Tag Archives: 2020 election

The Big Lie Refuses to Die

https://www.timesfreepress.com/cartoons/2021/sep/24/making-case/5074/

The Arizona audit’s re-affirmation of Biden’s victory ought to finish off Trump’s stolen-election hoax. But it hasn’t.


The Cyber-Ninjas “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona finally reported its findings, only four months later than planned. Guess what? Biden won.

“The ballots that were provided to us to count in the coliseum very accurately correlate with the official canvass numbers,” Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said during the presentation. He noted that the hand recount found President Joe Biden gaining 99 votes in Maricopa County and former President Donald Trump losing 261 votes — which he called “very small discrepancies.”

So there you have it: Not even vote-counters completely biased in Trump’s favor could come up with a way to claim he won in Arizona. The Cyber Ninjas hired by the Republican majority in the state senate tested the Maricopa County voting machines that were supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Hugo Chavez, looked for evidence of fake ballots shipped in from South Korea (or maybe China), and pursued every other lunatic theory of how Democrats could have stolen the state for Biden. They came up with nothing.

Biden won.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Jack Sellers, a Republican, summed up:

This means the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters. That should be the end of the story. Everything else is just noise.

But it’s not the end of the story, and Trump’s noise continues. The Great Steal has become dogma inside his personality cult, so inconvenient facts must be trimmed to fit.

Just asking questions. The quote from Chief Ninja Logan hints (if you listen closely) at the direction the conspiracy theory goes next: “the ballots that were provided to us” were counted properly, and show a Biden win. But what if some number of those ballots were cast illegally by people not entitled to vote? Or by legal voters who messed up in some way that should have allowed Republicans to disqualify them?

After all these months, Logan can’t point to any specific ballots that fit those descriptions. But what if? And what if those speculatively dubious ballots are all Biden votes? Then maybe Trump really should have won Arizona — and maybe Georgia and Pennsylvania as well. Maybe he should still be president, even without an insurrection.

That’s why a large chunk of the Ninjas’ report is devoted to casting doubt on “the ballots that were provided to us”, using the technique Tucker Carlson has made famous: Raise questions without doing even the simplest legwork to answer them, and then imply that there are no answers or even that powerful people don’t want you to ask.

Robert Graham of the Errata Security blog comments:

[The Cyber Ninjas] are overstretching themselves to find dirt, claiming the things they don’t understand are evidence of something bad.

Elizabeth Howard of the Brennan Center for Justice expressed the same idea in different words.

They’re desperately trying to suggest that what are routine procedures are suspicious, because they don’t have election administration experience or knowledge.

And precisely because the Ninjas lacked so much experience and knowledge, the “things they don’t understand” were many, and even humorous at times.

The most inflammatory allegations came from [Ben] Cotton, who claimed he discovered that thousands of files had been deleted from election department servers, and that several pieces of election equipment had been connected to the internet. 

One internet-connected device Cotton specifically named was REWEB1601, which Maricopa County’s twitter account explained very simply.

REWEB1601 (as you might gather from the naming convention) connects to the internet because it is the server for http://recorder.maricopa.gov. This is not the election system. We shouldn’t have to explain this.

And the deleted files? That wasn’t very sinister either.

CLAIM: Election management database purged

BOTTOM LINE: This is misleading. Nothing was purged. Cyber Ninjas don’t understand the business of elections. We can’t keep everything on the EMS server because it has storage limits. We have data archival procedures for our elections and @MaricopaVote archived everything related to the November election on backup drives. So everything still exists.

Oh, but what about the people voting multiple times in different counties?

Cyber Ninjas said it found thousands of voters who potentially voted twice in Arizona. The company came to this conclusion because it found 5,047 voters with the same first, middle and last name and birth year as people who voted in other counties.

“Bottom line,” the county wrote in a tweet in response, “There are more than 7 million people in Arizona and, yes, some of them share names and birth years. To identify this as a critical issue is laughable.”

Dead voters? Sometimes living people fill out a ballot, mail it, and then die before Election Day. Sometimes computer searches confuse the dead John Smith Sr. with the living John Smith Jr. of the same address, who voted. It’s not fraud. Voters who have moved? If they went to college, joined the military, or decamped to a vacation home from which they plan to return, their vote is still legal. And so on.

In short, the Cyber Ninjas found the kind of “suspicious” ballots that appear in every election everywhere. What they didn’t find was the slightest evidence of fraud.

The Romney prophesy fulfilled. When questioned, the Republican promoters of these partisan “audits” say they’re simply responding to widespread doubt about the integrity of the 2020 election, and that the point is to restore public faith in our democracy — ignoring their party’s (and often their own) role in raising those doubts in the first place by spreading lies.

The model here is the disingenuous justification Ted Cruz and ten other senators gave last January for objecting to the certification of the Electoral College vote.

A fair and credible audit — conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20 — would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.

These are matters worthy of the Congress, and entrusted to us to defend. We do not take this action lightly. We are acting not to thwart the democratic process, but rather to protect it. And every one of us should act together to ensure that the election was lawfully conducted under the Constitution and to do everything we can to restore faith in our Democracy.

Mitt Romney had the right response back on January 6:

For any who remain insistent on an audit in order to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen, I’d offer this perspective: No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters — particularly when the President will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership.

The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost.

This week’s events proved Romney right. After the Arizona audit report leaked, 2020 Loser Donald Trump did continue to say the election was stolen.

The leaked report conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over. There is fraud and cheating in Arizona and it must be criminally investigated!

And his allies were still not convinced of his loss. At a rally in Georgia Saturday, Trump rehearsed a litany of false claims about fraud in Arizona. And then his endorsed candidate for secretary of state said “Nobody understands the disaster of the lack of election integrity like the people of Georgia. Now is our hour to take it back.” His lieutenant governor candidate said “I can assure you if I’d been our Lieutenant Governor, we would have gotten to the bottom of this thing.”

And the crowd cheered.

Undeterred by the objective failure of the Cyber Ninjas to either find fraud or restore confidence, Trumpists continue to push the Arizona-like audits that are either proposed or already underway in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and even Texas (which Trump won, but by a margin that presages future trouble for Republicans unless they do a better job suppressing the non-white vote).

In each case, Republicans claim to be “restoring confidence” in elections by responding to “doubts” about the accuracy of the 2020 outcome — doubts that they caused themselves by spreading lies. Already, we can anticipate the ninja-like outcome: reports that find no hard evidence of any miscount or fraud, but continue to “raise questions” based on nothing.

It’s almost like sowing doubt is the intention.

The goal: destabilizing democracy. WaPo’s Greg Sargent raises that issue explicitly:

Oozing with unctuously phony piety, Republicans told us again and again and again that this audit was merely about allaying the doubts of voters who have lost confidence in our elections, a specter that Republicans have widely used to justify voting restrictions everywhere.

But, now that this audit “confirmed” Biden’s win, it is still telling us that we should doubt our outcomes, and that more voting restrictions are necessary to allay those doubts. Why, it’s almost as if that was the real point all along!

The Atlantic’s David Graham points to the damage done: Whatever the outcome of the Arizona “fraudit”, its mere existence kept the stolen-election story going for five more months. The implication that there really was something to investigate (and that maybe there still is) lives on. Millions of low-information voters are left with the vague impression that there is something inherently hinky about election returns from big cities with lots of non-white voters.

The goal was to substantiate a new consensus Republican belief that Democrats cannot win elections legitimately, and that any victory they notch must be somehow tainted. It is not a coincidence that the places where audits have focused are those, like Maricopa County, or Harris County, Texas, or Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, with high levels of minority voters, who can be disparaged—mostly implicitly, but occasionally more directly—as illegitimate participants in the polity. Trump has been the foremost proponent of the theory, but he’s been joined by eager sycophants, demagogues, and conspiracists.

As for where this is going, neo-conservative thought-leader Robert Kagan presented an ominous vision in “Our Constitutional Crisis is Already Here“, where he predicted

a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.

Kagan foresees Trump running again in 2024, being nominated, and staging a better coup next time.

Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Trump’s attempt to overrule the voters in 2020 may have failed, but not by much, and it was not thwarted by institutional safeguards.

Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate. These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections.

Contrary to John Adams, the Republic was saved in 2020 not by laws, but by individuals. And those brave individuals are being replaced.

[T]he amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. [1]

In the end, the “forensic audit” movement isn’t about overturning 2020 any more: The deeper purpose is to “raise questions” about elections and about democracy in general, so that fewer people will be able or willing to take a principled stand against the Coup of 2024.


[1] The point of that shift is that gerrymandering insulates Republican majorities in key state legislatures from the voters. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Democratic voting majority that carried the state for Biden has also elected a Democratic governor and secretary of state. But the legislature is well fortified against the will of the People.

The Once and Future Coup

https://www.theitem.com/stories/editorial-cartoon-wednesday-jan-6-2021,357112

Trump’s minions had a coherent plan to keep him in power,
and next time it might work.


Last November, the few days after the election were tense. On election night itself, Trump was clearly doing better than the polls had predicted, but how much better was hard to guess. He won Florida and North Carolina, which the polls had said leaned towards Biden. Ohio and Iowa, which were supposed to be close, weren’t. He had leads in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, but there were still a lot of Democratic votes to count. Like Hillary Clinton, Biden had clearly gotten more votes than Trump, but the Electoral College left the final outcome in doubt.

Wednesday, as more of the mail-in ballots got counted, Biden’s chances improved. Thursday, he looked like the winner, but it wasn’t conclusive yet. The major news organizations declared his victory on Saturday.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Then the focus shifted to Trump’s effort to have the voters’ decision overturned by any means necessary. His lawyers, and various others working on his behalf, filed dozens and dozens of lawsuits, each one a little crazier than the last. Some were based on bizarre conspiracy theories about computers in other countries, others on piles of affidavits described by one judge as “notable only in demonstrating no firsthand knowledge by any Plaintiff of any election fraud, misconduct, or malfeasance”. Some made claims (mainly about the rules around mail-in ballots) that might have been reasonable to raise — and were raised — before the election, but which in no way justified ignoring millions of votes cast in good faith.

I, like many other Democrats, felt uneasy about these suits, but not because of the strength of Trump’s arguments. We worried instead about all the right-wing judges Trump had appointed, including three on the Supreme Court. Maybe they would repay him by ignoring law and precedent to overthrow American democracy. [1]

But when even Trump-appointed judges threw these cases out, often with sharp criticism, the whole thing began to seem comical. Trump’s lawyers were the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The whole effort was summed up by Rudy Giuliani in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, hair dye running down his face. [2] I began to look forward to court rulings, wondering what insults the next judge would come up with.

The violent insurrection on January 6 wasn’t at all funny, but was just as misguided. The riot might have turned out a whole lot worse (and nearly did), but it was never going to keep Trump in the White House. After it failed to intimidate Congress out of fulfilling its constitutional duty to count the electoral votes, QAnon kept anticipating a move by the military. But the generals had always felt uneasy about someone as ignorant and unstable as Trump being commander in chief. They certainly weren’t going to violate their oaths to keep him in power.

By Inauguration Day, I was laughing at myself for having worried so much. For four years, we had watched the Trump administration fail to organize infrastructure week. How had I imagined that they might mastermind a successful coup?

This week, though, we discovered that there actually was a coherent plan. And with just a bit more corruption at the top of the Justice Department, it might have worked.

The corruption of Justice from Sessions to Barr. When Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as his first attorney general, alarm bells went off. Sessions had been state AG in Alabama, and seemed likely to bring Alabama’s racial practices to Washington. And sure enough: The effort to control racism in local police departments went out the window. DOJ’s Civil Rights Division got retasked to focus on discrimination against Christians.

But Sessions had one saving grace none of us appreciated at the time: He actually wanted to be attorney general, and not just operate as a Trump puppet. [3] In spite of endless abuse from his boss, for example, he followed the rules and recused himself from the Russia investigation. His views on the nature of justice may have been reprehensible, but he understood that the Department of Justice needed to keep its distance from the politics of the White House.

After Sessions’ independence got him forced out, the Senate believed that Bill Barr, who had been AG before under the first President Bush, would maintain that standard. But instead he became the most political AG since Nixon’s John Mitchell (who went to jail). He undermined the Mueller Report. He fed Trump’s conspiracy theories (and intimidated future investigations) by launching an investigation of the Russia investigation. He intervened to sabotage cases against Trump cronies. Trump had always said he wanted a Roy Cohn as attorney general, and now he seemed to have one.

