The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Meet the Republicans who want to stop the next attempt to steal an election

Trump supporters breach the Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

As we hit the six-month anniversary of Jan. 6, the GOP’s radicalization against democracy continues to hurtle forward. And very few prominent Republicans will stand athwart that radicalization and yell, “Stop!”

House Republicans are now all but certain to try to sabotage the select committee examining the insurrection. GOP leaders still haven’t punished a far-right congressman for claiming Jan. 6 was an FBI plot. GOP candidates in the 2022 elections are actively campaigning on the lie that Donald Trump’s reelection loss was illegitimate. GOP voter suppression laws are getting worse.

A group of Never Trump Republicans is now attempting to step into this breach by launching a new campaign to hold Republicans accountable for the party’s widespread voter suppression and election subversion efforts. The group’s name: Republicans for Voting Rights.

As such, the campaign will also champion efforts to expand voting access and structurally protect democracy on multiple fronts. That’s not a widely held position among contemporary Republicans, to put it mildly.

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Which raises a question: Is it possible to meaningfully defend voting rights — and to defend the integrity of Trump’s loss as pivotal to the larger mission of protecting democracy — while remaining a member in good standing of today’s GOP?

Some Republicans did defend the legitimacy of Trump’s loss and continue to advocate for the GOP to refrain from casting doubt on it. But they have faced appalling censure, and the new group hopes to help clear more space for such civic virtue going forward.

“We need people like that in the party,” Amanda Carpenter, a prominent Never Trump commentator and director of Republicans for Voting Rights, told me. “We’re better for it.”

The new group will help shed light on a big unknown about Never Trump Republicans’ condemnation of Trump’s attacks on democracy. After Trump, would they permanently break with the GOP embrace of voter suppression and other anti-democratic tactics?

The group seems to answer with a clear yes. They will launch new ads on cable that proclaim: “Current Republican efforts to restrict voting undermine democracy and betray America’s deepest values.”

High turnout should be celebrated

As Carpenter tells me, the group’s agenda will be “extremely supportive” of expansions of voting that helped ensure the 2020 election was a high turnout one amid exceptionally challenging conditions.

That election, Carpenter says, showed that “when you give people more voting options, more people vote. That is something that should be celebrated.”

“But unfortunately, a lot of people in the existing Republican Party looked at the 2020 election” and decided they “just need to clamp down on voting,” Carpenter told me.

Their agenda will support expansions of no-excuse vote-by-mail, including increased drop boxes. As a starting point, the group backs Sen. Joe Manchin III’s (D-W.Va.) proposal: It includes automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, curbs on partisan gerrymandering and federal preclearance for voting rules changes that threaten suppression.

That’s a robust voting rights agenda in the context of today’s GOP. Indeed, it’s doubtful that leading Trump critics such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) would go this far.

Indeed, what’s striking is how few Republicans will do so. As the group’s website details, it will be chaired by Bill Kristol and includes officials such as former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele, former GOP congressman Mickey Edwards and GOP strategist Sarah Longwell. Those are big names, but how many others will advocate for these positions?

Against election subversion

Importantly, the group also has an agenda against election subversion. It will oppose sham audits and oppose efforts by GOP legislators to weaken secretaries of state and assert control over election boards for partisan purposes.

Those offices have powers that can facilitate voting and maintain election integrity, which is exactly what some of these state-level Republicans want to cripple while making it easier for themselves to sow doubt about legitimate election losses.

The group will also call for revisions to the Electoral Count Act, which could help avert a 2024 scenario in which a GOP legislature tries to help tip a presidential election by sending rogue electors to Congress in defiance of their state’s popular vote.

One such reform might be to require far more than just one senator and representative to object to a slate of electors and force a congressional vote on them. Another might be to tighten up evidentiary requirements backing up such objections. Still another might require two-thirds of Congress to vote to overturn electors.

On Jan. 6, a few Republicans objecting based on fictions forced a congressional vote on President Biden’s electors, leading to 147 House Republicans voting to overturn them. In a much closer election decided in one state, the pressure on a GOP state legislature to send rogue electors, and on Republicans in Congress to ratify them, could be more intense.

All of which raises another question. Shouldn’t principled Republicans who took great abuse for standing up for Trump’s loss, and for rejecting his pressure to overturn it at various levels of government, want such reforms to protect themselves — by ensuring that this pressure is never duplicated?

“It is only getting worse,” Olivia Troye, a director of the group and an adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence, told me. “There should be structural protections in the system so we prevent this from happening again.”