The impetus for the GOP’s growing aversion to democracy is clear: It has lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections. That is a streak of futility unmatched in U.S. history. To maintain power — and avert the Venezuela-style apocalypse that many conservatives fear will result from Democratic dominance — the GOP must rely on institutions such as the electoral college and the Senate that give outsize weight to red states. That, in turn, has allowed Republicans to fill the federal courts with judges who will perpetuate their policy preferences for decades to come.
The problem is being exacerbated by the tendency of the U.S. population to cluster in a handful of large states that are either already blue (California, New York) or moving that way (Georgia, North Carolina). “By 2040,” as my colleague Philip Bump noted, “the 15 most populous states will be home to 67 percent of the U.S. population and represented by 30 percent of the Senate.”
The Republican Party could respond — and still may — by retooling its message to appeal to a more diverse electorate. But so far the GOP has instead moved in a more populist direction that leaves it increasingly incapable of governing (the past two Republican presidencies ended in economic meltdowns) or appealing to most voters outside its core constituency of Whites without college degrees.
Even before Trump came along, Republicans had shown their willingness to use any means necessary to exercise power. Look at the bare-knuckle efforts in the 2000 election — from the “Brooks Brothers Riot” to a blatantly political Supreme Court decision — to stop the Florida recount and avert a possible Al Gore victory. Or look at the refusal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky) to give a vote to President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016 on the grounds that it was an election year, while rushing through the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee just days before the 2020 election.
Trump’s ascent turbocharged the Republican revolt against democracy. He employed a “declaration of emergency” to spend money on a border wall that Congress hadn’t funded. He used military aid in an attempt to buy Ukraine’s political help. He abused his position for personal financial gain. He politicized the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, the State Department, the intelligence community — even the National Weather Service. He demonized the press as the “enemy of the people,” accused his opponents of treason and sent security forces to attack peaceful protesters. He jettisoned any Republican commitment to principle and instead produced a party platform whose only tenet is fealty to the supreme leader and his nebulous agenda.
One recent poll found that 41 percent of Republicans who have heard of QAnon — the lunatic cult that claims that Trump’s opponents are blood-drinking, child-molesting Satanists — say it’s a good thing. Another recent poll found that 68 percent of Republicans say the presidential election was rigged, even though Trump’s lawyers haven’t presented any evidence of fraud in court.
The GOP, in short, is increasingly in thrall of conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists. That will limit its appeal among more moderate, to say nothing of liberal, voters. So instead it has turned to suppressing minority votes — and now trying to throw votes out even after they have been cast in heavily minority cities such as Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Those ploys will fail. But what happens in the future?
Viktor Orban did not demolish Hungarian democracy during his first stint as prime minister, from 1998 to 2002. He did so after assuming office for a second time in 2010. That is an ominous precedent, considering that Trump is signaling his desire to run again in 2024. If Trump does stage a comeback, it’s a safe bet that Republican grandees will do nothing to check his authoritarian impulses.
Much of the GOP has already decided that achieving its policy preferences is more important than preserving America’s democracy. Some Republicans are even willing to admit it in public. Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes tweeted on Friday: “A key reason to certify Trump’s win: we cannot count on Senators, even GOP ones, to hold the line on amnesty for illegal migrants.” So it’s worth overturning the election results to prevent a bipartisan compromise on immigration? A disturbingly large number of Trumpites would no doubt agree.
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