In the end, though, even Barr’s corruption had its limits. Before the election, Barr had obediently (and falsely) cast doubt on the trustworthiness of mail-in ballots. Immediately after the election, he instructed US attorneys to investigate election fraud allegations, ignoring the usual standard of probable cause, and seemingly validating Trump’s claim that there was something substantial to investigate. But when Trump wanted Barr to falsely announce that those investigations were finding real violations, that was a bridge too far. On December 1, Barr was interviewed by an AP reporter, who then wrote:

Disputing Donald Trump’s persistent baseless claims, Attorney General William Barr declared Tuesday the U.S. Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

By Christmas, Barr was no longer attorney general. With no time for a Senate confirmation, Jeff Rosen became acting AG.

Endgame. By Christmas, it was clear that the courts were not going to keep Trump in power. Giuliani’s and Trump’s efforts to corrupt Republican election officials, or to convince state legislatures to appoint Trump electors directly, had also not succeeded: The elections had been certified, the electors appointed, and the Electoral College had voted. Sealed envelopes from each state were due to be opened in Congress on January 6.

But there was still one more card to play: badger the temporary Justice Department officials to make the kinds of claims that Barr wouldn’t, and then use the manufactured “uncertainty” of the election outcome to justify Republican state legislatures usurping the power of the voters.

The key player here was Jeffrey Clark, a minor DOJ lawyer who got elevated to head the Civil Division.

On December 27, Trump called to pressure Acting AG Rosen, and Acting Deputy AG Richard Donoghue took notes. [4]

“Understand that the DOJ can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,” said Rosen, according to the notes.

“Don’t expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” Trump replied, per the notes.

At another point in the call, the notes showed Rosen and Donoghue trying to convince Trump that his allegations of voter fraud were false.

“Sir we have done dozens of investig., hundreds of interviews, major allegations are not supported by evid. developed,” Donoghue told Trump, per the notes. “We are doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.”

Trump however would not be swayed.

“We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election,” he said, according to the notes.

How they were supposed to “say the election was corrupt” became clear the next day, when Clark drafted a letter for Rosen and Donoghue to sign. The letter we have was addressed to Georgia’s governor, speaker of the house, and president pro tem of the senate, but similar letters were prepared for all six states Trump lost but wanted to subvert: Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States. The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.

The letter contains no specific facts that the Georgia officials might evaluate or try to check. It just raises doubt about “significant concerns”. [5] It then goes on to tell the officials what to do about this uncertainty.

In light of these developments, the Department recommends that the Georgia General Assembly should convene in special session so that it’s legislators are in a position to take additional testimony, receive new evidence, and deliberate on the matter consistent with its duties under the U.S. Constitution. [6]

If the governor doesn’t see fit to call the legislature into session, the letter opines that the U.S. Constitution justifies the legislature calling itself into session for this particular purpose. It presents a speculative constitutional argument that state legislatures can do whatever they want with regard to electors.

The Georgia General Assembly accordingly must have inherent authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to come into session to appoint Electors, regardless of any time limit imposed by the state constitution or state statute requiring the governor’s approval. [7]

Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign. (“There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this,” Donoghue replied in email.) The New York Times reported that Clark met with Trump on January 3 to discuss a plan where Clark would replace Rosen as attorney general, and presumably provide the kind of DOJ support Trump wanted prior to Congress’ debate January 6 on accepting the electoral vote totals. Reportedly, this plan was only headed off by the threat of mass resignations at DOJ, which would have undermined the effectiveness of Clark’s claims.

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1003214/the-road-not-taken

Alternate history. No one can say what would have happened had Trump succeeded in bullying Rosen (or Barr) or replacing him with Clark. At numerous points in the process, Republican election officials did their jobs honorably rather than try to subvert the will of the voters. (Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is one example, Michigan Board of Canvassers member Aaron Van Langevelde another.) It would be pleasant to believe that patriotic, pro-democracy Republicans existed in sufficient numbers to keep state legislatures from responding to the Clark letter by holding hearings on the election-fraud conspiracy theories, and then attempting to replace their Biden electors (who had already voted by this point) with Trump electors. Or that even if one or two legislatures caved to Trump, he would not get the three states he needed to win in the Electoral College.

But who knows? And if states attempted that maneuver without their governors’ approval, in violation of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, but consistent with Trump’s self-serving interpretation of the Constitution, would Congress have accepted those ballots? Would the Supreme Court have to weigh in? What would they have said?

At the very least, the suspense would not have ended on January 6, or perhaps not even on January 20. Even if Biden had ultimately prevailed, significant damage would have been done. From then on, Americans would all know that our elections are just the first shot in a much longer drama whose ultimate outcome might have nothing to do with how we voted.

The next coup. Joe Biden won the popular vote by a margin of just over 7 million. With the exception of George W. Bush’ re-election in 2004, no Republican has won the popular vote since Bush’ father in 1988.

In the normal course of two-party politics, this persistent failure would send Republicans scrambling to reinvent themselves. Presidential hopefuls would be marketing themselves as “New Republicans”, and looking for new ways to reach out to a majority of Americans. That was Karl Rove’s “permanent majority” vision already in 2004: Jettison the racism that Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” had brought into the party, and court the rapidly-growing bloc of socially conservative Hispanics. (Bush got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. Trump got 32% in 2020.)

Instead, the GOP’s post-election focus has been on how to take or keep power without the backing of a majority. They aren’t pushing bright new faces, or looking for candidates who can flip Democratic voters. [8] They have unveiled no new programs or policies or even messaging strategies. But they hope to get the House back in 2022 by gerrymandering better this time and making voting even harder for pro-Democratic groups. (When was the last time you saw reports of people waiting for hours to vote in majority-Republican precincts?)

The most worrisome thing about the Republican response to their 2020 defeat is their focus on controlling how elections are run, how votes are counted, and whether the voters’ choice will matter at all. [9] The Georgia voter-suppression law that got baseball’s All-Star Game moved out of Atlanta contained one particularly ominous provision: The Republican-controlled legislature can take over the management of elections in Democratic counties. Wasting no time, the legislature has already started the process that would let it take over Fulton County, where Atlanta is.

Not only has the Arizona Senate sponsored the partisan circus of the Cyber Ninjas election “audit”, but a law proposed by a Arizona state Rep. Shawnna Bolick of Phoenix would allow the legislature to ignore the voters entirely next time, and award Arizona’s electoral votes to whomever it wants. The law did not pass, but now Bolick is running for secretary of state, with “securing our elections” as her top priority. In 2024, Arizonans’ votes may be counted by someone who doesn’t believe their votes should count at all.

All the Republican officials who stayed loyal to American democracy rather than Trump have been punished. Aaron Van Langevelde was not renominated to the Board of Canvassers. Brad Raffensperger has been put on Trump’s revenge list, and is unlikely to win his primary next year. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are facing primary challenges for daring to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

So if 2024 is a close election, we can’t count on honest Republicans to once again do their jobs with integrity. Anyone who finds himself in that situation will know that integrity is a career-killer in the GOP. And the legislatures-can-do-whatever theory of the Electoral College won’t be sprung on the states at the last minute, after a loss, as it was in 2020. Republicans in swing states will see that coming, and will have a plan for winning even if the voters have other ideas.

And finally, what happens in Congress on January 6, 2024? If Republicans do win back the House, if Kevin McCarthy is Speaker and election-respecting Republicans like Cheney and Kinzinger have been purged from the caucus, can a Democratic victory be recognized at all?


[1] There’s an old joke about a baseball game between Heaven and Hell. “You can’t possibly win,” Saint Peter boasts. “We’ve got the greatest players of all time.”

“Maybe so,” Satan replies, “but I’ve got all the umpires.”

[2] Those were actually two different fiascos, but they have merged in my memory, and, I suspect, in most other people’s memories as well.

[3] Sessions came into office with a rather quaint view of his relationship to Trump. Trump considered every appointment a favor that the appointee had to repay with unquestioning loyalty. But Sessions had been the first senator to endorse Trump, giving his candidacy legitimacy that it very much needed at the time. So Sessions thought he was becoming attorney general because Trump owed him. He did not understand that Trump collects debts, but does not pay them.

[4] Not only was the whole conversation inappropriate — presidents are not supposed to tell the Justice Department what to investigate — but notice how backwards this conversation is. Ordinarily, the lower-level people who have actually investigated something would be telling their boss what they discovered, and the boss would make decisions based on those facts. (Rosen and Donoghue try to play that role.) But Trump isn’t interested in what facts DOJ’s investigations have uncovered, or what theories they have debunked. He is going to define the truth for them, based on his own needs.

[5] The letter couldn’t allude to any specific “concerns”, because by this point all Trump’s fraud theories were absurd and easily debunked. A few days later he would parade them during his infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who batted them aside as quickly as Trump offered them up.

[6] Even if it really had uncovered evidence that cast doubt on Georgia’s election, DOJ has no business making such specific recommendations to a state. As Donoghue wrote: “I do not think the Department’s role should include making recommendations to a State legislature about how they should meet their Constitutional obligation to appoint Electors.”

[7] The governors of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are Democrats, and Georgia’s Governor Kemp had already expressed skepticism about Trump’s Big Lie, so the governors have to be taken out of the picture. Also, this is the only legal argument I can recall that claims a legislature needn’t be bound by the constitution that created it.

[8] Monday, Chris Hayes noted the remarkable extent to which this is not happening. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis is considered the Republican 2024 front-runner if Trump doesn’t run. He has botched his Covid response pretty badly, with numbers that are getting worse all the time. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Phil Scott of Vermont has one of the best Covid record in the nation, and in November won a third term with 68% of the vote in a blue state.

Literally no one considers Scott to be a likely Republican presidential nominee, because what Republican wants to attract Democratic votes? Instead, DeSantis is looking over his shoulder at an even Trumpier governor with an even worse record on Covid, Kristy Noem of South Dakota. In spite of being far enough off the beaten track to miss the first Covid wave entirely, South Dakota has been hit harder than just about any other state: It’s third-worst in cases per capita and tenth in deaths per capita. (Vermont is the second-best state behind Hawaii in both measures, without the benefit of being an island.)

Hayes: “In any sane political culture, Phil Scott would obviously be a top-tier candidate for higher office. … But not only is that not the case, it’s literally the opposite of the case. The fact that Phil Scott managed the pandemic so well is disqualifying.”

[9] Returning to the joke in [1], Republicans have doubled down on the strategy of recruiting more umpires rather than better players.

Trump’s Next Coup

As in January, Trump is encouraging his followers to expect an outcome no constitutional process can deliver.


The Trumpist underground has been discussing another coup attempt for some while, but that prospect didn’t draw the attention of the larger public until Memorial Day weekend. General Mike Flynn, a convicted felon who is out of jail thanks to a Trump pardon, was a headline speaker at the “For God and Country Patriot Roundup”, a convention of QAnon cultists in Dallas.

when he was asked why can’t a Myanmar-style coup happen here to get Trump back in the White House. Flynn replied, “It should happen here.”

Flynn later tried to walk back that treasonous statement.

There is NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America, and I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort. Any reporting of any other belief by me is a boldface fabrication based on twisted reporting at a lively panel at a conference of Patriotic Americans who love this country, just as I do.
I am no stranger to media manipulating my words and therefore let me repeat my response to a question asked at the conference: There is no reason it (a coup) should happen here (in America).

However, his denial falls under the heading of “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.” There is video, after all. We know what he said.

Something else you can notice in the video: When the questioner asks about a Myanmar-style coup happening in the US, the crowd cheers. They know what he is talking about and why he would suggest it: The plotters in Myanmar ran the same play Trump tried (and failed) to pull off here: They made phony claims of election fraud to justify overthrowing their elected leaders.

Myanmar-as-model has been a popular trope for some while among the QAnoners and other Trump cultists, who (like a millennial sect repeatedly predicting the Day of Judgment) have been telling each other since November that President Biden’s election would soon be overturned. At first, Republican election officials were going to undo Biden’s victory. Then the courts were. Then Congress. After the January 6 insurrection failed, Trump was supposed to declare martial law and initiate “the Storm” in time to avoid Biden’s inauguration on January 20. After that prediction also came to nothing, one widespread narrative picked March 4 as the day for Trump’s restoration, because that had been Inauguration Day prior to the 20th Amendment, which the conspiracy theory says is invalid for some reason.

And now it’s supposed to happen in August.

