The GOP Implosion

What a horrible week to be a Republican. A week full of embarrassment and humiliation — as even most Republicans would agree.

First, there was the Republican “Presidential” Debate. The cringe-worthy “unmitigated disaster” showcased candidates bickering amongst themselves, spewing nonsense, apparently in hopes of getting a cabinet position in a Trump administration. Certainly they weren’t hoping to become President. Not one was willing to directly attack the missing-elephant-in-the-room and runaway leader of the pack. There was nary a mention of Trump’s legal troubles. Even Ron DeSantis admitted: “If I was at home watching that, I would turn the channel.”

Next up: The government shut-down. A group of MAGA Republicans in the House are holding the entire GOP (and the country) hostage — withholding approvals on what should be routine votes — not only willing to risk a shut-down but appearing to welcome one. Their actions are so immature and dangerous that Speaker-of-the-House McCarthy accused them of wanting to “burn the place down.”

Not satisfied with two humiliations, the GOP teed up a third: the Biden Impeachment hearings. Incredibly, at this self-inflicted wound, two of their star witnesses testified under the oath there was currently no evidence warranting an impeachment. But wait…there’s more: The lowlight of the day was when AOC revealed that Congressman Byron Donalds had fabricated an image he had presented earlier, falsely purporting to show evidence against Biden. One day into the so-called hearings and they’re already forced to make things up!

As if all of this was not enough, the GOP had to contend with their leading candidate for President advocating that Mark Milley, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, be executed for treason. Which is why he now requires a security detail. The response from the GOP here was predictable: almost total silence. Oh, let’s not forget that Trump’s mountain of legal woes got higher this week: A judge ruled that Trump had committed financial fraud by having “lied to banks and insurers about his assets” for years. Added to this are his four pending indictments (with charges ranging from illegal retention of classified documents to attempting to subvert the 2020 election) as well as having been held liable for sexual assault. Yet none of this appears to present the slightest obstacle to the GOP lauding Trump as their preferred choice for President.

An outside observer assessing all of this could only reasonably conclude that the GOP was imploding. Unless they changed course, they were surely headed for a political shipwreck. How could anyone view it any other way? Apparently, if you’re Sean Hannity on FOX News, it’s quite easy. On his show this week, GOP impeachment leaders “offered false, baseless or debunked claims to which the Fox News host offered absolutely no pushback.” And the MAGA faithful that watch Fox News (and nothing else), lap it all up like a cat slurping cream. Which is why, incredibly, Trump and the GOP still have a path to victory in next year’s elections.

Welcome to America in 2024.

Democracy is on the ballot. It’s up to us to make sure it wins.

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The Left Dodges a Bullet

Well…wow! The Democrats did better…much better…than expected on Tuesday. As of now, with 3 seats still undecided, they are favored to retain control of the Senate. The GOP advantage in the House will almost certainly be within single digits. Democrats actually made gains in governorships and state legislatures. Very few election deniers, for key offices like Secretary of State, were able to win.

This was more than an impressive showing for Democrats — and more than the absence of “the red wave” that nearly every pundit and every poll was predicting. Compared to what typically happens to the party in power at a midterms election, 2022 was an historic victory for Democrats.

Part of the reason why? Exit polls indicated that voters’ concerns over threats to democracy and GOP extremism were much higher on people’s mind than pre-election polls had suggested.

As an added plus, the threat of wide-spread election day and post-election chaos never materialized. There were no notable reports of violence anywhere. Almost all losing candidates conceded defeat without making a fuss. 

There is no other way to paint this: The midterms were a defeat for the GOP and a near complete disaster for Trump. We dodged a bullet — a hail of them. The left may have brought a knife to a gunfight — but that appears to have been sufficient. Whew!

Perhaps I should I have titled this column: Democracy Dodges a Bullet. Because that was the big winner in last week’s midterms. We can briefly breathe a collective sigh of relief: we still have a free country.

Don’t be fooled however. The danger has not passed. Donald Trump is still a powerful force in the Republican Party. And, after his impressive re-election, Ron DeSantis is looking especially strong as a possible alternative — which many on the left fear would not be an improvement.

