results at every level of the process. It starts in Congress, the institution charged with approving slates of Electoral College votes. Having election deniers in Congress (there are projected to be 156 in the next House and 9 in the next Senate) could be the difference between a state’s electoral votes being accepted or rejected by the body.
Down to the statewide level, governors and secretaries of state are often charged with running elections and sending their state’s electoral results to Congress. Having election deniers in these positions can be the difference between officially sending electoral college results that reflect the popular vote in that state or results that do not. For example, after Trump lost in 2020, he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and pressured him to “find 11,780 votes,” enough to flip Georgia back to Trump. Thankfully, Raffensperger refused to comply with those illegal demands.
Many of these positions were up for grabs in the midterms. Donald Trump, in an attempt to strengthen his undemocratic movement, endorsed candidates for these positions that reflected his opinions about the 2020 election. He quickly showed his force in the party when many of his candidates won their primary elections, often defeating incumbents. The Republican establishment knew he was taking candidates too far to the right in competitive states, but could not deny that Trump had the support of Republican voters who gave him the nomination twice, put the election deniers on the general election ballot, supported or ignore his claims about 2020, and say that “No, Democrats are the real threat to democracy.” This must be understood. Trump’s power differs from people like Mitch McConnell’s. Trump is a populist (with a cult of personality that is frankly scary, one that I got swept up in in 2016), while McConnell derives his power from controlling institutions like the Senate and the Senate Leadership Fund.
Simply put, establishment Republican leadership was scared to challenge Trump because they are scared of the people that support Trump: they know nothing of statesmanship, nothing of democracy, nothing of integrity–just petty politics. The writing on the wall was that the party was changing in Trump’s direction, so instead of challenging the unsavory parts of Trumpism, they allowed it to fester to preserve their power. All this could have been avoided by impeaching and convicting Trump directly after January 6th, but the establishment failed to do so, worrying solely about themselves, ignoring the magnitude of that horrific, historic moment.
But oh how fast politics shift! In politics, you can say anything, do anything, be anything–but you must win elections. And Trump’s proving himself to be a loser. He lost in 2020. And many of his key endorsed candidates lost in these midterms–with the most important losses coming in battleground states. Many were direct threats to democracy, also they were just outright weird. Kari Lake (who admittedly, would’ve been an entertaining governor), Blake Masters, and Trump’s secretary of state pick lost in Arizona. His gubernatorial and secretary of state picks lost in Michigan. Doug Mastriano (who as governor would have appointed the secretary of state) and Dr. Oz (also fun) lost in Pennsylvania. Both his statewide picks lost in Minnesota. Trump’s picks often lost what otherwise would have been winnable races. Mitch McConnell cited “candidate quality” as the primary reason the party failed to take the Senate.
The Republican establishment may tolerate many things, but losing is not one of them. Especially an embarrassing loss like this, which came after Republican leadership and organizers were predicting a “red wave” fueled by voters’ concern about the economy and “kitchen table” issues–issues conveniently not concerned with January 6th or the future of democracy. What they didn’t realize was that voters did care about the riots at the capital, and they do care about protecting democracy from authoritarian politicians. The lackluster results in the midterms represented this clearly. Abortion was another issue fueling Democratic voter turnout, especially among women voters.
They now have undeniable evidence that attacking democratic institutions is not a winning electoral strategy, and they have used it to say it’s time for Trump to move over. Conservative media even came after him. The New York Post called him, “the most profound vote repellent in modern American history.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board referred to him as the party’s biggest loser. Even online commentators like Ben Shapiro criticized Trump’s recent moves.
Why support a dangerous man who can’t win elections when men like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis can take over the party, win landslide elections, and bring power back to Republicans? That’s the calculus happening within the party right now. Trump has announced re-election and attacked DeSantis, a desperate move designed to crowd out DeSantis early. DeSantis makes a compelling challenger: he is loved amongst the party’s voters like Trump.
The Far Right is By No Means Dead
Note that this opposition to Trump exists not because of his undemocratic tendencies and actions, but because of the unpopularity of those actions amongst middle-of-the-road voters who decide control of government institutions in the United States. For reference, Mitch McConnell said that Republican underperformance in the midterms was due to moderate voters’ perception that the “party was involved in chaos, negativity, excessive attacks.” Fortunately, the most important voters have decided to protect American democracy. But the movement to attack it has not died. In fact, in addition to Trump running for president, the movement gained seats in the House and Senate and won key races like JD Vance in Ohio, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Joe Lombardo in Nevada. Its congressional members even fought Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy for control of Congressional leadership.
The far right, with or without Trump, is in it for the long haul. They are organized and frustrated in Congress and party leadership. They have two potential presidential candidates that are the current favorites to win the party’s nomination. They have big money donors like Paypal founder and billionaire Peter Theil who single-handedly funded two Senate campaigns in Ohio and Arizona. A man who said that democracy is unworkable in America.
Their ideological and tangible political connections to organized militias should not–cannot–be ignored. January 6th was not an accident. It was not a fleeting moment in our nation’s history. It was the result of deep connections between the former President and far-right, often white supremacist militia groups and extreme supporters. This militia movement is armed, dangerous, and growing. With the militias, grassroots conservative activists like Stephen Bannon are organizing poll watchers to “adjudicate every [election] battle” in key states. In the midterms, this happened across the country in a manner we haven’t seen since Jim Crow when Black voters were systematically denied the ballot with the help of this tool. These poll watchers would be wise to remember that today’s Black people are not yesterday’s Black people. We have enjoyed the right to vote (mostly) for the past sixty years, and we intend to keep doing so—by any means necessary.
Conclusion: The Road to 2024
All these factors, the ingredients to topple democracy, are present. Cult of personality. Power. Money. Guns. Popular support. And a dash, or maybe a new wave, of racism. All these explosive elements are catapulting towards another critical juncture: 2024. Trump is back on the ballot and his people are ready to challenge another election, this time with four years of preparation. Democracy is once again on the ballot: we should vote like it is. We ought to be clear from the start that these midterms did not save democracy, they merely bought us a two-year lease on our republic. And for the next two years, we must not forget it in the hurricane of political issues. It is paramount, for none of the other issues matter if democracy is not secured. Stop letting Republicans dodge this issue: make them explain how they can support the constitution they purport to love while supporting or tolerating a man who so severely violated his oath to preserve, protect, and defend it.
Image Credits: Gallows V | Tyler Merbler | Flickr