At the same Dallas conference, former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell said Trump could just be “reinstated“.

A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in. I’m sure there’s not going to be credit for time lost, unfortunately, because the Constitution itself sets the date for inauguration, but he should definitely get the remainder of his term and make the best of it.

No provision in the Constitution allows for such a scenario. Even if Trump’s fanciful claims about a “stolen election” turned out to be true, the only remedy the Constitution offers is impeachment. And even after Biden and Harris were removed from office, the presidency would pass to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, not a private citizen like Trump.

Powell — who is a lawyer, after all — must realize that. So she could only be assuming some outside-the-Constitution means for changing leaders, i.e., a coup. It wouldn’t be the first time Flynn and Powell have proposed political violence: Last December, they tried to convince Trump to declare martial law in order to “rerun” the election under military supervision — another path disconnected from the Constitution.

You might be imagining that Flynn, Powell, and the other QAnon celebrities are just hucksters exploiting crazy people, and maybe they are. But this talk is dangerous because Trump is playing along. Tuesday, the NYT’s Maggie Haberman responded to reports of Flynn’s coup suggestion with this report:

Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August (no that isn’t how it works but simply sharing the information).

If you don’t trust a New York Times reporter’s account, National Review’s Charles W. Cooke has corroborated it:

Haberman’s reporting was correct. I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer, after audits of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed.

I can attest that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fund-raising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.

The media and the general public have gotten used to applying different standards to Trump than to anyone else, so it’s usually worth taking a moment to back up and ask how any other public figure would be expected to respond to such reports. Imagine, for example, that it’s 2017, and various people loosely associated with Hillary Clinton are predicting that she will somehow take power, possibly by violence. (After all, she did win the popular vote by 2.9 million in 2016, rather than getting stomped by more than 7 million, as Trump did in 2020. There would have been a lot more justification for a 2017 Clinton coup than a 2021 Trump coup.)

The answer’s obvious, right? There would be a national outcry for her to make a definitive statement: “Are you encouraging your followers to overthrow the government or not?”

Seth Abramson elaborates in a tweetstorm:

As anyone who has ever read a book or watched a movie or taken a history course knows, the most important element of a coup is the agreement of the individual who’ll be installed as a nation’s new president to participate in the installation. Without that there can be no coup. …

By confirming his willingness to participate in a coup, Trump allows the coup plotters to continue in their activities—but it’s much more than that. If/when the plotters reach out to individuals in the military, any soldier’s first question will be, “Is Donald Trump on board?” … No one plotting to participate in the first attempted U.S. coup since the Civil War is going to accept Powell’s word on what Trump is willing to do. Or Lindell’s. Or perhaps even Flynn’s. People in a position to aid the coup are *going to need to hear from Trump themselves*.

It’s in this context—having already achieved a meeting of the minds with the coup plotters—that Trump picks up a phone and makes a phone call to DC people who are well-connected and tells them that he’s willing to accept the U.S. presidency again if it can be secured for him.

If you find this confusing, as clearly Haberman does, consider an alternative scenario: Trump learns that his top advisers are planning and advocating for a coup and he immediately goes to his blog and declares that he’ll under no circumstances accept the presidency pre-2025. If Trump does that—I literally mean if he types about 10 words on his blog, which he could do in the next 5 minutes—the coup plot is officially dead. Over. Impossible. Irrelevant. A non-starter. There’s literally no longer a fear of a coup in the United States in that moment.

Instead, Trump is allowed to equivocate: He’s not actually saying the word “coup”, but how else does he get “reinstated”?

Compare to his January 6 speech that incited the takeover of the Capitol and delayed the counting of electoral votes. He never explicitly instructed his followers to do anything illegal. But he also clearly expected them to “stop the steal”, which they had no legal power to do.

As we know from Michael Cohen, this is how Trump operates. “He doesn’t give you orders, he speaks in a code.” Like a Mafia Don, that’s how he avoids conspiracy charges.

We saw in January how this code works when it comes to violent insurrection: He doesn’t tell people what to do, he just raises their expectations about what will happen. Then, at some point along the line, his followers come to understand that it’s not up to him to make his predictions come true, it’s up to them. It’s up to Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes for Trump to win Georgia. It’s up to the Cyber Ninjas to invent a reason to believe he really won Arizona. It’s up to Republican legislators in Pennsylvania to set up a similarly biased “audit” in their state. And then, after he has “audited” enough states to flip the Electoral College (which has already voted for 2020 and gone out of existence until 2024), somebody has to restore him to office.

Who? The people that he’s sold the dream to. If you’re counting on Trump being president again soon, nobody but you is going to make that happen.

He’s not telling you to upend the Constitution. But he’s also not giving you any other way to do it.

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10220545184239657&set=a.1202705067839

The Week That Broke Trump’s Brand

Officially, Trump was acquitted. But he still lost, and the Republican Party lost with him.


[I’m not sure who to credit for the cartoon above, but I found it here.]

At this rate, the fourth impeachment will nail him. (No. Seriously, I hope this is the last impeachment article I ever have to write.)

The Senate vote. When Trump was impeached in 2020, a majority voted for acquittal: 52-48 on the abuse-of-power article and 53-47 on obstruction of Congress. Only one Republican (Mitt Romney) voted to convict, and him only on abuse of power.

Saturday, in contrast, seven Republicans voted against Trump, resulting in a 57-43 majority for conviction. That was still ten short of the 2/3rds supermajority needed, but makes laughable Trump’s characterization of the trial as “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country”.

The seven Republicans with spines were Romney again, the two “moderate” women who always come up when Democrats are looking for bipartisan support (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine), the guy who is positioning himself to be the take-back-the-GOP-from-Trump 2024 presidential candidate (Ben Sasse of Nebraska), two guys who don’t have to worry about a primary challenge because they’re retiring (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina), and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, whose term runs until 2026, and who gave a refreshingly simple explanation of his vote: “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.” (That vote got him immediately censured by his state GOP.)

https://theweek.com/cartoons/966255/political-cartoon-trump-impeachment-constitution

The guilty-but-acquitted faction. You might think Cassidy’s explanation goes without saying — that of course people who thought he was guilty voted to convict — but in today’s intimidated Republican Party it doesn’t. Mitch McConnell also thought Trump was guilty, but he voted to acquit anyway, because that’s the kind of guy McConnell is.

The speech McConnell gave immediately after the vote, when he could just blow smoke without any consequences, resembled a summation for the prosecution. He called the insurrection “a disgrace” caused by Trump’s “disgraceful dereliction of duty”. He held Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the attack on the Capitol, because “The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.” After the insurrection began, Trump’s response was “unconscionable”. “He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored.”

McConnell didn’t convict because he manufactured a constitutional reason not to, one in conflict with the practice of the framing era, against a precedent set in the 19th century, and rejected by the Senate itself just a few days ago: “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”

Other too-timid-to-vote-their-conscience GOP senators — Thune, Portman, Capito, and maybe more — also hid behind this bogus “constitutional” principle. I predict this interpretation will go out the window if it ever protects a Democrat.

McConnell went on to say (in a section of his speech he apparently added at the last minute, because it wasn’t in the pre-speech transcript his office provided):

President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office. … He didn’t get away with anything yet. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.

This idea will go out the window even sooner. If Trump does get criminally prosecuted, expect McConnell and all the other “constitutional” objectors to denounce his indictment as a politicization of the justice system. Republicans never admit that they have placed Trump above the law, but any forum that tries to hold him accountable is the wrong one.

The witness controversy. Saturday morning there was a flurry of uncertainty, as the House managers asked have a witness: Republican Rep. Herrera Beutler, who had reported on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s phone conversation with Trump:

When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol. McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’

This incident is damning, because it emphasizes not just that Trump wasn’t eager to call the mob off, but that he was using the attack to pressure Congress; he wanted them not to finalize his loss by accurately counting the electoral votes.

The problem with Beutler’s account is that it’s hearsay; the story of the call was “relayed to me” by McCarthy. Her testimony would backfire if Trump’s lawyers then called McCarthy to the stand and he denied that the incident ever happened. If Trump’s lawyers wanted to call a lot of witnesses — they claimed they would, but that was probably a bluff — the trial might have continued for two weeks or more.

In the end, a compromise was worked out: An affidavit from Beutler was entered into the record, no witnesses were called, and the trial wrapped up on Saturday as planned.

On my Twitter feed, I saw the progressives I follow — both national figures and my personal friends — react in outrage. DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas tweeted (and was retweeted by Amanda Marcotte):

The storyline just changed from “soulless Republicans acquit guilty Trump” to “cowardly Democrats abandon case”

I don’t see it. (And as a matter of record, that was not the Sunday morning headline.) To me it looks like this: As of Saturday morning, the prosecutors had achieved everything they were going to achieve. They had performed flawlessly and made a convincing case to the country, while Trump’s lawyers looked pathetic. They had persuaded enough Republican senators to invalidate Trump’s predictable claim of a “witch hunt”, but not enough to convict.

The wonderful thing about a trial is that it cuts through the cacophony of conflicting voices and focuses attention on a single narrative, or two competing narratives. Trump’s scattershot approach — Antifa! the George Floyd riots! — may work on social media, but he had no answer for the story the House managers told: After Trump had lost the election, he tried to hang onto power through lies and violence.

America heard that story.

Keeping the trial going for another week or two would not have changed the outcome. It’s possible those two weeks would have gilded the lily. Maybe Republicans would squirm more and look worse to the public. But another possibility was that something unpredictable would give Trump’s supporters a talking point. (Imagine, say, that another police shooting had led to violence from groups Democrats support.) Maybe the trial would bog down in procedural issues and the nation would tune out. Maybe the politics would turn as voters wondered why the Senate was talking about Trump rather than Covid relief.

If I had been in the Democrats’ strategy room, I think I’d have said, “We’ve got what we’re going to get. Let’s end this before anything goes wrong.”

Trump lost. One reason I feel that way is that I agree with David Frum: Trump lost. As the NYT’s Peter Baker put it, the vote was “an escape, not an exoneration”.

I think the 57-43 vote, in which Democrats stayed united and Republicans fractured, is the final episode of the 2020 election — the loss that concludes four months of Trump losing.

Ever since the vote totals started moving decisively towards Biden late on Election Night, Trump has been assuring his supporters that vindication was coming: Election boards would refuse to validate Biden’s win. No matter how many times Trump’s lawyers failed, the next court case would be the big one. Republican governors would refuse to certify the election results. Republican legislatures would appoint their own electors. Mike Pence would refuse to recognize the swing state votes; and if he didn’t, January 6 would be “wild”.

https://www.cicero.de/el-paso-duff-moses-donald-trump-cartoon-hate

I hope that someday, somebody in Trump’s inner circle lets us know what he thought was going to happen when he sent his mob to the Capitol. His pre-insurrection speech didn’t instruct them just to protest the inevitable culmination of the electoral process, he told them to stop it: “stop the steal”. But how did he imagine they would do that? Just standing outside the Capitol waving Trump flags clearly would not do it. And even their violent riot only delayed Trump’s defeat by a few hours. So what was his plan for victory? Did he really expect them to hang Pence? Hunt down Pelosi? Use those zip-ties to take members of Congress hostage? Capture or destroy the electoral-vote ballots? What?

Whatever he imagined, it didn’t work. The insurrection was another defeat. His QAnon supporters then had elaborate fantasies of what would happen on Inauguration Day, but that vision only yielded another disappointment. And this week, if you were waiting for Trump himself or his brilliant legal team to humiliate his accusers, you were disappointed again.

The broken brand. When I think about Trump’s appeal, I remember a line out of Robert Penn Warren’s classic political novel All the King’s Men. Weeks after the Boss, Governor Willie Stark, has been assassinated, the narrator runs into Stark’s stuttering driver Sugar Boy. “They w-w-wasn’t n-n-nobody like the B-B-Boss,” he says. “He could t-t-talk so good.”

People look for things in their heroes that they find lacking in themselves. In Trump, people who felt like they were losing identified with a winner. Americans who felt voiceless and powerless identified with someone who was loud, unafraid to say outrageous things, and impossible to ignore. If they feared being called “racist” or wearing some other negative label, they loved that Trump never took such criticism lying down, but always gave back better than he got. I’ve heard his White House’s communications strategy described like this: Every day should be a drama in which Trump defeats his enemies.