More generally, Trumpism remains alive and well in the GOP. Outright lies about stolen elections, disinformation about nearly everything and increasingly overt support for racist beliefs remain at the forefront of Republican strategy. The 2024 race is likely to prove at least as fraught with peril as this one. And even with a small GOP majority in the House, we can still expect an attempt to impeach Biden — and other very dubious investigations — in the months ahead.

The Democrats may have done well this week. But the country remains almost evenly divided — with entrenched partisanship seeming to only get stronger as time passes.

Finally, what does all of this say about my contention (in my prior post) that traditional grassroots efforts, such as phonebanks, are declining in value? Although it’s hard to draw a direct line from A to B, one can make a case that the grassroots helped turn the tide in several close elections. At the very least, my expectations of a midterms disaster were (happily) not realized. As such, I am preparing a small serving of roast crow for the holidays.

But one can just as easily make the case that grassroots efforts had little, if any, effect on the final results. And that a failure to effectively counter the tactics of the right made numerous races closer than they otherwise would have been. The left represents the clear majority in the country; this was not sufficiently reflected in the election results.

Either way, the 2022 midterms were just one battle in an ongoing war. Neither side is close to claiming victory. Buckle up. And get to work. 2024 is just two years away.

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The Left Brings a Knife to a Gun Fight — and Democracy Hangs in the Balance

One of my Indivisible t-shirts boldly asserts: Register & Phonebank & Canvas & Vote & Win. Under the rubric of “phonebank,” you can add textbanks and letter-writing. Taken together, these form the foundation of the progressive left’s grassroots volunteer efforts to win elections — including next week’s midterms. The hope is that, via these actions, we can (1) persuade independents to vote for the candidates we support and (2) energize our base of supporters to make sure they get out and vote.

Although it’s difficult to measure exactly how effective these strategies are, there is good evidence to believe that they can make a difference. They may even have been determinative in the Blue Wave of the 2018 midterms. But that is already a long time ago — a time when the country’s outrage with Trump was at its peak and people were eager to mobilize. Long-term victory seemed within our grasp. Not so much anymore. Today, despite our best efforts, the country is more in the grip of Trumpism than it was even two years ago. Whatever we’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.

That’s why I believe phonebanks and such are no longer a viable grassroots tactic. Certainly not a sufficient one. It’s not that these progressive efforts are less effective than they were before. It’s that they are increasingly not up to the challenge of countering what the other side is doing. Since the rise of Trump and the MAGA movement in 2016, the rules of engagement have dramatically shifted. Anti-democracy trends that have been developing for decades in our politics, have finally reached a critical mass. The left now finds itself bringing a knife to a gun fight — like the swordsman in the classic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And we know how that turned out.

More specifically, I see two troubling political trends at work here. One is old and familiar. The other is newer but far more dangerous.

The older trend is the increasing power of the minority — due a combination of the election rules laid out in the Constitution and more recent dramatic demographic shifts. Because each state gets two Senators, less-populated states have disproportionate power in Congress. That’s always been true — but never more so than now. For example, the population of California is approximately equal to the population of the 20 least populous states. Those combined states have 40 Senators while California has only 2. Less populous states tend to be rural and have traditionally leaned right. This gives the GOP a built-in advantage going into any Senatorial election. This same trend similarly means that, with the GOP in control of the majority of state legislatures, gerrymandering of Congressional districts has led to more “safe” House seats for Republicans than Democrats.

Finally, the Electoral College allows for a Presidential candidate to win office with only a minority of the country’s popular vote. Again, this has always been a possibility. But it has only happened twice from the birth of our nation until 1999. Yet, thanks to the aforementioned demographic shifts, it has happened twice since — and in both cases the Republican candidate won. This is how the GOP increasingly depends on winning. Barring a dramatic change in voting preferences, the GOP may rarely, if ever again, win a presidential election with a majority of the popular vote.

I don’t believe the framers of the Constitution envisioned a time when the demographics would be this extreme — and lead to such lopsided divisions. But here we are. It’s an uphill battle for left-wing phonebanks and canvassing to affect the outcome of an election — when faced with this handicap. But it’s possible, especially in a tight race. Unfortunately, things gets worse.

The second more recent trend is that a major part of the GOP’s election strategy is to oppose elections altogether. Instead, they are in engaged in a series of activities designed to disrupt elections and, if they lose the vote anyway, declare the results as fraudulent. 

