Tuesday, June 08, 2021


Ross Douthat thinks a crisis of democracy is possible in America, but not inevitable. He says "it’s worth taking alarmist scenarios seriously," but he sees evidence that democracy isn't doomed.
... at the state level, the Republican-backed bills that purport to fight voter fraud are obviously partially sops to conservative paranoia — but as such, they’re designed to head off cries of fraud, claims of ballots shipped in from China or conjured up in Italy.
Does Douthat seriously believe this? Does he really believe that right-wingers will respond to Democratic wins in, say, Georgia or Texas by saying, "Two years ago, I would have assumed the Democrats won by fraud, but we tightened up all the laws and they beat us anyway, so I guess they won fair and square"? That's preposterous. Right-wing laws are like heroin -- they kill the craving for more of the same only temporarily. Even after a big tax cut under a Republican president, right-wingers will never say that tax rates are fine where they are; it's always necessary for them to go lower. No matter how abortion is restricted, there are always more restrictions that need to be imposed. No matter how much gun laws are loosened up, they can always be made looser.

If Raphael Warnock wins reelection to the Senate, or Stacey Abrams wins the governorship, or if either these candidates merely appears to be competitive as the votes are being counted, that will be all the proof needed that Republicans failed to do enough to prevent fraudulent Democratic votes from being recorded. (To Republicans, "fraudulent Democratic votes" is redundant, of course.)

Douthat writes:
Undoubtedly a lot of Republican primary candidates will run on Trump-was-robbed themes in the next election cycle; undoubtedly a few more Marjorie Taylor Greene-ish and Matt Gaetzian figures will rise in 2022. But the key question is whether Trump and his allies will be able to consistently punish, not just a lightning rod like [Georgia secretary of state Brad] Raffensperger or the scattering of House Republicans who voted for impeachment, but the much larger number of G.O.P. officials who doomed the #StopTheSteal campaign through mere inaction — starting with Republican statehouse leaders in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona and moving outward through the ranks from there.
Douthat's argument is that most Republicans didn't assist Trump in his efforts to steal the election in 2020, and it's quite possible they won't in 2024, because only a few high-profile Republicans are on a MAGA hit list.

But let's look at one of those "Republican statehouse leaders," Michigan's Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey. He didn't try to help Trump steal the election, even after visiting the White House; a couple of weeks after that visit, he said, "We have not received evidence of fraud on a scale that would change the outcome in Michigan."

He said that in December. By February, he was describing the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as "a hoax" and "staged." Shortly afterward, he told a radio interviewer that “Too many dead people voted" in Michigan in 2020 "and there was too much confusion at absentee counting boards," although he still conceded that Trump Biden won legitimately.

Douthat would argue that Shirkey is making Trumpist noises without doing anything concrete to try to alter the 2020 results or the results of future elections. But in 2022, the pressure will be on these folks in real time, not weeks or months later. The MAGA extremists won't initiate "audits" long after the certification process ends, but well before. They'll proclaim that they see evidence of fraud as soon as early voting starts -- and election officials who want to continue winning GOP votes will have to start responding before Election Day.

And also note that future GOP vote suppression will be like past GOP vote suppression, but on steroids -- even more polling place closures, even more voter roll purges, even more (and more aggressive) challenges by partisan poll watchers. The goal of these efforts will be to ensure that Democrats never develop a lead in any key race. There'll be outrage if Republicans try to reverse what every news organization describes as a Democratic victory, but if enough Democratic votes are never cast, or are deemed fraudulent on or before Election Day, many people won't consider it theft.

Maybe Douthat is right and this isn't inevitable. But it seems crazy to expect the guardrails to hold.


UPDATE: Responding to Douthat's claim that there's a great deal of resistance to "stop the steal" talk among Republican members of Congress, Nate Cohn writes:

He's right, and I think it's quite possible that this will be a problem in several key states. It won't be an isolated event.

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