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After the midterms, Trump faces a possibly fatal setback for his 2024 coup plans

Salon 11/10/2022 Amanda Marcotte

Joe Biden; Donald Trump © Provided by Salon Joe Biden; Donald Trump

Joe Biden and Donald Trump Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images

In the run-up to the midterm elections, President Joe Biden gave not one but two speeches: "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," he warned, and "we're often not faced with questions whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy, or put us at risk, but this year we are." The response from the centrist Beltway punditry was twofold: Biden is speaking the honest truth, but also, he shouldn't have. 

Former Republican commentator Josh Barro wrote a widely shared Substack column arguing that only hardcore Democratic partisans who were already locked in as voters cared about this. For everyone else, he argued, Biden was practically "telling voters that they have already lost their democracy" by arguing that they only had one choice if they wanted to save it.

The argument is well-constructed to flatter the punditry: It's too clever by half and also assumes that ordinary voters are idiots. But it rested on a terrible interpretation of Biden's rather plain-spoken speech. Biden repeatedly said he believes Republicans are capable of becoming a pro-democracy party again, but only if they rid themselves of the MAGA goons. Voters, he believes, are smart enough to understand this can only happen if Republicans lose so hard they finally cut Trump and the insurrectionists loose. 

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Barro's pretzel logic was widely embraced, as well, because of a New York Times poll showing that while voters understand the threat to democracy, they also don't rank it highly as an issue. There were complex reasons for this, but mostly the reasons were ignored by a Beltway media that prefers the "voters are dummies" narrative. And so by Election Day it had hardened into common wisdom that Biden is a foolish old man for thinking voters would turn out to save their democracy from Trump's unsubtle machinations to steal the 2024 election

Then, on Tuesday, Americans voted in an astonishingly high turnout election. They also did serious damage to Trump's best — and possibly only — path toward illegally installing himself in the White House in 2024. 

The mainstream media tends to focus on national over state politics, and so most election coverage has centered on congressional elections. As I write this, party control of Congress is still a question mark. Many Senate races were close. It does seem like Republicans will gain control of the House. Not because they won fair and square, mind you, but because the cheating on that front long predates Trump's more hamfisted anti-democracy efforts. 

For the purposes of stopping Trump's long-simmering coup plans, however, we must turn to the state governments. Not to get too deep into the weeds, but recall that in 2020, Trump had what the January 6 committee called a "sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election." Most of his strategies, such as begging federal courts to believe his lies about a "stolen" election or inciting a mob to storm the Capitol, were dead on arrival. But one of his ideas has taken off in the Republican party: Get political leadership in states that voted for Biden to throw out or falsify the election results, so that illegal Trump electors can use the Electoral College to simply make him president, instead of the rightful winner.  

That plan failed in 2020 because several of the states Trump needed to make the plan work — predominantly swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — either had Democratic leaders or the few remaining honest Republican ones. These leaders simply wouldn't play along with the "fake electors" scheme, even in places where the GOP-controlled state legislatures were gunning for it. So, for the past year, Trump has been focused — with surprising intensity, considering how many other legal battles he has cooking — on trying to remove them from office. He's been championing replacements the media euphemistically calls "election deniers" — that is, Republicans who reject the results of the 2020 election and who wink at 2024 plans to invalidate election results they don't like. 

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As the Brennan Center noted, seven battleground states had GOP election deniers campaigning for governor. Four of those had secretary of state nominees who are election deniers, plus another, Amy Loudenbeck of Michigan, who flirts openly with the Big Lie. As of writing, four of the seven gubernatorial candidates have lost. Two others, Arizona and Nevada, are in races still too close to call. Only one of the seven, incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, coasted to an easy win. (And Florida is almost certainly voting Trump outright in 2024 anyway.) Three of the five sketchy would-be secretaries of state have already lost, while the other two are in elections currently too close to call. 

In other words, Trump tried to install people into powerful offices who could steal the election for him. And most of them have lost. It doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet. If it's close enough in 2024, he may only need to steal one state in order to pull off a coup. (Or, heaven forbid, he could legally win, though that remains less likely.) But voters just built a firewall of honest state officials who will not let Trump tell them — as he tried to tell Georgia's secretary of state in 2020 — to simply "find" the votes necessary to steal the election. This setback should also send a larger message to the GOP: The public does not want insurrectionist politics. That could scare off some of Trump's allies from helping him, too. 

Maybe it's all a coincidence. Maybe Biden's speech didn't make a difference. Maybe the pundits were right to say Americans wouldn't vote to save democracy. But the data suggests otherwise. As the New York Times reported, Democratic turnout was remarkably high — it may beat the midterm record set in 2018 — driven by voter fears of Republican extremism. As Politico reported, an Edison Research exit poll shows that despite many Democratic voters feeling underwhelmed by Biden, they turned out anyway, driven by something other than enthusiasm about his performance when it comes to economic recovery. 

Maryland Democrat and January 6 committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin is not surprised. As he told the New York Times, "pundits sometimes project onto the public a crude materialism, where all people care about is pocketbook issues in the narrowest sense." But, he believes, voters "understand how precarious and precious a thing constitutional democracy is, and they don't want to lose it."

After all, if you don't have a democracy, there's no way to fix all those other pressing problems we're all worried about: Jobs, inflation, crime, health care, education. Giving up our power to a bunch of autocratic self-dealers like Trump is a surefire way to give up all hope of any progress on any of the issues voters say they care about. Pundits may not believe voters are smart enough to understand this. Biden, however, had faith that large numbers of people get it. They know that, without democracy, we can't even begin to fix everything else that is broken. 

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