You might naively assume that both sides are equally engaged in phonebanking and canvassing. Unfortunately, the assumption is in error. Only the left seems focused on these grassroots efforts. Case in point: I did a Google search for “Phone banking for Republicans.” Over 90% of the search results listed left-wing sites aimed at stopping Republicans! I kept trying different terms and kept getting similar results. I can’t discount that Google may be filtering my results based on my previous searches. Still, it strongly suggests that the GOP is not heavily invested in these mainstays of the left.

So what are they doing instead? They are disseminating a toxic brew of disinformation, conspiracy theories and lies spread by social media. As a recent example, check out the vicious lies that popped up almost within minutes in the wake of the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband. These lies continue to be disturbingly effective. I’m not saying Democrats never engage in these actions — but it’s pervasive among the GOP in a way that dwarfs whatever the Democrats may be doing.

Beyond that, right-wing activists are pushing voter intimidation actions, planned election day disruptions and subsequent election challenges. Abetting these efforts, the GOP itself has pushed to enact voter suppression laws (eliminating ballot boxes especially in Democratic districts, unnecessary voter ID requirements, etc.) — even going so far as to allow (Republican-held) state legislatures to overturn the popular vote. To make all of this easier to do in future elections, the GOP has put forward hundreds of election-deniers to fill offices across the country — in every position from Secretary of State to Senator. Hanging ominously over all of this is the threat of escalating violence.

Taken together, these tactics amount to a potent combination of unethical, potentially illegal actions that allow GOP candidates with minority support to none-the-less attain or claim victory — especially so in critical swing states. Eagerly adopted by an energetic cadre of MAGA supporters — it is proving to be an effective counter-strategy. Phonebanks can’t help win an election — if your supporters can’t vote. And you can’t protect your right to vote if the election officials are all right-wing election deniers.

What’s the solution? What can/should we do differently to combat these trends?

One possible approach is to do nothing different from what we have been doing — other than try to do it better. In the short term, the hope is that our efforts will be at least good enough to stave off complete disaster. Over the long haul, the hope is that the GOP’s Trump-fever eventually breaks and politics returns to some degree of normality. Unfortunately, as long as the current GOP tactics lead to success, I doubt that will ever happen.

This could well mean a descent in autocracy — but I doubt that will deter the GOP. It doesn’t even matter if the GOP honestly doesn’t want to see the end of democracy. They will go down this road anyway. The lure of near-certain short-term success will win out over potential long-term threats (just ask those fighting to save the planet from a climate-change catastrophe).

A second alternative is to play copy-cat: Fight back with the same strategies that the right is employing so effectively. Aside from the fact that it likely won’t work if we don’t control enough state governments, most on the left would reject the idea anyway. It’s morally reprehensible. A classic case of two wrongs very much not making a right.

What’s the third alternative? I don’t know. I am not wise enough to have a sure answer. I’m not sure there is one. At least not a good one. Prepare for civil war? Maybe. It’s a bit like asking what can we do to prevent Putin from using nuclear weapons. Actually, there is a lot we can do — but if Putin is determined to use them even if it risks an “apocalypse” — there is ultimately nothing we can do. Returning to politics, this is what keeps me up at night, fretting about the future of our democracy.

I don’t mean to imply that the success or failure of Democrats is entirely dependent on grassroots actions. Far from it. It obviously depends as well on the actions of the Democratic Party and their candidates — including fund-raising and television ads and rallies and such. And at this level, I believe Democrats have a serious messaging problem. They still haven’t adequately absorbed the key lesson from George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant): winning a political debate is not simply a matter of assembling the “best” facts. It’s a matter of emotional appeal as well. That’s never been more true than it is today — when the country is divided into silos each with their own “alternative facts.” The GOP gets this; the Democrats don’t.

It would also help if, for the critical issues of most concern to the electorate, Democrats are not almost always playing defense. It’s not enough to say: “No, we are not in favor of defunding the police. No, we aren’t trying to tell today’s school children they are racists. Yes, inflation is bad but it’s not Joe Biden’s fault. Yes, we are sensitive to coal miners losing their jobs due to green energy. Yes, crime is on the rise, but it’s not nearly as bad as the GOP claims.” The GOP has become expert at framing the debate and forcing Democrats to react. We need to turn the tables. We need to be more aggressive and force the GOP to defend. We managed to do this on the abortion debate this year — but that is not typical. Bernie Sanders, as usual, has offered some helpful ideas.

