Before November 3, 2020, when Donald Trump suffered the most embarrassing loss of his life, and before January 6, 2021, when Trump's campaign to overturn his humiliation reached its most violent climax (so far), Barton Gellman wrote a prophetic piece in The Atlantic about all the ways Trump might try to steal the election. We'd say it was eerily prophetic if we weren't talking about an author who knows his shit.
It was, in so many ways, exactly what Trump and his minions ended up doing. Gellman said the worst case scenario would have been if Trump somehow managed to "obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress," and then use that obstruction to keep his stranglehold on power. He failed, but he sure as hell tried. Gellman had written, based on his sources, that "Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly." John Eastman's memo was largely about using fake extra slates of electors to bring democracy and a peaceful and lawful transfer of power to a screeching halt.
And there was so much more in Gellman's piece, which was called "The Election That Could Break America." The more 20/20 hindsight we get, the more it seems like it kinda sorta maybe got closer than we even knew at the time.
So now there is a new Gellman piece, called "Trump's Next Coup Has Already Begun," and we reckon we'd better pay attention.
Gellman explains that "January 6 was practice" and debunks the false notion that the 2024 election is safer from Donald Trump's attempts to steal it because he's no longer in office, for indeed the tools he most needs to steal the next election are not related to the powers of the presidency itself. (Obviously this piece is operating under the assumption that Trump is going to run and win the 2024 Republican nomination. Can't imagine why we shouldn't plan for the worst.)
Virtually no one a year ago, certainly not I, predicted that Trump could compel the whole party’s genuflection to the Big Lie and the recasting of insurgents as martyrs. Today the few GOP dissenters are being cast out. “2 down, 8 to go!” Trump gloated at the retirement announcement of Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment.
Trump has reconquered his party by setting its base on fire. Tens of millions of Americans perceive their world through black clouds of his smoke. His deepest source of strength is the bitter grievance of Republican voters that they lost the White House, and are losing their country, to alien forces with no legitimate claim to power. This is not some transient or loosely committed population. Trump has built the first American mass political movement in the past century that is ready to fight by any means necessary, including bloodshed, for its cause.
How large of a movement? Analyzing several polls that have tried to answer that question, Gellman suggests it could be as many as 21 million Americans. Almost entirely white and middle-class, and older than your average political protesters, they're motivated by Great Replacement conspiracy theories and are likelier than not to hail from counties Joe Biden won, where whites are declining as a share of the overall population.
Gellman argues that Trump gets stronger as he continues to harness the energy of this insurgent movement of terrorists, future terrorists and sympathizers, as he and they continue to force the GOP to kowtow to their batshit racist alternative version of reality. He also argues that the specific instruments of power Trump would need at his disposal to steal 2024 are better positioned for him than they were when he actually led the executive branch. Gellman lists some examples:
In nearly every battle space of the war to control the count of the next election—statehouses, state election authorities, courthouses, Congress, and the Republican Party apparatus—Trump’s position has improved since a year ago. [...]
Since the 2020 election, Trump’s acolytes have set about methodically identifying patches of resistance and pulling them out by the roots. Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, who refused to “find” extra votes for Trump? Formally censured by his state party, primaried, and stripped of his power as chief election officer. Aaron Van Langevelde in Michigan, who certified Biden’s victory? Hounded off the Board of State Canvassers. Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona, who signed his state’s “certificate of ascertainment” for Biden? Trump has endorsed a former Fox 10 news anchor named Kari Lake to succeed him, predicting that she “will fight to restore Election Integrity (both past and future!).” Future, here, is the operative word. Lake says she would not have certified Biden’s victory in Arizona, and even promises to revoke it (somehow) if she wins. None of this is normal.
And so on and so forth. Voter suppression bills, death threats to elections officials made by Trump insurgents — you name it, it's a Republican kink du jour.
And of course, there are Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states — you know, because Republicans have already gerrymandered them to the point that democracy doesn't even exist in legislatures in places like Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina — and the newfangled theory that what the Constitution MEANT to say was that those legislatures were always supposed to be able to throw out votes of the people that didn't go their way. Why? Reasons.
Republicans are promoting an “independent state legislature” doctrine, which holds that statehouses have “plenary,” or exclusive, control of the rules for choosing presidential electors. Taken to its logical conclusion, it could provide a legal basis for any state legislature to throw out an election result it dislikes and appoint its preferred electors instead.
Elections are complicated, and election administrators have to make hundreds of choices about election machinery and procedures—the time, place, and manner of voting or counting or canvassing—that the legislature has not specifically authorized. A judge or county administrator may hold polls open for an extra hour to make up for a power outage that temporarily halts voting. Precinct workers may exercise their discretion to help voters “cure” technical errors on their ballots. A judge may rule that the state constitution limits or overrides a provision of state election law.
Know how Trump and his minions are always screaming that the states where they lost VIOLATED THEIR OWN LAWS in the conduct of their elections? This is the mangled-brain legal theory behind all that. And hooray, Gellman explains that Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas "have already signaled support for a doctrine that disallows any such deviation from the election rules passed by a state legislature." What about Amy Coney Barrett? Who knows, we should test it out and see if she really partisanly hacks up American democracy just like she's probably about to do with women's bodily autonomy.
So yeah, that's the gist of the latest Gellman, which you really should read, probably with your inhaler close by.
Along the way he shares horrifying narratives of January 6, and also introduces us to a man who seems pretty emblematic of this new American insurgent movement of lame white people who are certain everything that's ever gone wrong in their lives is the fault of non-white people, and not their own mediocrity. The guy, Richard Patterson, is a retired New York firefighter who stands in front of the Capitol trying to stop whatever steals he thinks are happening that day. Here's some of his story:
In 1982, a plaintiff named Brenda Berkman had won a lawsuit that opened the door to women in the FDNY. A few years later, the department scheduled training sessions “to assist male firefighters in coming to terms with the assimilation of females into their ranks.” Patterson’s session did not go well. He was suspended without pay for 10 days after a judge found that he had called the trainer a scumbag and a Communist and chased him out of the room, yelling, “Why don’t you fuck Brenda Berkman and I hope you both die of AIDS.” The judge found that the trainer had “reasonably feared for his safety.” Patterson continues to maintain his innocence.
Later, as a lieutenant, Patterson came across a line on a routine form that asked for his gender and ethnicity. He resented that. “There was no box for ‘Fuck off,’ so I wrote in ‘Fuck off,’ ” he said. “So they jammed me up for that”—this time a 30-day suspension without pay.
Even while Patterson rose through the ranks, he kept on finding examples of how the world was stacked against people like him. “I look at the 2020 election as sort of an example on steroids of affirmative action. The straight white guy won, but it was stolen from him and given to somebody else.”
All together, choir: He seems nice!
Oh, and he doesn't think 2020 was a contest between two straight white guys because "Kamala Harris."
Point is, some of these "new" holy warriors for Trump have been mad for decades. And now Trump has activated them.
And that's why Barton Gellman is sounding the alarm again.
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