Just about any poll you look at these days suggests that former president Donald Trump would be a viable contender — and possibly even a slight favorite — should he decide to seek his old job in 2024. Voters have rosy memories of a time with less inflation and lower gasoline prices. The coronavirus, while not gone, appears to be reaching an endemic stage.
But the reality of having a megalomaniac in the White House — and how close Mr. Trump brought the democratic system to the precipice — was shown in horrifyingly vivid detail on Tuesday, when Cassidy Hutchinson, a top Trump White House aide, appeared under oath before the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack in which Trump supporters attempted to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. Her account of the president’s behavior in the days leading up to and during that violent assault on Congress, as it went about its constitutional duty of counting electoral votes, will stand in history as some of the most damning testimony ever heard about any U.S. leader.
Mr. Trump not only knew his supporters were armed, she said, but also demanded that magnetometers be removed from his rally at the Ellipse, where he urged them to descend upon the Capitol. She explained how he had wanted to join them there, and was so infuriated when told he couldn’t that he attempted to grab the wheel of the presidential limousine and lunged at the agent who headed his Secret Service detail. As the rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” Mr. Trump commented that his vice president, who had refused to bend under pressure to illegally throw out electoral ballots, deserved to be targeted, according to what Ms. Hutchinson said she heard from people who were present when the president expressed that sentiment.
Sadly, it may well be that not enough Americans are paying attention to what is being revealed in these hearings. Those within the Republican base remain firmly in the thrall of Mr. Trump and the baseless conspiracy theories he sells them, while GOP elected officials are fearful of doing anything to turn his ire on them. Voters might want to send a message about their dissatisfaction with the status quo. But inflation will pass, wages will rise, and supply chains will adapt. The consequences of re-empowering an unhinged personality, after he has faced no serious consequences for literally trying to overthrow the democratic order, would last forever.
Politicians Americans elect in 2022 will be in place to enable — or stop — another coup attempt in 2024. Many Republican candidates have signaled their willingness to abet more sedition.
The nation needs a broad coalition built around a single interest: protecting democracy. That means Democrats must look beyond ideological purity tests and focus on offering an agenda with the broadest possible appeal; those Republicans of goodwill who still remain must find the political courage to buck the radical election deniers in their ranks and make their chief priority the promotion of pro-democracy candidates and policies. That starts with passing critical election reforms through the Senate and bolstering the democratic system against another Trumpian attack.
Americans must snap out of their complacency. The stakes are higher — and time is shorter — than they realize.