A Crisis Is Unfolding, Right Now
Don't be fooled; we're on the knife's edge.
1. The Question
I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to think about—really think for a minute—before you come to an answer:
Imagine that Donald Trump had won the popular vote by more than 5 million votes last week, but Joe Biden was leading by a total of 70,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. Essentially making the result the inverse of 2016.
If that were the situation today, then what would you think the chances would be that Joe Biden would, eventually, wind up being inaugurated as president?
Don’t react. Sit with this for a second.
2. The Autocratic Attempt
I’ve been thinking about that question for 24 hours and I do not believe that the chances of Biden becoming president under such a scenario would be greater than 50-50.
Maybe you think I’m crazy. That’s fine. But would anyone believe that the odds of Biden being sworn in in such a scenario would be over 90 percent?
The reason I put this question to you is because the answer reveals what the actual state of the rule of law is in America right now: The only reason we believe Biden will become president is because we believe that his advantage is too big for Trump to succeed in overturning the election. We think that the rule of law will hold not because it is inviolable, or because both sides are committed to it, but because the results create too tall a burden on the would-be autocrat.
Or, in the words of one brave Republican official:
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” said one senior Republican official. “He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
This view may be correct. But if so, it is only correct because of the particular facts on the ground. If the facts were slightly different—if Biden had won by less impressive, but still decisive and legal, margins—then this view would almost certainly be incorrect.
That should terrify you.
You should also be terrified because this sanguine view may not be correct.
Because it is not just the president rage tweeting and filing some lawsuits.
The attorney general has moved to weaponize the Department of Justice in the president’s attempt to overturn the election.
The highest ranking elected Republican—the Senate majority leader—is publicly declining to accept the results of the election. The second-highest ranking Republican—the House minority leader—has actively declared the election fraudulent. The Republican governor of Georgia and the state’s two Republican senators are declaring—with no evidence—that the vote in their state is invalid and are calling for the resignation of the Republican secretary of state.
Contra the “senior Republican official,” Donald Trump will only leave if someone, somewhere, stands up to his autocratic attempt and holds fast against it. So far, nearly the entire body of the Republican party is either averting its eyes from, or supporting, this attempt.
If we have learned nothing else from the last four years, we should know that institutions are only as strong as the people who man them.
Now is the time to stand up and fight back. Help save our democracy. Ride or die, America.
There are other reasons to be alarmed.
Why did the president fire his secretary of Defense yesterday? “Highly irregular” does not begin to describe this move. Can you recall any other time that a lame-duck president fired a major cabinet-level appointee following his reelection defeat? I cannot.
There are only two possible explanations:
(1) Trump wants to commit political revenge/vandalism. Trump has a grudge against Esper and/or wants to make Biden’s transition harder and more dangerous.
(2) Trump wants to assert control over the national security apparatus.
Both of these explanations are bad. But the second one points to very real danger.
Let’s stipulate that (1) is probably the real answer. And that (2) is probably a not the case.
Now, with that stipulated, let’s examine the control of America’s nat-sec apparatus:
The secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is a hardline Trump supporter.
The director of National Intelligence, Dan Ratcliffe, is a Trump stooge.
People seem to believe that the relatively independent directors of the CIA (Gina Haspel) and FBI (Christopher Wray) are going to be replaced, soon.
If that happens, then what would be the innocent explanation for such moves?
I can’t think of one. The only explanation would be Trump attempting to assert control over key parts of the government in advance of some destabilizing action.
Now again, maybe you think that this doesn’t matter. Joe Biden won big. Per our Republican source, “It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20.”
But examine these questions again through the lens of our counterfactual: What if Trump had won the popular vote and lost only by small margins in the states Biden needed to win the EC?
In that scenario, would you assume that Trump wasn’t plotting to stop Biden from taking office? Would you dismiss the firing of the SecDef as inconsequential?
If not, then understand that we are only being sanguine because of circumstances. We are admitting that Trump would overturn the election if he could.
This is new in the American experiment. And it is dangerous—existentially dangerous—even if Trump fails.
Yesterday I said that we would eventually get polls on what Republicans thought about the election. We have our first numbers:
Following the news, 70 percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair, a stark rise from the 35 percent of GOP voters who held similar beliefs before the election. . . .
Among Republicans who believed that the election wasn’t free and fair, 78 percent believed that mail-in voting led to widespread voter fraud and 72 percent believed that ballots were tampered with — both claims that have made a constant appearance on the president’s Twitter thread. Like President Donald Trump, a majority of the people that thought the election was unfair, 84 percent, said it benefited Biden. . . .
Although only 18 percent of Republicans had said the results would be unreliable prior to Election Day, now 64 percent feel the same way following Biden’s victory. . . .
Republicans are split on whether or not the outcome will change. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans believe the results will be overturned . . .
Again: 70 percent of Republicans think the election was rigged; 38 percent believe—right now—that the results will be overturned and that Donald Trump will be sworn in as president again.
This is not a tenable situation. You cannot move on to what comes next for the party when nearly 4-in-10 Republicans think Trump is going to be sworn in on January 20. You cannot reconcile with a party whose voters overwhelmingly believe the election was literally stolen from them.
Because those voters want the autocratic attempt.
They’re hoping for it.
3. The Future
Normally I give you something to read here, but today I want to give you something to watch: Bill Kristol’s conversation with Ron Brownstein:
Here’s a taste of Brownstein’s thinking:
To me, all of this comes back to the same reality. We have two coalitions that are moving further apart, that have less overlap in what they want for the country, and which increasingly view the other as a threat to the country. Not all voters are on these sides—but it’s a lot of them. It’s not just the leaders. I think it’s a mistake to think this is just polarization from the top down. I think there’s a big chunk of each coalition that views the other’s priorities as erasing the America they believe in. And in that world, any means necessary is justified to try to stop the other. And that’s why it’s incredible to see people like [Mike] Huckabee and Lindsey Graham saying “Oh, well, maybe it was stolen.” That to me is an indication of where this is going over the coming years.
Enough Americans did vote for Biden simply to lower the temperature. So it is potentially possible [this might matter]. If the Republicans go down that [polarization] road, there will be a cost. But there just aren’t that many states where that costs can be imposed. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will be up in 2022 in the Senate. North Carolina. Florida is not really doable for Democrats. They can’t solve it. Texas isn’t ready. They basically have to expand slightly the number of states in which they can compete for Senate seats. And that involves Georgia and it involves Arizona and it involves North Carolina. There are positive trends for Democrats, but they’ve got to figure out a way to put a couple more of these states in play, as they have now, Georgia and Arizona.