Finally, zooming out to the larger picture, the problems go way beyond the confines of the left. We live in frighteningly partisan and divisive times. Racism and anti-semitism are on the rise. The current popularity of extreme views is as great as it has ever been in our history. We have faced crises of extremism before (see Rachel Madow’s Ultra podcast for one example) — and have emerged relatively unscathed. But that offers no guarantee that we will see the same result this time. Our Democracy is not guaranteed. It only survives if we all agree to support it. When one political party abandons that agreement we are in deep trouble.

We now live in a country where a near-majority continues to believe the total falsehood that Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election…where, despite Trump’s cornucopia of crimes and lies, he could still be our next President…where Fox News remains the dominant cable TV news outlet…where absurdly unqualified candidates like Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz and Kari Lake have a good chance of winding up in the U.S. Senate or in a Governor’s mansion. And, if election results do not go the way the GOP is hoping, we can expect an upsurge in conspiracy theories and violence. This does not omen well for our future.

It may already be too late to stop this train. The 2022 midterms may turn out to be the tipping point from which there is no turning back. As Rachel Madow put it: “Our vote this year is about whether we ever get to vote again.”

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The Big Lie: It’s Bigger Than You Think

The Big Lie is that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. He didn’t. The Big Lie is that Joe Biden is in the White House now because of a massive election fraud. There wasn’t any.

Those of us who still reside on planet Earth are quick to point out that there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Zip. Zero. That’s why it’s called The Big Lie. Its only purpose is to soothe Trump’s fragile ego, solidify his grip on the Republican base and supply a fictitious basis for the voting restriction bills being enacted in Red states across the country (Georgia, Florida and Texas so far). It’s also the trumped-up rationale for a GOP-sponsored phony “audit” of the election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County (in one especially bizarre twist here, people searched for bamboo fragments on ballots — as supposed evidence that fake ballots were shipped in from Asia; I am not making this up).

I didn’t think we’d still be talking about this 6 months after the election. But because Trump and his cronies persist in keeping the The Big Lie alive, it is still a thing. Actually, it seems more entrenched and more dangerous now than it did back in late 2020. According to recent surveys, as many as 70% of Republicans believe that the election was stolen.

GOP members of Congress know the “stolen election” claim is a complete falsehood. They are being shamefully and deliberately deceptive. They are using it to cling to power — via the short-sighted political gain they expect will come from promoting the lie. But the GOP faithful out there in country truly believe the lie. It’s scary. And it’s becoming (as the phrase goes) an “existential threat to our democracy.” If one of the two major parties in the country believes that the current government is “illegitimate” and that violence against the government is therefore justified (see January 6 insurrection) — then we have lost one of the pillars of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. It could be sufficient damage for the entire structure to collapse.

The Big Lie is bigger than you think. We should reframe how we speak of it. To say that there is “no evidence” to support the Big Lie gives it too much credence. It suggests a possibility, however small, that matters remain inconclusive (perhaps evidence of fraud will be found tomorrow?). Not so. Rather, the overwhelming, consistent and complete lack of evidence points to a positive assertion: The election was legitimate. It was freely and fairly won by Joe Biden. It’s a fact. Here’s how we know this:

  • The election was held on November 3, 2020. By the following Saturday, the initial count was completed and Biden was declared the winner with 306 electoral votes — coincidentally the same margin that Trump achieved in 2016 and that he declared to be a “landslide.”
  • At a popular vote level, the result was even more lopsided. Biden wound up with over 7 million more votes than Trump.
  • Over the next several weeks, each and every state “certified” the election results — even states that are controlled by the GOP. The electoral vote tally remain unchanged.
  • On December 14, the Electoral College met and voted “to cement Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent President Donald Trump.” There were no claims of irregularities or fraud by the electors doing the voting.
  • And, of course, on January 6, Congress (after an interlude caused by an insurrection at the Capitol) confirmed the election results, with then Vice President Pence declaring Biden as the winner. Even Republicans largely showed their support: only 8 GOP Senators voted against accepting the results.
  • This all led to Biden’s inauguration on January 20th. The sequence of events played out just as in every previous election. At no point was credible evidence of fraud presented.

