Don't Ever Let the GOP Forget They Legitimized Trump's Coup Attempt
Republicans' silence is even worse than the coup itself
In the early morning hours of September 11, 2013, I lost almost everything I owned in the Lothlorien co-op fire in less than three minutes. It was a particularly hot night, at the end of a particularly dry summer. It was after 1 AM when my neighbor alerted me to the fire (I was deep in my writing and had headphones on and didn’t even notice). I didn’t even have time to put my shoes on before going outside. Thankfully, everyone and their pets made it out unscathed, and the fire department’s prompt arrival stopped the blaze from spreading beyond my room.
While the fire marshals never figured out the source of the fire, what they do know is that it began on the third-floor deck adjacent to my room in the co-op I shared with my almost three dozen housemates, and spread quickly due to the dry conditions. Local media reported that the flames were almost 20 feet high.
While the fire was quickly contained and extinguished, it still displaced me and my housemates for months. The fire shut down the Lothlorien co-op for three years until it finally reopened in 2016.
(It was around 4 AM and I was still in shock when this video was recorded, so forgive my wacky demeanor)
Similar to the Lothlorien fire, Trump’s attempted coup will likely not succeed in destroying everything we hold dear, like democracy itself and our democratic institutions, but it’ll still do plenty of damage that we’ll all have to contend with for years to come. This is evident in how the Republican Party seems to be fine with a president who lost by six million votes and more than six dozen electoral college votes attempt an end-run around the democratic process and try to have his partisans overturn an election that has been called “the most secure in American history.”
Republicans have been plotting their post-election litigation strategy since October, seeming to sense that their president may lose his reelection bid. ABC News reported a week before the election that the Republican National Committee was deploying 50,000 volunteers, attorneys, and staff across the country in order to file legal challenges in swing states. The bulk of the legal challenges were against mail-in ballots (which were overwhelmingly in support of Biden after Trump spent months assailing mail-in voting, which he himself has done multiple times in prior elections).
Thankfully, President Trump’s attempts to invalidate millions of voters’ ballots in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have been largely unsuccessful. According to Democratic Party-affiliated attorney Marc Elias, Trump’s team has won just two out of 35 legal challenges, with the two victories concerning a negligible number of ballots that didn’t affect the final outcome.
But the fight to overturn the will of the voters isn’t stopping in courts. Trump is now attempting to get Republican-controlled state legislatures to send alternate slates of electors to Washington, DC, when the electoral college meets on December 14. The theory of change is that, even though Joe Biden won the popular vote in battleground states, and by default, those state’s electoral college votes, state legislatures still technically have the power to send electors of their own choice to the electoral college.
For example, even though Joe Biden won Michigan by 155,629 votes and gets its 16 electoral college votes, Trump wants the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature to send 16 pro-Trump electors who would overturn the will of the state. If Trump repeated this strategy in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — both of which went to Biden but have Republican-controlled legislatures — it would give him 270 electoral college votes, and another term in the White House.
If successful, such a gambit would essentially render democracy dead in the United States, and there would theoretically be nothing to stop Trump from running for third and fourth terms if he had enough Republican apparatchiks in state governments just as eager to disregard the democratic process as him.
Earlier this week, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) appeared to cast doubt on President Trump’s attempted coup, acknowledging Biden’s victory and saying a coup was “not going to happen.” Nevertheless, Trump hosted both Shirkey and Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) at the White House on Friday, days before Michigan is due to certify its statewide election results on Monday (the Trump campaign dropped its Michigan lawsuit on Thursday, falsely declaring victory).
(Michigan state senator Mike Shirkey (R) mobbed by protesters and reporters upon his arrival in Washington, DC. (Photo: Screenshot from WWMT and Facebook Watch/fair use)
Earlier this week I spoke with Katelyn Kivel, a Lansing-based reporter who covers the Michigan state capitol for Courier Newsroom’s The ‘Gander and is familiar with both Chatfield and Shirkey (full disclosure: Katelyn reported to me in my capacity as assignment editor for Grit Post between 2017 and 2019). She said while Chatfield and Shirkey are both reliably conservative Republicans, both are also cognizant of the potential for political blowback should they go along with Trump’s attempted coup.
“Although [Shirkey] did say he wanted there to be some sort of review of the election process, he didn’t see any way that the amount of votes being looked at was going to flip the state,” Kivel said in a phone interview. “If you look at state legislators, they tend to be pretty ambitious people, and they’re not willing to throw it all overboard for something that’s not going to have much impact.”
According to a Saturday report in the Wall Street Journal, both Chatfield and Shirkey said they “saw no reason the state’s vote should change” following their meeting with Trump. While this closes the door on Michigan’s coup attempt, it doesn’t necessarily close the door on a coup altogether.
Georgia has the same number of electoral votes as Michigan, as well as a legislature controlled by Republicans. And unlike Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Georgia doesn’t have a Democratic governor who could theoretically veto an attempt by a Republican legislature to send pro-Trump electors to the electoral college. According to Kivel, that scenario unfolding would put America in uncharted waters.
“There is no earthly idea what would happen, because its completely unprecedented,” Kivel said. “Most people I’ve spoken to suspect that Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer would have the ability to prevent that from happening, whether it’s a veto or some other action.”
“[Whitmer] is willing to take a stand. She is not an easy person to push around,” she added.
Trump’s attempted coup is thankfully winding down as his options for overturning the result of the election are quickly running out. But the silence from national Republican leaders is nonetheless deafening. With the exceptions of Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), no Republican senators have referred to Joe Biden as President-elect.
According to Axios, only seven of 26 Republican governors have acknowledged Biden’s victory, along with just 11 out of 197 Republican members of Congress. This is despite networks declaring Pennsylvania for Biden two weeks ago on Saturday, November 7, putting him over the 270-vote threshold. Each day that elected officials refuse to acknowledge the results of a safe, secure, lawful election, weakens the democratic process even further. This fuels reckless conspiracy theories that give rise to dangerous, fascist elements within society that will last long after Trump leaves the White House on January 20.
Journalist Zach Roberts, who works with investigative journalist Greg Palast, recently filed a report from Georgia documenting far-right activist Nick Fuentes and a rally he led with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Fuentes, who marched at the violent “Unite the Right” fascist rally in 2017, called for a new party called “America First” to challenge Republicans, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and Governor Brian Kemp, that refused to overturn a free and fair election.
This crowd numbered just 30 or so people. But now that one of America’s two major parties has taken the position that attempting a coup is a legitimate response to losing an election, it’s highly likely that crowds like these will only grow larger and more influential in the years to come.