I have been hesitant to engage in the discussion about what will happen if Donald Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to concede. That is because merely talking about the possibility gives it some credibility that is explosively dangerous. In my mind, I’ve weighed that against the problem of ignoring the mounting evidence that it is actually a possibility. So I’ve never been completely comfortable with either option.
Writing at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway has finally convinced me that it is time to break the silence. We’ve now gone beyond Trump joking (?) about serving more than two terms, while some of his more rabid supporters talk about a new civil war. But before getting to what Hemingway wrote, it is helpful to note that in 2013, Ben Domenech announced the launch of the Federalist by comparing it to the original Time magazine.
Henry Luce’s magazine aimed to cover and distill the news of politics, economics, world affairs and culture for the nation’s rising middle class. It leaned to the political right, with a small-c conservatism equipped with a populist respect for the middle class reader outside of New York and Washington, and an abiding love for America at a time when snark and cynicism were not considered substitutes for smart analysis.
The larger point here is that the Trump presidency is dangerous for conservatives, in part because it confuses things. It’s hard to justify your existence as a balance to the liberal media if you are spending most of your time criticizing a Republican president. If you’re not keen on defending the indefensible (which would be most of Trump’s rhetoric), you end up making a lot of tu quoque arguments that become hackneyed and predictable.
The Federalist, of course, is not uniquely guilty of this. “I think this is a virus that has affected at least 80 percent of the conservative media,” says John Ziegler.
The Federalist has now become home to conspiracy theories in defense of the president, like the one about former CIA Director John Brennan plotting with the intelligence services of our foreign allies to frame the Trump campaign. But this is a virus that hasn’t simply infected conservative media. Senator Lindsay Graham is a perfect example of a Republican politician that followed the same path.
I point all of this out because it appears that the Federalist is a pretty good representative of what the Republican establishment has become in the Trump era, which is why it is important to pay attention to what Hemingway recently wrote.
Her point is captured in the headline: “The GOP Has a Choice: Fight Anti-Trump Coup Effort or Surrender Government to Democrats.” What is most notable is that Hemingway isn’t counseling Republicans to gather evidence and identify witnesses to defend the president during the impeachment inquiry. Instead, she points to what has been labeled the “Brooks Brothers Riot” during the recount of the 2000 election in Florida. As Joe Conason wrote at the time, that was the moment Republicans abandoned the rule of law.
That lawless incident was the “bourgeois riot” of Nov. 22, incited on the airwaves by Rush Limbaugh and a Cuban-American radio station, and then praised on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal the next day by Paul Gigot (who also regularly appears on the very civilized and genteel PBS Newshour). According to Mr. Gigot, the white riot that stopped the manual counting of votes in Miami-Dade was sparked by a command to “shut it down” from Representative John Sweeney of upstate New York. In other words, an elected Republican Congressman-who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States-unashamedly incited a mob.
What Mr. Gigot omitted from his eyewitness account of that event showed up in the pages of The New York Times, which reported that “several people were trampled, punched or kicked” during a fracas outside the office of the county supervisor of elections that continued until sheriff’s deputies restored order. Republican thugs also assaulted the Democratic county chairman because they mistakenly believed that he had absconded with a single ballot.
That is what Hemingway is recommending when she urges the GOP to fight. But she’s not merely talking about fighting against the impeachment process.
What we are facing now is not partisan warfare…It represents a fatal threat to our system of government, and if this coup succeeds — whether through impeachment proceedings, or through an election that (if the last three years are any indication) the other side is clearly willing to steal by hook or by crook — the nation will cease to be a constitutional, democratic republic.
Hemingway just set the stage for Republicans to claim that the 2020 election was stolen if Trump loses, all without providing a shred of evidence. Her remedy is to abandon the rule of law and engage mobs in an effort to intimidate their opponents. To the extent that the Federalist is representative of “establishment Republicans,” it is impossible to capture the danger of what is being proposed.
During Trump’s presidency we’ve seen a lot of references to a “constitutional crisis.” But nothing we’ve witnessed so far compares to what Hemingway is suggesting. The true test of whether Majority Leader McConnell and his Republican colleagues in congress are able to put country over party will come if Trump and his supporters take her advice. Our democratic republic will be on the line, with no one but them to save it.