That’s been his brand: a fighter, a winner. And this week completely wrecked it. Day after day, the House managers described his “Big Lie” of election fraud, and how it led to the failed insurrection. And no one struck back. He was invited to testify and chickened out. His lawyers had a giant stage on which to prove to the world that Biden stole the presidency, but (like the lawyers in most of his court cases) they didn’t try. Instead, they argued narrow legal points: The Constitution doesn’t allow the Senate to convict a former president. The First Amendment gave him a right to say what he did, whether it was true or not.

Rather than defend him, Republican senators hid behind technicalities. No talented lawyers would take his case, so he was left with clowns that Jamie Raskin’s crew completely outclassed. At times it seemed as if Trump’s lawyers hadn’t even talked to their client. When did Trump find out the riot was happening? asked Senators Collins and Murkowski, two potential swing votes. There was no way to know, claimed Michael Van Der Veen (a personal injury lawyer suddenly called up to the big leagues), because the House managers had refused to investigate. Later, Van Der Veen whined that the trial was “the most miserable experience I’ve had down here in Washington, D.C.”, setting Raskin up to respond: “For that I guess we’re sorry, but man, you should have been here on January 6th.”

Trump is no longer the larger-than-life winner his followers need him to be. He’s a loser surrounded by losers. (And that’s only going to get worse as lawsuits and indictments unrelated to January 6 start to roll in.) Trump was supposed to make people stop laughing at his supporters, but if you’ve been echoing his repeated claims of vindication, you keep getting embarrassed when they come to nothing.

Now that the trial has ended, the country’s attention will shift back to the battle against Covid, and to Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal to repair the economic damage it has done. For months — even while he was still president — Trump has had nothing to say about the pandemic. And now, no one cares what he thinks.

The broken party. The Senate outcome — Democrats united, Republicans divided — symbolizes a larger political reality going forward. The split wasn’t between those who believed the Democratic narrative and those who don’t. A bipartisan consensus of Americans understand now that Trump tried to stay in power through lies and violence. Democrats are united in believing this was bad. Republicans are split about it.

CNN’s Ronald Brownstein examines the polling and finds a disturbing fault line in the GOP.

One-sixth to nearly one-fifth of Republicans have praised the January 6 attack in polling from PBS NewsHour/Marist and Quinnipiac. That’s a far higher percentage than among the public overall (just 8% in the Marist survey and 10% in Quinnipiac.) In the American Enterprise Institute poll, about 3-in-10 Republicans said they believed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The share of Republican voters who express support for the use of force to advance their political goals in general is considerably larger. In the American Enterprise Institute survey, 55% of Republicans agreed that “we may have to use force to save” the “American way of life.” Roughly 4-in-10 agreed with an even more harshly worded proposition: “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.”

Brownstein suggests that what Mitch McConnell has described as a “cancer” in the party may have gotten so big that it is inoperable. Maybe the conspiracy-theory-and-violence faction of the GOP is too small to win with, but too big to win without.

I don’t think anybody over there has an answer for that.

The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning

Naive Trumpism is dead, but the right-wing insurrection is just getting started.


A history of violence. Of course the Trump administration would end in violence.

Trump’s brand of populism has had a violent undercurrent from the beginning, and Trump himself has done little to reject that tendency or even tone it down. Only a couple months after he descended the escalator in 2015, he made excuses for two of his fans beating a homeless Hispanic man with a metal pole, describing his supporters as “very passionate … They love this country and want it to be great again.” When neo-Nazis chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, and one of them murdered a counter-protester, he talked about the “very fine people on both sides“. He gave a presidential shout-out to Kyle Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim, ignoring the fact that people were chasing Rittenhouse because he had already killed someone.

I won’t attempt a more complete accounting of Trumpist violence — the guy who mailed all the pipe bombs, the guy who took Trump’s “invasion” rhetoric so literally that he murdered Hispanics in an El Paso mall, the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor — because Vox already did that.

Of course, politicians never have complete control over their followers. But there are responsible and irresponsible ways to react when your people cross the line. Bernie Sanders, for example, said this in 2017:

I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

You will search in vain for a similarly unequivocal rejection by Trump of pro-Trump violence. After a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was foiled, Trump muddied his denunciation of the plot with criticism of Whitmer and an endorsement of the plotters’ political goals.

I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer — open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!

Occasionally, handlers have pressured the President into putting some kind of distance between himself and the most thuggish elements of the MAGAverse. But his heart has never been in it — such statements became known as Trump’s “hostage videos” — and he would quickly walk them back with much more fervor, lest any of his brownshirts feel unappreciated.

And then he lost the election.

It wasn’t close. Biden’s 7-million vote victory wasn’t quite as big as Obama’s 2008 landslide, but before that you have to go back to Bill Clinton in 1996 to find a similar margin. The Electoral College rigs presidential elections in Republicans’ favor, but even that outcome was convincing: 306-232. The media’s delay in calling the election was due to the Covid pandemic and the number of mail-in votes, not any narrowness in the results.

Trump has long threatened violence if he didn’t get what he wanted. In March of 2016 he warned that “you’d have riots” if the Republican Party found a way to deny him the nomination. That fall, he would only commit to accepting the election results “if I win“. Asked in September of 2020 if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in case he lost, Trump replied “We’ll have to see what happens.” When challenged to break with the violent white-supremacist Proud Boys, Trump told them to “stand back and stand by“.

Stand by for what? Wednesday we found out.

https://theweek.com/cartoons/958759/political-cartoon-trump-georgia-call

The Big Lie. Even more pronounced than his affinity with violence has been Trump’s habit of saying things because he wants them to be true, a self-serving exaggeration of the power-of-positive-thinking religion he was raised in.

Some of his self-flattering fictions have been petty and inconsequential, like his insistence that his inaugural crowd was larger than Barack Obama’s. Others have been more significant, like his claim that 3-5 million non-citizens voted illegally in 2016, a total that conveniently accounted for Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote. He wanted the Mueller report to “totally exonerate” him, but it did not. And we will never know exactly how many additional Americans died because of Trump’s lies about the coronavirus — that it was just the flu, that doctors inflated the death statistics, that it was under control, that masks don’t work, that business closures aren’t necessary, that hydroxychloroquine is a miracle cure — but it’s probably in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

Among his tens of thousands of lies since taking office, his claim that he won “by a landslide” in the election that he actually lost by a wide margin, but that his victory was “stolen” from him by Democratic fraud, was Trump’s Big Lie, the kind of lie Hitler described in Mein Kampf.

in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Historian Timothy Snyder made the connection to the current situation:

The force of a big lie resides in its demand that many other things must be believed or disbelieved. To make sense of a world in which the 2020 presidential election was stolen requires distrust not only of reporters and of experts but also of local, state and federal government institutions, from poll workers to elected officials, Homeland Security and all the way to the Supreme Court. It brings with it, of necessity, a conspiracy theory: Imagine all the people who must have been in on such a plot and all the people who would have had to work on the cover-up.

Trump’s electoral fiction floats free of verifiable reality. It is defended not so much by facts as by claims that someone else has made some claims. The sensibility is that something must be wrong because I feel it to be wrong, and I know others feel the same way. When political leaders such as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan spoke like this, what they meant was: You believe my lies, which compels me to repeat them.

Trump was already setting up this lie before the election even happened, telling his supporters that he could only lose by fraud, and that voting by mail was inherently rife with fraud. On election night, he falsely claimed victory, and subsequently, as recounts, hand recounts, signature audits, and every other kind of verification knocked down his baseless allegations, his claims just got wilder. In the January 6 speech that sent the mob heading towards the Capitol, he told lies already long refuted: that in Pennsylvania “You had 205,000 more ballots than you had voters.” In Detroit, “174,000 ballots were counted without being tied to an actual registered voter.”

The conspiracy to deny him a second term grew and grew: It now had to include not just Biden’s people, not just Democrats, but his own appointees like Christopher Krebs and Bill Barr, Republican election commissioners, Republican secretaries of state and governors, and ultimately even Mike Pence.

The attack on the Capitol. Even the most talented liar sometimes faces a confrontation with reality that can’t be explained away. A key part of Trump’s Big Lie wasn’t just that he should have won, or that the Democrats had stolen the election, but that they would not get away with it. The fraud would be exposed, the election results reversed, and a Trump second term inaugurated on January 20.

Something had to give eventually, because on January 20 Trump either would or wouldn’t start a second term. For two months, the date of MAGA salvation kept getting pushed back and the mechanism changing. At first, the story was that Trump’s election-night lead in key states would hold. When that didn’t happen, he claimed that the states would refuse to certify Biden’s win. When they did — even the ones like Georgia and Arizona with Republican officials — he said the courts would intervene, culminating in a showdown before a Supreme Court with three Trump appointees and a 6-3 Republican majority. When the Supreme Court wanted no part of his scheme, he told his followers that Republican state legislatures would throw out the elections and appoint Trump electors. But on December 14, Biden’s 306 certified electors voted, and there was only one remaining possibility to overturn the People’s will: when Congress counted the electoral votes on January 6.

At that point, new elements of the fantasy emerged: Congress had the power to throw out a state’s certified electoral votes, in spite of the 12th Amendment, which empowers it only to “open” and “count” the votes sent by the states. As the official presiding over this opening and counting, Vice President Pence had the power to recognize alternative slates of Trump-supporting electors — a power that, if it existed, would guarantee that no party in power ever lost the White House. In 2001, Al Gore could have recognized the Democratic electors from Florida and declared himself president. Joe Biden could have tossed Trump’s slates in 2017 and appointed Hillary Clinton.

Imagine that you believed all this nonsense, and think about how your anger might have risen as you heard that Mike Pence was refusing to exercise his power to count the votes however he wanted, and Mitch McConnell would not rally Republican senators to “stop the steal” of Trump’s landslide. Cowardly Republicans refused to seize this moment, and instead would let Joe Biden’s radical socialism destroy America.

Unless the People rose up.

From the beginning, Trump’s January 6 “Save America” rally had violence written all over it. When Trump promoted it in a December 19 tweet, he said “Be there, will be wild!” After Trump stooge Louie Gohmert lost his insane lawsuit to disenfranchise millions of Americans, he said the court’s message was “You have to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa, BLM.” Violent pro-Trump groups plotted openly on social media platforms.

More than 80% of the top posts on TheDonald on Wednesday about the Electoral College certification featured calls for violence in the top five responses, according to research from Advance Democracy, an independent, nonpartisan organization. And it wasn’t just fringe websites. On Twitter, Advance Democracy found more than 1,480 posts from QAnon-related accounts about Jan. 6 that contained terms of violence since Jan. 1. On TikTok, videos promoting violence garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Trump certainly could or should have known all this when he spoke to the crowd he had assembled and instructed it to march on the Capitol. Quite likely he did know. But he spoke to rile the crowd up, not to keep it under control. After the violence began, he resisted for hours requests that he call the mob off. When he did ask them to go home, he did not denounce what they had done, but repeated the Big Lie that motivated them.

We now know that the incident could have been far worse than it actually was. A scaffold was set up, and some of the invaders chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” They killed a Capitol policeman. What might they have done if they’d gotten hold of people Trump frequently has demonized, like Speaker Pelosi or Rep. Adam Schiff?

They went into the Capitol, as Congress was counting electoral votes, equipped to take hostages—to physically seize officials, and presumably to take lives. … If the rioters had been a little quicker through the doors; if senators and representatives hadn’t just moved from their joint session into separate chambers to debate the Arizona challenge and had instead still been packed into one harder-to-evacuate room; if any number of things had happened differently, the three people next in the line of succession for the presidency might have been face to face with those zip-tie guys. And then: Who knows.

The Republican divide. The overt violence at the Capitol, putting the lives of even Republican members of Congress at risk, means that it is no longer possible to ignore what Trumpism is. “Naive Trumpism”, the idea that Trump throws a lot of red meat to his base, but that traditional Reagan/Bush Republicans can work with him within the constitutional order to cut taxes and appoint judges, is dead now. If you’re still a Trumpist today, you support ending democracy and overthrowing the constitutional order.

Historian Timothy Snyder divides the GOP into “gamers” (like Mitch McConnell) and “breakers” (like Trump).

Right now, the Republican Party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). In January 2021, this was visible as the difference between those Republicans who defended the present system on the grounds that it favored them and those who tried to upend it.

Until Wednesday, opportunists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley could blur that distinction and appear to be on both sides. Going forward, such a position will no longer be tenable. The people who invaded the Capitol are either freedom fighters or traitors. There is no middle ground.

