That sounds pretty bad, and Kagan does not let up from there. He warns, “It would be foolish to imagine that the violence of Jan. 6 was an aberration that will not be repeated,” and “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.” He warns that, “Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it.” Kagan closes his essay by urging constitutional Republicans and Democrats to ally and pass voting rights legislation to prevent Donald Trump and his Republican acolytes from doing competently in 2024 what they incompetently attempted to do in 2020.
Politico’s Jack Shafer takes a slightly more jaundiced view of Trump’s 2024 prospects. He does not disagree with Kagan about the possibility of 2024 getting very messy, but Shafer offers up a different interpretation. Trump sounds much more like his crazy 2020 variant than his insurgent 2016 variant. “The only person or party that attempts a coup d’etat is the one that cannot win by other means. Gearing up for a coup — which we can concede that Kagan gets right about Trump — is not a sign of political strength but one of political weakness.”
Trump has run twice and lost the popular vote, by 3 million in 2016 and 7 million in 2020. To Shafer, the appropriate choice is clear: “The wildness of Trump’s last-ditch maneuver, whatever it turns out to be, will require much from us, but above all it will oblige us to keep our cool and just vote.”
I normally would share Shafer’s calm, particularly because I agree with his read of the political situation. Trump’s efforts to delegitimate the 2020 results resulted in a few efforts by states to amend voting laws but caused him more political harm than help. In suggesting that elections are rigged, Trump demoralizes his own supporters from voting, as happened in Georgia on Jan. 5. And that was before Trump went full insurrectionist after Jan 6. Kagan is correct about Trump’s hardcore support, but the former president has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to expand his base more than he expands his opposition.
If anything, however, the waning of Trump’s electoral fortunes makes Kagan’s warning more and not less salient. As Shafer acknowledges, the less likely Trump is to win legitimately, the more he and his supporters will use any means necessary to try to get their way. Endgame strategies include a lot of risky hail-Mary gambits that look about as coherent and extralegal as a John Eastman memo. Or, to use the argot that Trumpists like, they will act as though they have already lost control of Flight 93 and storm the cockpit — even though they are the terrorists.
It is possible that Trump sees the handwriting on the wall in 2024 and takes the easy path of not running. That would be best for everyone concerned. Any proper threat assessment, however, must think about worst-case scenarios, and Kagan spins out some viable doozies in his essay. Better sooner than later to start the contingency planning.
In the end, both Shafer and Kagan are right. Shafer is correct to note that for most Americans, the one thing they need to do is vote against Trump and his toadies. But Kagan is not wrong — both elected leaders and appointed officials need to start thinking now about what can be done to minimize the threats posed to the Republic by the most dangerous former U.S. official since Aaron Burr.