Republicans’ tolerance, if not active support, for President Donald Trump’s ongoing bid to overturn the 2020 election has crystallized a stark question: Does the GOP still qualify as a small-d democratic party—or is it morphing into something very different?
Even with the Supreme Court still deciding whether to consider a last-ditch legal effort to invalidate the results from the key swing states, there appears little chance that Trump will succeed in subverting Joe Biden’s victory. But Trump’s failure on that front has obscured his success at enlisting a growing swath of his party to join his cause—a dynamic that is already prompting new Republican efforts to make it more difficult to vote and raising concerns about the party’s commitment to the basic tenets of Western democratic rules and conventions, including the peaceful transfer of power.
“Where their hearts are is hard to know, but their behavior is not small-d democratic,” Susan Stokes, a political-science professor and the director of the Chicago Center on Democracy at the University of Chicago, told me.
Stokes, like other experts, says the Republican Party is on a continuum toward the kind of “democratic erosion” visible in other countries, including Turkey under Recep Erdoğan, Hungary under Viktor Orbán, or, in the most extreme example, Russia under Vladimir Putin. In those nations, a party that wins office through a democratic election then seeks to use state power to tilt or completely undermine future elections.
“With one of our political parties trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election, we are way farther down that road now than we were before the election, or a year ago,” she told me. Republicans “have been going down that road all through Trump’s term, but this is the parting gift, which is more extreme than what has happened before.”
Republicans’ widespread enlistment in Trump’s efforts follows years in which officials have advanced hundreds of state-level measures making it more difficult to vote; engaged in extraordinary legislative maneuvering to deny former President Barack Obama the opportunity to fill a vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat; and have either looked the other way or abetted Trump in a series of actions shredding democratic norms, including attempting to weaponize the Postal Service, tilt the results of the census, and pressure the Justice Department to investigate his opponents.
Polling has consistently found that the majority of Republican voters believe, without evidence, that the election was stolen. One academic study, based on a national survey conducted early this year, found that a stunningly large share of self-identified Republicans endorsed antidemocratic propositions such as “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” GOP behavior during this postelection period suggests that these are not abstract sentiments: The secretaries of state in Georgia and Arizona, who have rejected Trump’s claims of fraud, have faced death threats, and a mob of armed protesters gathered last weekend outside the home of Michigan’s secretary of state, who’s also stood by her state’s results.
Geoffrey Kabaservice, the director of political studies at the libertarian Niskanen Center, told me he sees a fateful watershed in the party’s postelection deference to Trump. “Once the Republican Party got into this idea that voter suppression was the way to go, once it stopped believing it was the majority party—and the entire American project was at stake, and Democrats would ruin the country if they hold power—then anything would be permitted, including antidemocratic means,” said Kabaservice, who is also the author of Rule and Ruin, a history of moderate Republicans. “This was all before Trump came on the scene, so Trump simply furthered what was there.”
The Republican Party, “without acknowledging or realizing it, has become an antidemocratic force,” he added. [Continue reading…]