Democrats must prepare now for a contested 2024 election

Democrats must prepare now for a contested 2024 election
© Greg Nash

Had former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE and the Republican Party successfully stopped voter certifications in enough states that Joe Biden won — like in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia — Biden would have fallen short of 270 electoral votes. As a result, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution might have been invoked, requiring the U.S. House of Representatives to decide the winner, with each state delegation possessing one vote. Support from 26 states is needed to win. Due in part to successful gerrymandering efforts in purple states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans enjoy U.S. House majorities in 27 state delegations. As a result, a party-line House vote would have secured Trump’s re-election.

It took Trump more than two months — only after the failed Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol — to tepidly accept defeat.

The GOP has now established a precedent for their standard bearer to deny the legitimacy of an election even before the first votes are cast. Republican leaders have demonstrated it is okay to encourage supporters — and even election officials — to break the law. The notion that 2020 is an outlier is naïve. The past few months are likely a precursor to more sophisticated and better planned campaigns to deny opponents victories at the ballot box by generating sufficient doubts about the veracity of the electoral outcome.

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Republicans’ U.S. House delegation advantage is the key to their end game, meaning Democrats’ top goal in 2022 should be not merely retaining House control, but also flipping at least two GOP-led delegations while stopping Republicans from adding majorities elsewhere. This would deny House Republicans the 26-delegation majority needed to break an Electoral College deadlock in the two months following the 2024 election.

Democrats’ best hopes to stymie Republicans rest in six House GOP-majority delegations:

  • Florida (16-11 GOP lead) — It would be a stretch for Democrats to overtake Republicans here. The Sunshine State is expected to add two seats ahead of 2022, and all Democratic congressional losses were by double-digits. In other words, this would require a Hail Mary. That said, Democrats cannot afford to give up easily.
  • Iowa (3-1 GOP lead) — The GOP just flipped two Democratic seats in the Hawkeye State — one by 2.5 percent and the other by only six votes. Iowa is Democrats’ best shot at closing their delegation deficit.
  • Montana (1-0 GOP lead) — With the census expected to deliver a second seat to Montana, Democrats could make a play for one in a seemingly strong red state that nonetheless has elected multiple Democrats in recent years. As with Florida and Georgia, it’s a stretch, but a stretch they cannot ignore.

Additionally, Democrats must contend with the expected loss of one House seat in each of three states where Democrats and Republicans have an equal number of House members: Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. If the GOP can eke out a delegation lead in any of these three, Democrats will face a brutal uphill climb to erase Republicans’ delegation majority ahead of 2024.

The 2020 presidential election was won at the ballot box, then in the courts, and finally during a horrifying few hours at the U.S. Capitol, after which enough Republicans realized “stopping the steal” was no longer politically tenable.

But there’s now a playbook for wreaking havoc on our electoral system and the public’s confidence in it — and a larger opening for Republicans to invoke the 12th Amendment after the 2024 election. If Democrats want to stop them, they must end the House GOP’s state delegation majority next year.

B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.