Democracies have to defend themselves. This is one of the lessons I glean from my reading about Hitler’s rise to power. The Weimar Republic fell, at least in part, because it lacked the will to defend itself, or to defend the government’s monopoly on the use of force. Hitler himself first drew national attention by leading the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. It was his first attempt to take power, and it earned him a five-year sentence for treason. He was released after nine months, having learned that treason against the democratic government was just not that big a deal.

In subsequent years, brownshirt violence was often winked at by German law enforcement, which tended to be conservative and to dislike the same people the Nazis were beating up. Similarly Wednesday, while most police at the Capitol risked their lives to defend Congress, at least a few policemen seemed to be on friendly terms with the invaders.

The Capitol Insurrection may mark the end of naive Trumpism, and split the GOP into gamers and breakers. But it also marks the beginning of a darker campaign of right-wing violence that the Biden administration will have to confront. We don’t know what further violence may erupt on Inauguration Day, or between then and now. But the end of Trump will not be the end of the movement. The Whitmer kidnapping plot may be a model for future actions, and I’m sure others have noticed that a 50-50 Senate can be flipped back to Republican control with a single bullet.

Paul Krugman’s first column after Wednesday’s riot didn’t invoke Hitler or the Nazis by name, but warned:

if history teaches us one lesson about dealing with fascists, it is the futility of appeasement. Giving in to fascists doesn’t pacify them, it just encourages them to go further.

I hope Joe Biden has learned that lesson.

This Week in the Trump Coup

The big thing to note is that the Electoral College is voting today, and that none of the 306 electoral votes Biden won in the election has been taken away by Trump’s 50+ lawsuits.

During impeachment, Republicans argued that Congress would overstep if it removed Trump so close to an election, because that was for the voters to decide. But of course, now that the voters have decided by a wide margin to remove Trump themselves, Republicans hold that decision to be invalid too.

Remember how this started: Biden’s victory became clear the Saturday after the election. When Trump didn’t concede right away, as all other losing candidates in living memory have, Republicans said we should give him time to adjust to his loss. Then they argued that he had a right to pursue all his legal options until the states certified their votes. Then they pushed back the date until the electoral votes were cast.

But of course this isn’t the end of it either. Now they’re talking about challenging the electoral votes when Congress meets to count them on January 6. That challenge will fail too, and then we’ll see what else they come up with, and how long they can keep this going.

In the meantime, it’s turning into a good scam for our conman-president. He has collected nearly a quarter billion dollars from his sheep to “fund” this challenge process, which costs only a fraction of that total. The longer he can tell supporters that he has a chance to win, the longer the cash keeps rolling in.


The downside, of course, is that people believe him. They believe Biden is stealing the election, but that Trump will still prevail. And as they catch on to the fact that Trump isn’t going to prevail, they’re going to become increasingly violent.

We saw that beginning to happen this weekend, with the Proud Boys and other Trump supporters rioting in D.C. and various other cities.

Police in Olympia, Wash., arrested an armed right-wing protester and charged him with shooting a counterdemonstrator during protests on Saturday night.

In the nation’s capital, at least four people were stabbed, including someone who is now in critical condition, and 33 more were arrested, after rallies supporting President Trump descended into chaos fueled by white nationalists. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham estimates that as many as 700 Proud Boys and their confederates roamed downtown streets looking to start fights, clashing with about 200 anti-Trump protesters.

In Michigan

Michigan’s 16 electors will convene at 2 p.m. Eastern inside a heavily guarded state capitol in Lansing to cast their ballots for Joe Biden to become president and Kamala Harris to become vice president.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) said in a statement overnight that the entire capitol complex will be closed to the public based on “recommendations from law enforcement” amid “credible threats of violence.” Police will escort each of the electors from their cars amid what’s expected to be a large “Stop the Steal” protest outside.


The week’s most horrifying story was also one of its most absurd: The lawsuit Texas filed asking the Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The suit itself was ridiculous, because how one state chooses its electors is not any other’s state’s business — which is what the Supreme Court said when it tossed the suit for lack of standing. The absurdity and insubstantiality of it didn’t stop 17 other state attorneys general from joining the suit or 126 Republican members of Congress from signing an amicus brief supporting it.

Let’s be clear about what would have happened if Texas had won: American democracy would be over. The voters could cast 81 million votes against a sitting president, defeat him by seven million votes, and even jump the hurdles of the archaic Electoral College — and he could hang onto power anyway. It is hard to imagine how future elections could proceed, once the Supreme Court had reduced them to an empty exercise. It’s also hard to imagine the Union hanging together. Why should blue states stay in a Union where their votes don’t count?

A barrage of other Trump suits got tossed in various state and federal courts, and I’m not going to go into them all. What it comes down to is that there is no court in any state that endorses Trump’s claim that Biden’s win is fraudulent. In most of the suits, Trump’s lawyers didn’t even really make that claim; the “evidence” they kept crowing about in public and social media wasn’t anything a court would recognize.

I agree with Amanda Marcotte’s interpretation: 2/3rds of Republicans don’t “believe” Trump really won the election any more than they believed President Obama was born in Kenya. The election-fraud conspiracy theory simply justifies a position they don’t want to state in so many words: To hell with democracy. Their side should be in power no matter what the majority of Americans want.

it’s important to see those who support Trump’s coup for who they are: People who have been radicalized, through racism, hateful propaganda, and a sense of perpetual grievance, against democracy. They aren’t going to change their minds because of new facts, because the underlying belief — which is that they deserve to be in power, no matter what — is the problem here. It’s a rising American authoritarianism, and we underestimate it at our peril.


This is a good time to revisit one of my favorite Jen Sorensen cartoons, which she drew in 2015.


Arguably the most disturbing thing about the Texas lawsuit was the 126 Republicans in Congress signed an amicus brief supporting the suit. New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell has proposed a hardball way to punish them:

Pascrell cites Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution in the letter, which “gives each chamber of Congress the ultimate authority to decide their membership.”

“Stated simply, men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as members of Congress,” Pascrell writes, adding that they were attempting to make President Trump “an unelected dictator” by endorsing the lawsuit.

Most Democrats don’t want to go that far, preferring to keep the moral high ground as the Party of Fair Play as opposed to the Party of Power At All Costs. And as a practical matter, the worst possible outcome would be for Speaker Pelosi to attempt something like this and fail for lack of a Democratic consensus.

However, I could get behind a halfway measure, which I would view as a shot across the Fascist bow: Make an example out of the 19 of those 126 Republicans who were elected from Wisconsin (1), Pennsylvania (7), Michigan (4), and Georgia (7). After all, they were on the same ballot as Biden and Trump, so the brief they signed alleges that the very election that qualifies them to sit in Congress was tainted by what the brief calls “unconstitutional ballots”. It would make perfect sense for the House to investigate this allegation before seating them. Coincidentally, this investigation should last until the Inauguration, at which point Speaker Pelosi could report that allegations of fraud were unsupported by evidence.

Opening Thoughts about the Trump Voter

Whenever I come across an idea that seems promising, I face a dilemma: Do I tell you all as soon as I start thinking about it, or do I wait until I’ve done the research to flesh it out properly? This blog’s most successful posts are the ones where I’ve taken time, done a bunch of background reading, and thought things through carefully. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party is a prime example. I thought about it for months, and it has gotten more than half a million hits in the last six years. Around 200 people looked at it last week.

But at the same time, there’s the question of topicality: If I know a lot of you are thinking about a question right now, shouldn’t I let you know that I’m thinking about it too? And if I have some preliminary conclusions that you might find useful, maybe I should pass them on, even if I don’t have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed yet. So that’s what I’m doing in this post.

The 74 million. As has been clear on this blog since Election Day, I was deeply disturbed to see 74 million Americans vote for a Trump second term. After everything he’s done these last four years, 74 million Americans — millions of whom didn’t vote for him in 2016 — said, “Stay. Get some more of us killed. Finish the job of destroying American democracy.”

Blessedly, 81 million Americans said, “No. Get the hell out of here.” And despite Trump pulling every lever of presidential power to defy the People and stay in office, the institutions of democracy have held. The Electoral College is voting today, and 306 electors are pledged to Joe Biden. On January 20, Trump will become an ex-president.

And yet, those 74 million Trump voters are still with us, and many of them are still believing every ridiculous thing he says, like that he really won in a landslide, but that Biden managed to manufacture vast numbers of fake votes — under the nose of a sitting president, whose Justice Department noticed nothing. In Georgia and Arizona, this vast fraud supposedly happened under the noses of Republican governors and secretaries of state, who also noticed nothing. Trump’s claims of fraud have failed to convince judges in over fifty lawsuits, including judges Trump appointed himself.

And still they believe him. Largely because of his influence over the base voters, droves of Republican elected officials have abandoned their integrity: Eighteen state attorneys general and 126 members of Congress signed on to an insane lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to throw out the 2020 election and hand Trump a second term in spite of the voters. (All three of his Supreme Court appointees refused.) If this suit had succeeded, if defeating Trump by seven million votes (in an election that Trump appointee Christopher Krebs called “the most secure in American history“) isn’t enough to take power away from him, then all future presidential elections would be meaningless. Democracy would be over in America, and quite possibly the Union would break up.

And that’s what the Republican Party supports these days.

So what do we do? How should we understand Trump voters? How should we talk to them? How do we manage to hang on to our constitutional republic in spite of them?

I’ve been thinking about those questions a lot this last month.

The too-easy answers. There are lots of explanations of the Trump voters that strike me as too easy and too satisfying to the liberal self-image. Like:

  • They’re just stupid.
  • They’re insane.
  • They’re in thrall to a mind-numbing, reality-rejecting version of Christianity.
  • They’re in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”: racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes.

I admit, none of these explanations is entirely baseless. Trump’s support is concentrated in the less-educated portion of the population, and his supporters regularly swallow his incredible (and often self-contradictory) lies. Increasingly, they are taken in by Q-Anon or similar conspiracy theories that ought to sound crazy. White supremacists are front-and-center at Trump rallies, and Trump supporters in general love to demonize Black Lives Matter or leading women of color (like AOC). The Christian leaders who back Trump (in spite of his complete ignorance of Christianity and lack of any Christian virtue) are also likely to deny evolution, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and other well established aspects of reality.

Perhaps the best reason to believe these pejorative theories of Trump support is that Trump himself seems to believe them. Like conmen everywhere, he does not admire his marks. For example, whenever he needs a distraction from something he has bungled, he picks a fight with some prominent Black person, like LeBron James or Don Lemon, or he tells the Squad to “go back” where they came from. He knows that playing a racist or sexist is a good look for him.

Restoring democracy. I resist these theories, though, because they seem self-defeating to me. If 74 million voters are just stupid or crazy or incurably bigoted, then why exactly do we want to save democracy? Shouldn’t we just disenfranchise them before they disenfranchise us? If Biden could stage a coup of his own, ignore the anti-democratic Senate, and start dictating sensible policies to mitigate climate change, guarantee health care, and reduce economic inequality, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

I reject that scenario. Messy and inefficient as democracy can be, I want to find a way back to it. I believe that when you start cutting large numbers of people out of the process, it doesn’t turn out well, even if you get some good things done in the short term.

Restoring democracy in such a way that it survives into the distant future involves reversing the polarization of recent years and shaping some kind of national consensus about who we are and what we’re trying to do. (It also involves recognizing that we have to do more than just “restore” democracy, because large swathes of the citizenry were cut out of the governing process in whatever era we might imagine going back to.) We can’t do that if we begin by writing off 74 million voters.

The answer I want. So before I even start, I have to confess that I’m looking for an answer of a certain shape: I want to find something in the Trump voter (or at least in a large number of Trump voters) that I can sympathize with and imagine making common cause around. If the core of what they want is to lock immigrant kids in cages, then I can’t go there. If the essence of Trumpism is restoring the patriarchy and sending gays back to the closet, there’s no deal to be made. But what if that’s not it?

Trump’s appeal. I view Trump’s appeal as being rooted in resentment and wounded pride, which Trump has exploited in destructive ways. Trump has turned that resentment against precisely the groups Hillary’s basket-of-deplorables quote describes: against Blacks, women, gays, immigrants, and non-Christians (especially Muslims). And Trump has offered his followers a restored pride in their race, their religion, and the power of their nation to bully other nations.

