In a year when war rages in the heart of Europe, the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, and inflation has skyrocketed, it’s easy to overlook other stories of crucial importance: like damning reports on efforts by Donald Trump and his minions to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. Even more alarming, there is every reason to believe that the GOP election-theft project is still underway with a view to 2024.
The revelations keep trickling in from various official investigations, news reports and books.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riot — the most visible and notorious part of this coup attempt — was, in some ways, the least of it. What happened after Trump’s defeat on Nov. 3, 2020, was a multipronged, dogged, and entirely serious effort to undo Joe Biden’s victory through lawsuits, pressure on election officials, and a push to get state legislatures to seat alternate slates of Trump electors.
Last September, we learned that conservative lawyer John Eastman, then working with Trump, outlined in a memo submitted to Vice President Mike Pence a detailed plan for several scenarios to reverse the outcome of the vote.
Meanwhile, Trump’s legal team was churning out dozens of lawsuits alleging nonexistent voter fraud — while Trump leaned heavily on the Justice Department to investigate these claims, with help from a few sycophants such as acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. Aggressive attempts were made to get several states to throw out election results because of supposed irregularities and to have electors appointed by Republican legislatures.
These efforts often looked comical because Trump’s lawyers and “Stop the Steal” crusaders came across as bungling if not deranged, pushing bonkers conspiracy theories about Chinese spies using thermometers to tamper with voting machines and pro-Biden CIA agents using Italian satellites to switch votes. But, reading the accounts in retrospect, it’s clear it was a genuinely dangerous moment for the Republic. If more high-level officials at the Justice Department had caved, and if one state had yielded to pressure and moved to nullify the election results, the actual steal — for Trump — could have happened. At least some Republicans senators such as Utah’s Mike Lee, text messages show, were ready to cooperate.
After Jan. 6, many high-level Republicans — including GOP House and Senate leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell — were disgusted with Trump and ready to ditch him. But their indignation was short-lived. Today, loyalty to Trump, who continues to insist that he “really” won in 2020, is the Republican Party’s litmus test. Numerous GOP candidates for Congress as well as state-level posts (including ones with election-related functions) loudly proclaim the destructive “stolen election” lie. There are justified fears that a scheme to have state legislatures “fix” presidential election results may actually work in 2024.
Which is why, if you care about democracy and the Constitution, you can't afford not to care about a candidate's position on election integrity — and why this issue casts a huge shadow over the Republican Party as a whole, however much one disagrees with various Democratic positions or policies.
And don’t fall for moral-equivalency tricks such as “But Hillary Clinton said Trump was an illegitimate president.” She did, while he was being impeached — almost three years after she accepted her loss.
Plenty of politicians from both parties have, at times, questioned various election results. But there is no precedent for the wholesale election denialism we see in today’s GOP. Unless people of good will push back, it is going to become the Election Theft Party. And that's catastrophic.
Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, are her own.