Trump’s grip on Republican Party sparks fears over democratic process
Seven months after election day, supporters of former President Trump are still checking ballots in Arizona’s largest county and could revive legislation that would make it easier for Texas judges to overturn the results elections.
In Georgia, meanwhile, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill allowing it to appoint a council that can replace election officials. Trump loyalists who falsely insist he won the 2020 election are running for major electoral posts in several swing states. And after a pro-Trump mob staged a violent insurgency on the U.S. Capitol to end Democrat Joe Biden’s certification of electoral victory, Republicans rallied to block an independent investigation into the riot, shielding Trump from further scrutiny in one of the darkest days of his administration.
For democracy advocates, Democrats and others, the continued denial of the Republican Party elections shows how open the party is increasingly to going against democratic norms, especially the bipartisan respect traditionally accorded to election results even after a bitter campaign. This raises the possibility that if the Republican Party gains power in the mid-term of next year, the party could take the extraordinary step of refusing to certify future elections.
“We have to face the fact that Republicans – with a few exceptions – have become an authoritarian party,” said Steven Levitsky, Harvard political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die”. “It is impossible to maintain a democracy in a two-party system when one of the parties is unwilling to play by the rules of the game.”
Republicans have already offered a glimpse of how they might operate. On January 6, the day of the Capitol Riot, a majority of House Republicans voted to overturn Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Biden still would have achieved an Electoral College victory without those states, but the move showed how Congress’ traditionally ceremonial certification process could be militarized.
For his part, Trump continues to push Republicans to adopt his election lies. He criticized his former vice president, Mike Pence, for fulfilling his constitutional duty to preside over Congressional certification of Biden’s victory. And Trump has gone further recently by giving credence to a bizarre conspiracy theory that he might somehow be reinstated as president in August, according to a longtime Trump ally who spoke under on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
There is no constitutional or legal mechanism for Trump to return to the presidency without winning another election in 2024. Trump’s argument that the last election was tainted has been flatly rejected by federal and state officials, including included his own attorney general and Republican election leaders. Judges, including those appointed by Trump, also dismissed his claims.
But Levitsky and others warn that there are several weak spots in the American system where a political party might simply refuse to allow its opponent to formally win a presidential election.
“I’m more concerned about this now than I was on Jan. 7,” said Edward Foley, an Ohio State University law professor who studies election disputes. “It seems that over the months the lesson has not been ‘never again’, but how to be more effective next time.”
Yet even criticism of the former president and the electoral paranoia he has propagated in his party say it is important not to exaggerate the risks.
“It seems overkill to me,” said Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state and Republican who sharply criticized Trump’s allegations of electoral fraud.
Grayson said a comparable concern is that voting procedures have become a partisan issue like taxes and abortion, raising suspicion about election results. “Both sides are really stepping up their rhetoric to strengthen their bases,” Grayson said, acknowledging that “there are clearly a lot more bad things happening on my side now.”
Nonetheless, democratically elected officials were able to resist these “bad things” in 2020, despite pressure from Trump. “When the time came for Republicans to do something in the 2020 election, most of those in power did the right thing,” said Rick Hasen, electoral law expert at the University of California. Irvine.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp acknowledged Biden’s victory and resisted Trump’s pleas to overturn it. Republican Governor Doug Ducey did the same in Arizona. And Mitch McConnell, who controlled the Senate on Jan.6, gave a scorching speech condemning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Only a handful of Republican senators voted to overturn Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Still, Hasen said he didn’t want to coat things up. âThere are a lot of warning signs,â he said. “It is a very dangerous time for democracy.”
Trump has sought revenge on Republicans who did not support his attempt to overturn the election. He backed the GOP’s main challengers against Kemp and Raffensperger – the latter being challenged by Rep. Jody Hice, whom Trump recruited into the race and who voted to overturn the House of Representatives election.
Georgia’s new elections bill deprives Raffensperger of some of his electoral functions and gives the Republican-controlled state legislature the ability to replace local election officials. The Republican-controlled Arizona legislature is pushing to deprive Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend election prosecutions and State Representative Mark Finchem, who was at the Jan.6 rally in the outside the Capitol and is a major supporter of the Arizona audit, is running for his job.
Levitsky said the complex US electoral system sets itself apart from international democracies by leaving election oversight to local officials and supporters. “We rely a lot on local officials, and if one side decides not to behave, we are in a world of problems,” he said.
Yet this system has worked for over 200 years. âThere are a lot of guarantees,â Grayson said. âNow we can blow up those guarantees and, if it’s a single state like in 2000, you don’t have all 50 guarantees. “
Grayson also noted that voters make the final decision. Candidates for secretary of state who argue Trump actually won in 2020 will need to win a Republican primary and then a general election to come to power. Candidates for Congress might have to answer questions about whether they would sit a president of the opposing party.
“We’re going to have this election, and the voters are going to have to weigh in,” Grayson said.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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