These impenetrable supermajorities serve a purpose beyond simple partisan advantage. The belief that Trump actually won the 2020 election is backed by the belief that elections are less about persuasion and more about rigging the process and controlling the ballots. And in the swing states that Trump lost, his strongest allies have pushed the radical idea that state legislatures have plenary authority over presidential elections even after voters have cast their ballots. Trump may lose the vote in Arizona, but under this theory, the legislature could still give him the state’s electoral votes, provided there is some pretext (like “voter fraud,” for example). What this would mean, in practice, is that these legislatures could simply hand their state’s electoral votes to Trump even if he were defeated at the ballot box.
It’s with this in mind that we should look to Wisconsin, where Republicans are fighting to seize control of federal elections in the state now that they’ve gerrymandered themselves into an almost permanent legislative majority. (The Wisconsin Republican Party, along with the one in North Carolina, has been at the vanguard of the authoritarian turn in the national party.)
Last month, Senator Ron Johnson said that lawmakers in his state could take control of federal elections even if Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, stood in opposition. “The State Legislature has to reassert its constitutional role, assert its constitutional responsibility, to set the times, place and manner of the election, not continue to outsource it through the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” Johnson said, in reference to the bipartisan commission Republicans had established to manage elections. “The Constitution never mentions a governor.”
And of course, Trump is taking an active role in all of this. From his perch in Mar-a-Lago, he has endorsed candidates for state legislative elections in Michigan with the clear hope that they would help him subvert the election, should he run as the Republican nominee for president in 2024. “Michigan needs a new legislature,” Trump wrote last month in one such endorsement. “The cowards there now are too spineless to investigate Election Fraud.”
Increasingly untethered from any commitment to electoral democracy, large and influential parts of the Republican Party are working to put Trump back in power by any means necessary. Republicans could win without these tactics — they did so in Virginia last month — but there’s no reason to think that the party will pull itself off this road.
Every incentive driving the Republican Party, from Fox News to the former president, points away from sober engagement with the realities of American politics and toward the outrageous, the antisocial and the authoritarian.
None of this is happening behind closed doors. We are headed for a crisis of some sort. When it comes, we can be shocked that it is actually happening, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
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