Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell listens as the Senate Rules Committee holds a hearing on the "For the People Act," which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The bill has already passed in the House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Last week reports emerged that an influential group of White House officials were suggesting that Democrats could “out-organize” Republican attempts to suppress votes:

In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to “out-organize voter suppression,” according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.

Some White House officials have said this was a mischaracterization, but it’s not the first time such sentiments have been reported. The frustrated response from over 150 civil rights groups was both swift and appropriately irate. Michael Arseneaux at The Week accurately described it as a “betrayal of Black voters” due to the suggestion that, once again, Black people and Black organizers should move mountains while white legislators fail to do the basic work to protect them from disenfranchisement. Steve Benen noted that even if such organizing could succeed for a cycle or two, permanent changes to enable voter suppression could put marginalized communities at an electoral disadvantage for decades. And, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and many others have pointed out that organizing alone cannot counter partisan gerrymandering and attempts to overturn and refuse to certify election results.

But these arguments tend to bog down in speculation about gauzy advantages to the GOP from voter suppression, gerrymandering and the structural advantages to rural white conservatives in the Senate and the Electoral College. Some (unconvincingly) argue that the voter suppression bills won’t do much to change electoral outcomes, while others note that gerrymandering has been part of American politics since Andrew Jackson (perhaps some critical race theory might help elucidate the connection between Jacksonian politics and modern white supremacist gerrymandering!)

Little recent analysis has focused on the specific Republican plan to end democracy in the United States as we know it, and how crucial democracy reform is not just in ensuring electoral fairness and an end to racist voter suppression tactics, but in saving the institution of democracy itself.

Republicans have a clear plan to prevent a Democrat from ever being elected president again so long as they control rural white America and gerrymandering in rural states—a plan that would be impervious to even huge lopsided losses in the electoral college and the presidential popular vote. It is a plan that was exposed once again yesterday when we learned that Donald Trump himself told Department of Justice officials to “just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.

So let’s lay it out in detail, step by step. Ryan Cooper and Jonathan Last (among others) have covered this ground before, but it’s worth revisiting succinctly:

1. Gerrymander at least 26 red/purple states to ensure that they send a majority of GOP representatives to the House regardless of the popular vote totals in those states.

2. Win the House and Senate. Due to ever-more-radical gerrymandering and the outrageous rural evangelical white conservative tilt of the Senate, if Republicans fail to accomplish this in 2022 it will only be through their own extremism and incompetence. Republicans can easily control the Senate while representing 50 million fewer Americans in it, and win the House despite losing the national popular vote in the House by significant numbers.

3. Refuse to certify Democratic victories in states where they control the (again gerrymandered) legislature and/or Secretary of State positions. Many of the new voter suppression laws ominously take aim at the power of Secretaries of State and local county officials to conduct and certify elections, remanding them instead to (you guessed it) the gerrymandered legislature. If they can’t refuse to certify the results of the whole state due to specious and uncorroborated allegations of “fraud”, they can simply refuse to allow certification of the tallies in specific Democratic-leaning counties. They are currently in the process of freezing out and terrorizing both local and state certification officials who stood up to the Trumpist putsch in 2020, and will ensure compliance from them in the future.

4. Refuse to certify the unofficial electoral college tally, pushing the decision back to the state House delegations. Most states have laws that their electors must follow the certified results of their state elections. But if those elections are not certified, no such laws are in force. Competing slates of electors might be selected. Republican majorities in the House and Senate might simply choose to accept “alternative” slates of GOP electors. Or, more likely, if the Republican majority in the House and Senate simply refuses to acknowledge the electors or certify the results, the Constitution pushes the election back to the House of Representatives delegations from each state.

It’s a neat and tidy plan. And it’s all perfectly legal as long as the conservative majority on the Supreme Court–itself the product of appointments by presidents who lost the popular vote–rubberstamps it. And if it fails? Well, Republicans are already in the process of trying to rewrite history and legitimize the failed insurrection of January 6th—virtually assuring that they will attempt it again in a more violent and organized fashion next time. Failed coups are frequently precursors to successful ones, and we fail to learn from history at our peril.

There is no way to out-organize this plan, no way to turn out enough voters or win wide enough majorities to counter it. Unless the Biden White House figures out a way to persuade Senators Manchin and Sinema to end gerrymandering, punish those who would refuse to certify valid elections, and pass the many reforms in H.R.1, the entire edifice of federal government will likely be permanently controlled by a revanchist, violent, rage-fueled and declining minority of Fox News and conspiracy-addled white evangelical rural conservatives.

This control will be impervious at the presidential level to either the popular vote or the electoral college. The Supreme Court will tilt ever further toward Federalist Society extremists who turn the ratchet harder against democracy and voting rights. The Senate will dominated by those representing the most extremist 1/3 of American society, as will the increasingly gerrymandered House. And eventually even the face-saving trappings of democracy will disappear absent some sort of revolt by the governments of blue states in response.

There is precious little time to do what is necessary to stop it. Biden and Senate Democrats must do anything and everything they legally can to set up legal roadblocks against this slow-rolling coup against democracy before it is too late.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.