The enemy within: Now every day is Jan. 6

A group of a dozen co-defendants reportedly affiliated with the Oath Keepers is facing charges over their alleged roles in the storming of the Capitol
Getty Images

If democracy dies in 2024, it will have been an inside job.

“Let’s make sure that it never happens again” was the universal theme of speakers reflecting on the anniversary of the assault on the U.S. Capitol. They spoke about brave men and women who fought insurrectionists in hand-to-hand combat. They talked about preventing another frightening physical attack on the global symbol of freedom. 

They fixated on the wrong battlefield.

The war erupting into public view on Jan. 6 hasn’t ended. It has just moved to a less visible venue. The enemies of democracy are undermining the republic from within — state by state. Their efforts are built on the foundation of Trump’s “Big Lie” that he somehow won an election he lost. Embracing that lie has become a litmus test for the political party that he now controls. 

But remember this: Trump and his allies filed and lost more than 60 lawsuits claiming that he was wrongfully denied reelection. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, acknowledged that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome. 

Trump and his allies are deploying several weapons in their larger strategy — especially in swing states that decide presidential elections.

Step one: Keep the opposition’s supporters from voting 

In 2021, 19 states enacted 34 laws that restrict access to voting. Among them were key swing states where Republicans control the legislature and the governorship, including Arizona, Florida and Georgia. Only vetoes by Democratic governors kept Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (all with Republican legislatures) off that list.

That was only the beginning. In 2022, more than 150 restrictive bills are already slated for legislative sessions in 18 states. But voting rights isn’t the only front in this war.

Step two: If the opposing candidate wins the popular vote, disregard it 

State election officials sign off on final vote totals, verifying the results for that state. Typically, the secretary of state and governor then certify the winner, whose electors cast the final votes certifying the presidential election in the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s what was happening on Jan. 6, 2021.

The goal now is to accomplish what Trump tried and failed to do in 2020: Prevent state officials from certifying vote totals in an election that Trump lost. 

In Georgia, for example, initial certification responsibility fell to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. After numerous recounts of the 2020 popular vote, Raffensperger – a Republican who had voted for Trump – refused Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to flip the state to Trump. As his reward, Raffensperger became a victim of Trump’s attacks, and his family received death threats from Trump supporters.

Trump’s similar strong arm tactics failed to flip Michigan, Pennsylvania or Arizona. But a true Trump loyalist could have solved this problem at the outset — by disregarding enough Biden votes to swing a state’s election and certifying the result in Trump’s favor. That’s why Trump is now endorsing candidates seeking critical positions in the certification process. 

As the Washington Post reported recently, “A year after local and state election officials came under immense pressure from Trump to subvert the results of the 2020 White House race, he and his supporters are pushing an ambitious plan to place Trump loyalists in key positions across the administration of U.S. elections.”

Step three: Fallback plan — bogus audits 

Only one-third of Republicans say they will trust the 2024 election, regardless of who wins. The remaining two-thirds will trust the result only if their candidate wins. Likewise, two-thirds of Republicans also say that Trump continues to say the 2020 election was rigged “because he is right,” namely, that there was “fraud that changed the results” in Biden’s favor.

In 2020, Trump’s propaganda created similar attitudes that drove his loyalists in state legislatures to launch post-election “audits.” None revealed any hidden Trump victories. But the publicity surrounding the bogus audits fueled the Big Lie. So Republican legislators in several states are pushing bills to authorize audits that would reverse future election outcomes that don’t go their way.

 In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies; and the truth comes limping after it.” 

Trump continues to kneecap the truth. Will it ever catch up? 

In the swing states that matter most in presidential elections, it is falling farther and farther behind. 

Steven J. Harper is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School and author of several books, including “Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story” and “The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis.” He has been a regular columnist for Moyers on Democracy, Dan Rather’s News & Guts and The American Lawyer.

Tags Attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election Brad Raffensperger Capitol attack Jan. 6 riot trumpism Trump–Raffensperger phone call William Barr

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video