Except under the most extraordinary circumstances, this should have — and would have — been the end of the story. But enter Donald Trump — who is almost the definition of negative “extraordinary circumstances.” Thanks to his Big Lie, these events were not sufficient. We needed more. Fortunately, we have more.

Prior to the December Electoral College vote, various recounts and audits were demanded — all by GOP officials in red or purple states that had voted for Biden — states like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and, of course, Georgia. The hope was to provide evidence of fraud. They failed.

In every case, the initial results were confirmed: Biden remained the winner. Most famously, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger acknowledged: “We have now counted legally cast ballots three times and the results remain unchanged…There is no evidence of widespread fraud or malfeasance.” Joe Biden won Georgia. Period.

But wait. There’s still more.

Undeterred, Republicans challenged the results in various state and federal courts. By the time the dust settled, 62 lawsuits had been filed. In every instance (except one in Pennsylvania that involved a technicality that would not have changed the result), the lawsuits failed. Even the Supreme Court (yes, the court with a 6-3 conservative majority, including 3 judges appointed by Trump) rejected the claims of election malfeasance.

But wait. There’s even more.

At one point or another, virtually every Trump administration official charged with overseeing elections and election security acknowledged that Trump had lost. The list includes William Barr (Trump’s otherwise uber-loyal Attorney General), Christopher Wray (FBI Director), and Chris Krebs (Director of CISA). Krebs, as part of a joint-statement, went so far as to assert: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Similarly, top GOP members of Congress, including Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, echoed the same conclusion. McConnell notably warned: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again.”

But wait. There’s one more thing.

Even if you were to ignore all the above evidence, the Big Lie fails on logic alone. How can anyone credibly claim that Trump was a victim of ballot fraud — when Republican candidates for the Senate and House won many of their elections via the exact same ballots where Trump lost? How or why would someone change ballots to support Biden, while leaving all down-ballot races untouched? It makes no sense.

Given all of this, you may be asking yourself — how does anyone wind up concluding that the election was stolen? What evidence do they cite to support their belief?

The answer is that they don’t cite any evidence — because there is none. They simply assert that Trump won — because that’s what they want to believe is true and (more significantly) that’s what they are constantly and falsely told is true — within the news silos where they reside. It’s all they hear on Fox News, NewsMax, OANN and such. And on their Facebook pages.

And the Big Lie is now supported by almost all GOP politicians (even those that previously denied it). In fact, it has become a foundational principle of the party. The few that steadfastly remain opposed to the lie must be ousted (hello, Liz Cheney).

To be successful in their efforts, these officials need not prove any fraud. It’s sufficient just to sow doubt and mistrust. And in that, they have succeeded spectacularly — at least among the shrinking number of people who call themselves Republican.

Where does it all end? Will we ever return to a state of normality — where the GOP accepts the election results as valid? Or will things remain in this state of flux indefinitely? Or will matters get worse — leading to further right-wing distrust and violence — especially as the 2022 elections draw near?

Might a sufficient number of non-GOP voters reject Trump’s phony claims — leading to a major GOP election defeat in 2022? Or will the newly-passed voter suppression laws succeed in their goal of minority rule — allowing the GOP to win elections despite clear opposition majorities? And what will Democrats do if and when that happens?

The answers to these questions will determine the future of this country. Indeed, the answers will determine if our country has a future.


Follow-up [May 12, 2021]: It’s not just me who’s sounding the alarm about the state of our democracy. In the wake of the ousting of Liz Cheney from her leadership position, many of the country’s most respected political pundits are similarly sounding DEFCON-1 alerts. Thomas Friedman in particular has been warning: “…if Trump and friends are not stopped, one day they will get where they are going: They will lock in minority rule in America…{leading to}…a new civil war.” Cheney, to her credit, remains defiant: “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

As this CNN analysis makes clear, the mainstream GOP’s support of Trump has become so extreme that they are even “willing to jeopardize the party’s chances of winning back the House in order to preserve the cult of personality around Trump and the 2020 election that he lost.” In essence: The Republican party has decided it can no longer win elections by broadening its appeal to voters. Instead, it plans to win future elections by making it legal to limit — or even ignore — the votes of those who oppose them. The result? Minority rule. Autocracy. So sound the alarms. For starters, get Congress to pass the For the People Act.

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