But what is that resentment and that wound really about? As I see it, Blacks, women, and the rest didn’t really do anything to the MAGA-hatters; they’ve just been offered as scapegoats. Same-sex couples haven’t harmed opposite-sex couples. Trans folk haven’t stopped the rest of us from identifying as men or women, if that’s what we want to do. Every American-Christians-are-persecuted story I’ve ever looked at has fallen apart under examination.

The key to bridging the gap — not all the way to the neo-Nazis, but to a lot of ordinary Americans who voted for Trump — ought to be finding an interpretation of that wound and that resentment that doesn’t demonize the people who feel it.

The progressive account. The progressive movement offers such an explanation, but I’m not satisfied with it. Bernie Sanders and his allies will tell you that the wound is economic: Trump supporters — particularly non-college-educated white people in rural areas — feel themselves slipping out of the middle class through no fault of their own.

The best description of that economic anxiety comes from Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book Strangers in Their Own Land.

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black — beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

There’s a long discussion about white male privilege to be had here. (The implicit assumption is that “you” deserved the spot you had in line, and so the Blacks and women and immigrants who got moved ahead of you are interlopers.) But the essence of the problem is the unmoving line. If you’re making good progress towards the Dream, and you know you’ll get there soon enough, then who really cares if somebody else gets there a little ahead of you?

So the progressive solution is to get the line moving again by taxing the wealthy and using the money to relieve the stresses of working-class life (through government-financed health care, a higher minimum wage, and a strong safety net) and to open more avenues for upward mobility (free college and revitalized infrastructure).

Do all that, the progressives say, and working-class people will realize that Democrats are back on their side, so the Trump movement will fade away.

That seems plausible, but I don’t see much supporting evidence. I think progressives were fooled by the support Bernie got in the 2016 primaries from working-class white voters in rural areas of, say, Michigan and Wisconsin. But in 2020, when Bernie was running against a man rather than a woman, those counties flipped to Biden. It was never about the progressive economic agenda.

Depleted social capital. Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America (which I did a mini-review of in a weekly summary in 2019) is a conservative look at the Trump phenomenon. Carney argues (with data to back him up) that the core Trump voters — the people who supported him in the 2016 Republican primaries over more traditional Republican candidates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — were not the people struggling economically. Instead, they tended to be successful people in failing communities. Not the guy who lost his job when the factory moved to Indonesia, but the guy who runs the Chevy dealership that sold trucks to guys who lost their jobs when the factory moved to Indonesia, or the guy whose plumbing-and-heating-contractor business is surviving, but hasn’t been nearly as prosperous since the local factory moved to Indonesia.

So Carney’s solution to the Trump-voter problem is to shore up the social capital of the small towns and rural areas in America’s heartland. This seems a little closer to the mark, though exactly how to do it is a little trickier. (James and Deborah Fallows’ book Our Towns, which highlights successful small towns, might be a place to start thinking about that.)

When I picture the view from my Midwestern hometown (Quincy, Illinois), Medicare for All and free college are nice, but they don’t really solve the problem. They make it easier for people to survive as individuals, and to educate their kids so they can move away and succeed in places that still have opportunity. But they don’t provide a vision of how Quincy itself thrives into the future and makes opportunities for its children to put down roots without moving away.

What all of this leaves out, though, is the kind of resentment we’re seeing right now, directed at doctors and the government officials who listen to them. The people who make a scene at Target because they don’t want to wear masks — that’s not economic anxiety or even community-social-capital anxiety. That’s something else.

It’s related to the own-the-libs anger that shows up on social media. These are the people who positively rejoice when Trump makes fun of the disabled or claims that he couldn’t possibly have molested all the women who accuse him, because they’re just too ugly. That’s not about fear that immigrants will take your job, or concern that you won’t be taken care of if you get sick, or worry that your grand-kids will have to grow up in San Francisco.

Caste. So there are two other pieces of the puzzle I’m trying to integrate in, and this is where I’m going to need some time to get the fit right. Both are related to books I finished reading this week. One is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, which makes the observation that a caste system provides a sense of security to people who aren’t in the bottom caste, because they know someone will always be below them. That isn’t just (or even primarily) an economic security, it’s a social and psychological security.

So the guy who believes that he’s white trash takes comfort in the idea that he’s at least white trash. As long as whites are on top, he has some claim to self-worth.

Wilkerson raises the idea that poor and working-class whites whose votes for Trump seem to run against their economic interests (because Trump’s policies may take away their health insurance and won’t raise their minimum wage) may have a broader view of their interests than just economics. They may see their whiteness as a birthright they aren’t willing to sell.

Something similar might be going on with the Christians who refuse to sell cakes or do floral arrangements for same-sex marriages. It’s absurd to believe that God cares about these lines in the sand. (Neither cakes nor flowers play any sacramental role in Christian marriage rituals.) But if these people’s self-worth comes from the social supremacy of Christianity, then making a stand that says “We’re still on top” will be important to them.

This isn’t bigotry in the hating sense. The person who feels an attachment to everybody staying in “their place” may not have any conscious animosity towards people who are assigned to different places. But the current system gives that person a “place” somewhere that isn’t the bottom, and if the system falls apart, he doesn’t know where he’ll be.

So now the question becomes: What alternative self-worth do we have to offer such a person? And how can we communicate this offer to him or her?

Defining reality. One of the hardest things for me to accept about Trump supporters is their willing acceptance of all sorts of absurdities. As various Facebook memes have been putting it lately: The pandemic is a hoax, but Trump deserves credit for producing the vaccine that I’m going to refuse to take.

Bill Barr was wonderful until he refused to go along with the Biden-stole-the-election lie, and now he’s part of the Deep State. Amy Coney Barrett has gone from savior to villain in just a few weeks. The only way to know what’s real these days is to follow Trump’s tweets, and be prepared to change your mind as he does, from one moment to the next.

The 2019 book Democracy and Truth by Sophia Rosenfeld has some clues about what’s going on here.

Every society has some process for reaching consensus on what is real, what is possible, what categories people need to keep track of, and so on. (One key element of “wokeness” is recognizing the social construction of both race and gender. Yes, there is an underlying physical reality: Some people’s skin is darker than other’s, and some people have organs that other people lack. But the exact boundaries of these categories and what — if any — significance they have varies from one society to another.) Different people play different roles in this process, with some being more empowered than others. One of the not-well-understood aspects of Trumpism is that Trumpists feel alienated from the reality-defining class.

This has been an issue for years when it comes to Christianity and evolution. The scientific community had a debate in the 1800s, and settled on the consensus that Darwinian evolution really happened, while the young-Earth account of Genesis is just a myth. Lots of Christians don’t like that conclusion, and have tried for years to argue that their definition of reality deserves as much or more deference than the scientists’ definition.

The same thing happens with climate change and all sorts of other ideas that get less attention: There’s an expert class that defines the social consensus about reality, but lots of people are in rebellion against its conclusions. At a mundane level, this plays out on the front page of The New York Times every day: Some things are really happening while others aren’t. And some things are happening but aren’t worth noting.

In general, different people are involved in different reality-defining processes. And even if you’re not involved in any of them, you might feel some connection to the people who are. For example, I play no role in deciding whether the various Covid-19 vaccines are safe. But I have friends who are biologists, and they have friends are are involved. I’ve also participated in a different research community (mathematics), so I have a general grasp of the peer-review process, and so forth. In addition, there was a point in my life when I was deciding what field to specialize in, and if I had made a different choice, I might be working with Dr. Fauci today. (Or at least I believe that.)

But many people in society feel completely separated from that process. They have opinions on the subject, but nobody cares. In fact, nobody cares about any of their opinions about what’s real and what isn’t. They don’t know anybody who decides what’s real, and they aren’t aware of ever having had a chance to enter the reality-defining class. People like them don’t define reality. Somebody else does.

That’s the kind of alienation that makes you throw a fit in Target. This mask isn’t a moon rocket, it’s a piece of cloth. Why is your opinion about it better than mine?

That alienation will also lead you to conspiracy theories, where reality gets defined by an alternative community in alternative ways. The folks in Q-Anon care what you think. Dr. Fauci doesn’t. He thinks he’s better than you are.

Trump consistently stands up for these alienated folks by thumbing his nose at the reality-defining class as a whole. There’s a pandemic? Maybe, maybe not. Doctors say masks help, but I think hydroxychloroquine is better. My friend the My Pillow Guy has a theory; why don’t we listen to him?

So here’s a thought I’m still wrestling with: How do we make the reality-defining class more accessible? Or more transparent? Or at least less off-putting?

Republicans Start Reaping the Whirlwind

Republican officials who want to recognize reality, do their jobs, and follow the law are finding themselves branded as Republicans In Name Only.


Early in the classic movie A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More is arguing with zealous young William Roper about the importance of the Law. Roper asks whether More would extend the benefits of the law even to the Devil himself, and More turns the question around: “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper allows that this would be a fine idea, that he would be willing to “cut down every law in England” in order to pursue the Devil. And More responds:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

In the weeks since the election, Republicans like Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and even Trump appointees like Attorney General Bill Barr, and cybersecurity czar Christopher Krebs have been learning a similar lesson, not about Law, but about Reality.

For decades, Republicans have been motivating their base voters by dabbling in fantasies and conspiracy theories. But they have always imagined that the craziness could be put back in its bottle after it had served its purpose. In the waning days of the Trump administration, however, the fantasy world has taken over and demanded fealty. Republican officials who want to recognize reality, do their jobs, and follow the law are finding themselves branded as villainous turncoats, Republicans In Name Only.

Few in the GOP have the courage to stand up to that pressure. A Washington Post survey this week found that only 25 Republicans in Congress (later rising to 27) are willing to admit that Joe Biden won the election.

Two Republicans consider Trump the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 220 GOP members of the House and Senate — about 88 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress — will simply not say who won the election.

And soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump responded to that report by wanting to know who those disloyal Republicans are.

25, wow! I am surprised there are so many. We have just begun to fight. Please send me a list of the 25 RINOS.

And it’s not just the Stolen Trump Victory fantasy, it’s also the Covid Isn’t a Big Deal fantasy. Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine is facing calls for impeachment from his own party, because he insists on taking action to save his citizens’ lives. Viewed from the Conservative Fantasy World (CFW), his attempt to slow the spread of a deadly virus

promotes fear, turns neighbors against neighbors, and contracts the economy by making people fearful to leave their homes.

Other Republicans have taken note. South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem has seen Covid burn through her state like a wildfire through a dry grassland, and done essentially nothing to stop it. With visions of national office, Noem does not dare tie herself to reality.

At the end of the Trump administration, the CFW is not just one or two fantasies, it is many: Antifa is burning down our cities! Hunter Biden did [I can never quite figure out what]! The Deep State invented the Russia hoax! Joe Biden has dementia! The DNC server is in Ukraine! Bill Gates is trying to micro-chip us all! Anti-Covid restrictions are a plot against religion! Democrats are protecting an international pedophile ring! George Soros is financing a migrant caravan invasion of our country!

It’s not just an occasional rabble-rousing slogan any more, not just a Willie Horton ad or a food-stamp-lobster story that can be set aside after the inauguration. Republicans now live in a 24/7 fantasy world, and if anyone attempts to leave it, there are consequences.

As in the extreme branches of Islam, apostasy will not be tolerated. And the apostate cannot seek the protection of facts or logic or law, because in the zealous pursuit of liberal devils, all those barriers have been cut down.

Georgia. The consequences are most visible in Georgia, which Joe Biden won by just under 12,000 votes. That margin has held up through three recounts, including a hand recount (which would have corrected any problem with the voting machines).

In the CFW, however, Trump did not lose by seven million votes nationwide, but in fact won a resounding landslide. If only “legal” votes were counted, Trump would win 410 electoral votes, carrying even California. Former three-star general and pardoned felon Michael Flynn recited the catechism:

There is no doubt in my mind that he won this election. Hands down. In a landslide. I believe that at the end of the day we’re going to find out that he won by a massive landslide and he’ll be inaugurated come this January.

That landslide victory has to include Georgia’s 13 electoral votes, so anyone involved in verifying the vote totals or certifying the election must be part of the Biden Steal, including Kemp, Raffensperger, Republican state election official Gabriel Sterling, and a 20-year-old computer geek working for Sterling. All of them, including the 20-year-old, have been getting death threats. This set off Sterling, who delivered an epic rant (video, transcript).

Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, a patriot who ran CISA, to be shot. A 20 something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an EMS to a county computer so we could read it. It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. … This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.

