Republicans learned an extremely dangerous lesson from the 2020 election

Republicans learned an extremely dangerous lesson from the 2020 election
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders, listen to a briefing by Secretary of Defense James Mattis in the Laurel conference room at Camp David, Saturday, January 6, 2018, near Thurmont, Maryland. Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

When candidates lose a presidential election, their party typically performs an "autopsy" and tries to figure out exactly where they went wrong. President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, for example, was arguably the result of three "autopsies" — as Democrats had lost three presidential elections in a row during the 1980s. But Never Trump conservative Jonathan V. Last, in a column for The Bulwark published this week, argues that the Republican response to former President Donald Trump's loss to now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 election was to double down on Trumpism.

"In the days after Democrats unseated an incumbent president and won unified control of Congress," Last writes, "the victorious party went through a round of self-analysis and recriminations. The Republicans, who managed a trifecta of losing that hadn't been accomplished since Herbert Hoover, doubled down. Then they backed up their bets, split 4s, and doubled down again."

Last adds that with the GOP having doubled down on Trumpism following Trump's loss, one of the talking points of "Conservatism Inc." is "how beside-the-point 'democracy' is, anyhow." And Last points to a recent tweet in which conservative writer David Harsanyi wrote, "I'm not pro-democracy, I am pro-freedom. If democracy erodes freedom, (then) it's not something to celebrate."

The conservative Bulwark columnist argues that the GOP, with its post-election "autopsy," isn't trying to figure out how to appeal to a wider range of voters, but trying to discourage voting.

"When Republicans conducted their autopsy," Last writes, "they skipped 'How to Win: Option 1' and went straight to Options 2 and 3 — leapfrogging the question of how to get more votes and focusing on how to use institutional leverage to take power even while losing popular majorities. Option 2 — the path of least resistance — is for Republicans to change voting rules at the state level in the hopes that they can drive down the number of Democratic votes cast and win the Electoral College despite being a persistent minority. A lot has been written about these various initiatives, some of which are more grotesque than others."

With biting sarcasm, Last adds, "But the real cutting-edge work being done as a result of the GOP autopsy concerns Option 3: figuring out how a Republican can win the presidency even while losing the popular vote and the Electoral College."

After the 2020 presidential election, Last writes, some Republicans in the state governments in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia had enough integrity to resist Trump allies who wanted them to defy the Electoral College results. But with Option 3, according to Last, the GOP could try to purge state governments of Republicans who will accept Electoral College results even if they don't like an election's outcome.

"So, the key parts of the Republican autopsy have been: (1) building the political will to use raw power next time, and (2) removing the Republican officials who were not willing to comply last time," Last explains. "That's why Republican state parties have censured nearly every Republican who did not participate in Trump's attempted coup."

Last continues, "That's why (Secretary of State) Brad Raffensperger is the target of a primary challenge in Georgia…. That's why Nevada Republicans are attacking Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican to have won state-wide office in 2018. Even though she is a Republican, Cegavske refused to go along with the attempt to overturn Nevada's result."

As much sarcasm and scathing humor as Last uses in his column, the Never Trumper concludes it by making a disturbing point and stressing that many Republicans have become overtly "authoritarian" and are undermining checks and balances.

Last writes, "This is how authoritarianism starts. A society goes from the rule of law, to rule by law — where the minority gets just enough power to change the laws so that they can amass more power. And here is a serious question: If Republicans managed enough votes to sustain an objection to counting electoral votes, what would our recourse be? Crossing our fingers and hoping that the Supreme Court steps in?.... The time to fight against authoritarianism isn't December 2024. It's now."

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