The “senators” he is addressing are David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the ones involved in the January 5 runoffs, where Republicans need to win at least one seat to retain control of the Senate. Both are in a tricky position that prevents them from upholding reality, or even denouncing the threats of violence against fellow Republicans. They need the full support of Trump’s personality cult if they’re going to win their elections. But they also need the suburban voters who did in fact put Biden over the top last month.

At a time when Republicans need to unite, they are attacking each other. They are also asking their voters to believe contradictory things: Trump is going to win a second term, but Perdue and Loeffler need to win to keep President Biden from having a Democratic Senate. Republicans should come out and vote, even though the rigged voting machines will flip their votes to Democrats.

How did this happen? The Republican reliance on fantasy has grown tremendously in the last four years, but it didn’t start with Trump.

Back in 2012, in “Five Pretty Lies and the Ugly Truths They Hide” I picked out these bits of political whimsy:

  • Raped women don’t get pregnant.
  • The uninsured can get the medical care they need in the ER.
  • Tax cuts pay for themselves.
  • Gays can be “cured”.
  • Obama’s election proved that racism is over.

Of course, even then that was far from a complete list. “People who work hard aren’t poor,” is a perennial favorite, and you can always find some (white, of course) Republicans ready to tell you that slavery wasn’t really so bad. An entire genre of fantasy falls into the form “The real victims of discrimination are X” where the choices include all manner of privileged groups: men, whites, Christians, straights, and so on. And who can forget the Atlas-Shrugged vision of the productive rich, whose largesse provides for the rest of us by “giving” us jobs?

In addition to fantasies about how the world works, the CFW has included fantasies about events, like Saddam’s mobile chemical-weapons labs, the Benghazi stand-down order, Barack Obama’s birth in Kenya, and ObamaCare’s death panels.

The CFW is marked as much by what it leaves out as what it invents. Global warming isn’t real, and neither is systemic racism. Science has no more claim to authority than any other belief system, and evolution is “just a theory”. The human failings of the Founders have been airbrushed away, as have any unworthy motives behind American wars, or any economic contributions made by undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s advantage. None of that is new. But the key insight of Donald Trump, the one that allowed him to push aside so many better qualified and better connected Republican rivals in 2016, was that the balance of power between Fact and Fantasy had decisively shifted in favor of the unreal. Pre-Trump Republicans had treated the CFW the way an imperial power treats a colony: They went there when they needed something, like votes or campaign contributions. But when it was time to staff a government, Republicans like the Bushes or McCain or Romney would draw from the same expert class Democrats did. Considerable effort might go into explaining policy in fantasy-world terms, but the behind-closed-doors discussions that shaped those policies happened in the real world.

And don’t think that the full-time denizens of the CFW didn’t notice. They may be deluded, but they’re not stupid. They understood very well the phoniness of reality-based Republicans who merely humored them. Trump, on the other hand, stood out as more authentic, precisely because he had given himself whole-heartedly to the fantasy.

TrumpWorld. In exchange for his undivided loyalty to the fantasy other Republicans only exploited, the true-believing base awarded Trump the power to define that fantasy. Today, the CFW is what Trump says it is. If Trump’s ego will not allow him to face his defeat, then he didn’t lose. Anyone who says he did is a RINO, and any media outlet that reports the facts is Fake News. In the absence of any reliable independent source of information, any story is as good as any other. The only difference is who you trust and what you want to believe.

This kind of loyalty is an asset beyond the dreams of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But unfortunately for those Republicans who have hitched themselves to Trump’s CFW-defining power, he does not believe that he is hitched to them. He cares nothing for how loyal you have been in the past, but only about whether you support what he is saying now. If you don’t, he will turn ’round on you.

And how will you stand upright in the winds that blow then?

The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections

The results. Georgia and Arizona finally got called, completing the map of the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden is the winner, 306-232, the exact same margin Trump won by in 2016.

All the Senate races have also been called, with the two Georgia races resulting in run-offs. The make-up of the new Senate is 50-48, pending those two Georgia races.

A few House races are still being determined, but the shape of the outcome is clear: Democrats will retain control, but with a slightly smaller majority.

Measuring the bias built in to the Electoral College. Since 2016 and 2020 resulted in exactly the same 306-232 split in the Electoral College, we can see just how big a Republican bias that system has compared to the popular vote. Trump was able to get his 306 electoral votes while losing the popular vote by 2.8 million. In order to get his 306 EVs, Biden had to win by a margin that so far is 5.6 million and continues to grow as the final votes are tallied.

In each case, a relatively small number of votes in a few states determined the outcome. Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016 if she had gotten 10,705 more votes in Michigan, 44,293 in Pennsylvania, and 22,749 in Wisconsin, for a total of 77,747.

Using the currently available returns, Trump would have won this year if he had gotten 10,378 more votes in Arizona, 14,173 in Georgia, and 20,547 in Wisconsin, a total of 45,098. (That would have resulted in a 269-269 Electoral College tie, which would have thrown the decision into the House. Each state gets one vote in the House, and Republicans control 26 House delegations, so Trump would have been chosen.)

Think about that: If Trump had gotten those 45K votes, he still would have lost nationally by at least 5.5 million, and probably quite a bit more. But he would be president for four more years.

Admittedly, though, a scenario where a candidate gets exactly the votes he needs in exactly the states where he needs them is far-fetched. So here’s a more plausible variation: What if Biden’s margin were just 3/4% smaller across the board?

Biden won nationally 50.9%-47.3%, a 3.6% margin. But he won Wisconsin by .7%, Arizona by .3%, and Georgia by .3%. So in my 3/4%-less scenario, Biden carries the country 50.525%-47.675%, a margin of 2.85% or 4.4-million votes. He still has a popular-vote majority — not just a plurality — but he loses all three of the closest states, so Trump gets a second term.

I don’t see any way to justify that outcome. The Electoral College has to go.


Trump’s coup attempt. Just because it isn’t working doesn’t mean that it isn’t a coup. This week, Trump has been trying to create the conditions for him to hang onto power in spite of being rejected by the voters. For the most part, the Republican Party has been cooperating with his effort to overthrow American democracy.

Going into the election, various observers were laying out what Trump might do to subvert an election defeat. Here’s Barton Gellman in The Atlantic from September:

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

Gellman detailed the plan: deny the validity of mail-in ballots, tie the vote-count up in litigation, delay resolution until Republican state legislatures in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin feel justified in appointing their own pro-Trump electors. Make Congress or the Supreme Court — not the voters — decide who the real electors are. (Vox’ Andrew Prokop points out all the obstacles in the way of this scenario.)

So far, Trump has been carrying out that plan, and the majority of elected Republicans have been playing along with him. Fortunately for American democracy, Election Day went relatively smoothly and Biden’s win is not that close, so Trump’s litigation strategy has little to work with and a lot to accomplish: He needs to overturn — or at least cast doubt on — margins in the tens of thousands in at least three states.

He also needs to reverse the public perception that Biden won. This is why Fox News projecting a Biden victory and referring to him as the President-elect has so outraged Trump. He needs his followers to believe that the election is still undetermined.

It’s not working, and it’s not going to work — judges need to see some kind of evidence before they block certification of the election results, and Trump has none — but Trump and the Republicans should get no credit for that. They’ve been trying to overthrow American democracy; they just haven’t succeeded.

The non-transition. No one really expected Trump to make a gracious concession speech, as all previous losing candidates have done for the last century or so. Fundamentally, Trump is still that fragile-ego kid you knew in first grade: the one who never admitted a mistake and couldn’t lose at anything without claiming that the winner cheated.

(John McCain not only gave a very gracious speech in 2008, he joked about his loss later, claiming that after his election-night concession, he went to bed “and I slept like a baby. I woke up screaming every two hours.”)

But Trump has pushed his innate immaturity several steps down the road to assholery: He’s refusing to let his administration face the reality that Biden won the election and needs to get ready to take control of the government. This would be a problem in the best of times, but given that Trump is leaving Biden a broken economy and a plague running out of control, his petulance is becoming unpatriotic.

And so, the General Services Administration has not yet issued the ascertainment memo that releases funds for the transition process, providing office space and government resources like computers and email accounts. For comparison, the Obama White House issued a detailed transition memo on November 10, 2016, two days after the election.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Trump administration is refusing to meet with Biden’s people until GSA gives its OK. Biden is also not getting access to current intelligence reports like the Presidential Daily Brief. CNN reports:

Less than 10 weeks before Biden will take office, his team is locked out of crucial Covid-19 pandemic data and government agency contacts, which threatens to hamper the federal response amid peaking coronavirus cases and the expected mass distribution of a vaccine.

Again comparisons are in order: Bill Clinton began sharing PDBs with George W. Bush while the Florida recount was ongoing, “just in case” he happened to win. There is no downside to this, unless you suspect the possible next president of being a security risk.

Promoting unrest. Saturday, pro-Trump demonstrators came to Washington to join in the fantasy that Biden is stealing the election. Journalism Professor Jay Rosen used the WaPo’s coverage as an example of what not to do:

On stark display in the nation’s capital were two irreconcilable versions of America, each refusing to accept what the other considered to be undeniable fact.

What’s wrong here? The Post is acting as if actual reality is unknowable; we just have different groups saying different things. Rosen suggests saying this instead:

A militant faction had come to the nation’s capital to march for a fantasy, and to reject any institution that disallowed it, including for now Fox News.

The ongoing scam. Meanwhile, convincing the Trump personality cult that he still has a chance opens a new opportunity to scam them.

I’ve been on the Trump/Pence email list since 2016, but I’d never clicked one of the “Contribute” buttons until Thursday. That got me to a page with the following disclaimer in the fine print at the bottom:

Contributions to TMAGAC made by an Individual/Federal Multicandidate Political Committee will be allocated according to the following formula: 60% of each contribution first to Save America, up to $5,000/$5,000, then to DJTP’s Recount Account, up to a maximum of $2,800/$5,000. 40% of each contribution to the RNC’s Operating account, up to a maximum of $35,500/$15,000. Any additional funds will go to the RNC for deposit in the RNC’s Legal Proceedings account or Headquarters account, up to a maximum of $213,000/$90,000.

The marketing is all about election fraud; the email was asking me to contribute to Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund”. But that’s not where the money would go until after $5,000 had gone to Save America and another big sum to the RNC. If I’m giving less than $8,000, none of my money would go towards funding recounts and/or lawsuits.

So what is Save America? It’s a “leadership PAC”, which means Trump has wide latitude on how to spend it. Open Secrets says:

Leadership PACs are used to fund expenses that are ineligible to be paid by campaign committees or congressional offices. Those costs can include travel to raise a politician’s profile, for instance. … Politicians often use their PACs to donate to other candidates because they are considering seeking a leadership position in Congress, a higher office, or leverage within their own party as they show off their fundraising ability.

So basically Trump is using his “election fraud” scam as a way to raise money so that he can continue to fly around the country having rallies, while continuing to skim large chunks of cash into Trump Organization properties.

BTW: Trump’s “voter fraud hotline” has shut down due to prank calls.

Georgia and the Senate. Georgia election law requires a Senate race to be decided by a majority: If nobody gets a majority, the top two candidates meet in a run-off. So both of this year’s races are going to a run-off on January 5. Incumbent Senator David Perdue will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in one race, and Republican Kelly Loeffler (who was appointed to fill out the term of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons) and Democrat Raphael Warnock are running in the other.

If Democrats win both races, the Senate is split 50-50, leaving new Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie in the Democrats’ favor. That would mean that Chuck Schumer becomes majority leader. But if either Republican wins, Mitch McConnell stays in power.

Predicting what will happen here is beyond me. Biden narrowly won Georgia, while Perdue narrowly outpolled Ossoff. Warnock got more votes than Loeffler, but was far away from a majority (33%) in a multi-candidate race, and the third-place candidate was a Republican.

Given what we’ve just seen, it’s hard to trust polls. The contests will come down to turnout, which is also hard to guess: Will voters motivated by love or hate of Trump turn out when Trump isn’t on the ballot? With Biden headed to the White House, will voters want a Republican Senate to block him? Or will they vote against gridlock and give Biden a chance to govern? As reality dawns on the Trump personality cult, will they be angry and vote or depressed and stay home?

In Democrats’ favor, I think the Ossoff/Warnock combination works well: Warnock should get Black voters in Atlanta to turn out, while Ossoff should attract suburban women. But the temptation to be “independent” by voting for one Republican and one Democrat works against them.

What’s at stake in Georgia. It’s important to get the significance of the Georgia run-offs right, because the the Right will try to distort it.

A Mitch McConnell Senate will block virtually everything the Biden administration tries to do, including cabinet nominations. No new judges will get appointed. Every budget will be a brinksmanship drama, with a countdown to a government shutdown. Worse, McConnell will sabotage the Biden economy the same way he sabotaged the Obama economy, by forcing an inappropriately restrictive austerity. You can already see this happening in McConnell’s unwillingness to back any kind of pandemic stimulus.

But a 50-50 Senate will not be a nest incubating liberal overreach. VP Harris will break ties, but in practice the swing vote will be the 50th Democrat, who will usually be West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. If Manchin’s not for it, it’s not passing. So: no defunding the police, no government takeover of healthcare, no amnesty for illegal immigrants, no packing the Supreme Court, and no whatever else Fox News is rattling its viewers’ chains about.

In particular, a Manchin-centered Senate probably doesn’t end the filibuster, which means McConnell will retain a lot of blocking power. So the choice is whether the Senate will be mildly dysfunctional or totally dysfunctional.

Choose well, Georgia.

What Happens Tomorrow?

This year, Election Night is a lot more complicated than just watching the returns come in.


Ordinarily, on the day before an election I write about poll-closing times and what the experts expect in various states. When does it makes sense to start watching returns? What are some early indications to look for? How late will you have to stay up to see the race decided? Stuff like that.

But as in everything else, 2020 is different. This year, we have to think not just about when the polls close, but how the votes are counted. When do election officials start processing early and mail-in ballots? How long will various states wait for mail-in ballots to arrive? Will courts intervene?

And then there are the possibilities that often occur in third-world countries, but we never used to have to think about in America: Will there be violence? Will the President let the ballots be counted? Will either foreign or domestic agents launch cyberattacks, or use disinformation to create chaos?

Let’s look at the ordinary stuff first, then work our way out to the unusual.

What the national polls say. As of this morning, 538’s model says Biden has a 90% chance of victory. That’s far from a sure thing, but it means that unusual (but not impossible) things will have to happen for Trump to win.

Nationally, 538’s polling average has Biden ahead 51.9% to Trump’s 43.5%. Not only is that a much bigger lead than Hillary Clinton’s 45.7%- 41.8% in 2016, but there are fewer undecided voters, and Biden’s lead has been much steadier, staying in the 8%-10% range for the last month. (In late September, Clinton led by less than the 2% she ultimately won the popular vote by.)

The conventional wisdom has been telling us that the race would tighten down the stretch, as it did in 2016, but so far there is no sign of it. In addition, the large number of votes already cast leaves less room for last-minute shifts in the public mood.

Does that mean Trump can’t win? Of course not. But it does tell us what kind of unlikely event would be required: A late-breaking shift of undecided voters wouldn’t do it. “Shy” voters afraid to tell pollsters they’re for Trump wouldn’t do it. (It’s hard to believe many of them would claim to be for Biden. Wouldn’t they just say they’re undecided?) One or two “unlucky” polls choosing an unrepresentative sample of voters wouldn’t do it.

In order for Trump to win, there has to be a large structural failure in how polls are constructed across the entire industry.

BTW. On the shy-voter theory: If there were something uniquely embarrassing about supporting Trump, I would expect to see a gap between Trump’s performance in the polls and Republican candidates lower down the ballot. Voters afraid to say they’re for Trump would be telling pollsters they’re for Thom Tillis in North Carolina or David Perdue in Georgia or Martha McSally in Arizona. But they’re not.

State polls. Of course, we don’t vote nationally, we use the archaic, Republican-biased Electoral College. That’s what the 538 model is based on. (They give Biden a 97% chance of winning the national popular vote, but only a 90% chance of becoming president. No other advanced country would tolerate a system like this.)

Looking at each state individually produces 538’s snake chart, the key section of which looks like this:

The easiest path for Biden to get to 270 electoral votes is to win all the states Clinton won in 2016 (the most difficult will be Minnesota and Nevada), and recapture Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

The least likely state on this list for Biden is Pennsylvania, where 538’s model shows him with an 86% chance of winning, and predicts a 5.1% margin. That makes Pennsylvania the tipping-point state: the one most likely to make the difference.

If Biden should lose Pennsylvania, though, he still might win, because he also has smaller leads in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia. Ohio is a toss-up and Biden trails narrowly in Texas (not pictured).

This again tells us what kind of unlikely event would re-elect Trump: Polls have to be off by around 5% across the board, in states as different as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona.

Election night. Ordinarily then, I’d be telling you that polls close in Pennsylvania at 8 p.m. EST, so if Biden really has that 5.1% lead, we should expect to know that he’s won by 9 or 10 o’clock. He couldn’t pass 270 until California came in at 11, but we could go to bed early and still be pretty sure we’d wake up to a Biden victory.

Not this year. Nationally, more than half the expected number of ballots have already been cast. Naively, you might expect that to make the vote-count go faster, since states could already have half or more of the votes counted when the polls close. But you would be ignoring how Republicans intend to steal this election for Trump:

Behind in the polls, Republicans are becoming increasingly blunt about their plan to win the election: don’t let everyone’s votes be counted.

As Astead Herndon and Annie Karni reported for the New York Times Saturday evening: “Trump advisers said their best hope was if the president wins Ohio and Florida is too close to call early in the night, depriving Mr. Biden a swift victory and giving Mr. Trump the room to undermine the validity of uncounted mail-in ballots in the days after.”

Matt Yglesias sums up:

Republicans — not Trump, dozens and dozens of individual state legislators across multiple states — have acted to deliberately ensure slow counting of mail-in ballots so they can later complain that the slow dribbling in of mail votes looks suspicious.

Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are all states where Republican majorities in the legislature have gerrymandered themselves into power. (A majority of voters in 2018 tried to give power to Democrats, but failed.) And they have prevented early vote-counting in each state. So Biden will not win Pennsylvania by 9 or 10, and probably not until Wednesday or Thursday — or later if the state is closer than polls predict.

Since Democrats have promoted early voting and voting-by-mail more than Republicans — in part because they take the pandemic seriously and Republicans do not — most likely the election-night totals will favor Trump, who will then try to declare victory and prevent further vote-counting.

I don’t expect that strategy to work, because Biden’s ultimate margin will be too big, and neither election officials nor judges are as corrupt as the GOP’s plan requires. But it does mean that you won’t learn much by watching Pennsylvania’s returns come in tomorrow night.

Instead, the first state to watch tomorrow night is Florida. Polls close at 8 eastern, and the early votes should be reported almost immediately. So Biden should have an early lead there, which will shrink over the next hour or two as the election-day votes come in. It’s possible there could be a result by 10.

Florida is a state where Biden has a small polling lead — 2.3% in 538’s analysis. As you see in the snake chart above, Biden can win the election without Florida. But winning Florida would be an early knock-out blow. If Biden holds the Clinton states and adds Florida, that’s 262 electoral votes. Trump would have to sweep all the other battleground states, including places like Michigan, where Biden has an 8.1% lead in the polls.

So Biden-wins-Florida is the go-to-bed-early scenario.

That said, Florida has been problematic for Democrats in recent elections. Clinton was favored there and lost. Ditto for Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race. Maybe pollsters have figured out what they did wrong in those races, but maybe not.

Polling errors have been running the other way in the Southwest: Kyrsten Sinema was projected to win her Senate race in Arizona by .7% and actually won by 2.4%. Ted Cruz was supposed to beat Beto O’Rourke by 4.9% and actually only won by 2.6%.

Other possible early knock-outs for Biden are North Carolina, Georgia, and (a little bit later in the evening) Arizona. Also worth watching is New Hampshire, a Clinton state Trump has campaigned in. Trump doesn’t need to win it and probably won’t. But the returns in New Hampshire could be an early clue as to whether he is getting the white-working-class surge he will need in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Ohio and Texas are stretches for Biden, but if they come in, the race is a landslide. Given the similar demographics, there is no way Biden loses Pennsylvania or Michigan after winning Ohio, or fails to take Arizona after winning Texas.

That said, Republican machinations have held open the most tense scenario: Trump takes Texas, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona on Tuesday, forcing Biden to count on the Michigan-Wisconsin-Pennsylvania path, which Republicans have intentionally delayed, and will now argue are taking too long.

Congress. Democrats expect to expand their House majority and have a good chance to take control of the Senate.

The current Senate is 53-47 Republican. Democrats expect to lose Doug Jones’ race in Alabama, so they need to pick up four seats elsewhere to get to 50-50. If Biden wins the presidency, Kamala Harris will hold the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Cook lists only one other Democratic seat in danger, Gary Peters’ in Michigan. But even that race it rates as “lean Democrat”.

Meanwhile, it rates two Republican seats — Martha McSally’s in Arizona and Cory Gardner’s in Colorado — as lean Democrat. Seven other Republican seats are toss-ups: Susan Collins in Maine, Joni Erst in Iowa, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, Steve Danes in Montana, and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

538 gives the Democrats a 76% chance of gaining control of the Senate, with a 51.6 seat projection.

The same Election-Night considerations apply as in the presidential race. The early indicator is probably the North Carolina race.

Out of the ordinary. Over the weekend we started seeing our first hints of disruption or violence. “Trump Trains” of flag-flying pick-up trucks slowed or blocked traffic in a number of places like the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, the Mario Cuomo Bridge in New York, and the Capitol Beltway in D. C.

The Garden State Parkway on Sunday.

The most ominous such event was when a Trump Train surrounded and harassed a Biden campaign bus in Texas, resulting in one minor collision.

People in vehicles that were part of a “Trump Train” began yelling profanities and obscenities and then blockaded the entire Biden entourage, according to a source familiar with the incident. At one point they slowed the tour bus to roughly 20 mph on Interstate 35, the campaign official said. The vehicles slowed down to try to stop the bus in the middle of the highway. The source said there were nearly 100 vehicles around the campaign bus. Biden staffers were rattled by the event, the source said, though no one was hurt.

When Trump heard about this incident, he tweeted “I LOVE TEXAS!”. And the Texas Republican Party was similarly unapologetic. Its statement dismissed the incident as “fake news and propaganda”, and attempted to shift focus to “the real violence” on the left.

In all these incidents, the point seemed to be to cause trouble, not just to express enthusiasm. Will they escalate?

Ron Suskind explored that possibility in “The Day After Election Day“. What if, he wonders, the Proud Boys or the army of Trump volunteers out looking for non-existent voter fraud block or violently disrupt polling places?

Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first. Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump. … If something goes wrong, the media will pick this up in early morning reports and it will spread quickly, increasing tension at polling places across the country, where the setup is ripe for conflict.

Conservative media could then say the election was being stolen, summoning others to activate, maybe violently. This is the place where cybersecurity experts are on the lookout for foreign actors to amplify polling location incidents many times over, with bots and algorithms and stories written overseas that slip into the U.S. digital diet. News of even a few incidents could summon a violent segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters into action, giving foreign actors even more to amplify and distribute, spreading what is, after all, news of mayhem to the wider concentric circles of Mr. Trump’s loyalists. Groups from the left may engage as well, most likely as a counterpoint to those on the right. … Violence and conflict throughout that day at the polls would surely affect turnout, allowing Mr. Trump to claim that the in-person vote had been corrupted, if that suits his purposes.

That violence could be Trump’s Reichstag Fire.

If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem. They might improvise on their own in sparking violence, presuming it pleases their leader.

If the crowds are sufficiently large and volatile, he can claim to be justified in responding with federal powers to bring order.

The spark for all this might be, literally, nothing at all. In 2014, an organized disinformation campaign created a fake ISIS attack on a chemical plant in Louisiana. What if some foreign actor like Russia invents an Antifa election-day atrocity? Might the fake attack create real reprisals that then spiral out of control?

I don’t even know how to evaluate scenarios like that. Are they likely? Crazy? Will we all laugh about this stuff by Friday? I have no idea.

This I do know: We’ve never had to think this way before, and the difference this time around is Trump. All previous presidents have done their best to reassure the public. He is the first to actively try to destabilize the national mood, and push us all towards panic. No matter how this comes out, I will not forgive him for that.

Finally, I want to repeat what an anonymous national security expert tells Ron Suskind: “Just understand that you’re being manipulated.” Respond accordingly. No matter what you think is happening, stay non-violent as long as you possibly can. Check your sources before you pass on rumors, so that you don’t amplify disinformation.

And keep hoping that, like kids back from a horror movie, we all eventually have a good laugh about how scared we were.