The stab-in-the-back myth and Trump

On January 6th, Congress will receive the Electoral College’s votes to certify. This normally symbolic step will now be debated and voted on, following Republican Senator Hawley’s decision to object to the results. The vote is almost certain to meet the same fate as all of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election – failure. However, it will air his claims in Congress and force Republicans to take a loyalty test between the President or democratic norms.

The single sitting Republican to openly condemn this behavior has received front-page coverage in the Times, which only makes the the reticence – nay cowardice – of his colleagues stand out.

As I’ve discussed several times before, Trump is not going anywhere and the fact that the electoral system has resisted outright subversion only makes the consequences of his actions more difficult to pinpoint.

Will electoral fraud become the American Right’s ‘stab-in-the-back-myth‘?

Educational Film: Weimar Republic - Stab-in-the-Back Legend - YouTube

Electoral fraud is tomorrow’s voter disenfranchisement

I just watched Trump’s latest press conference (it begins around 16:00). It has been clear for some time that he planned to turn on his lie engine as soon as polls closed (if it was ever really off), but I underestimated how hysterical it would look. Several networks cut away mid-conference to clarify to tell viewers his claims were baseless.

I am now of the belief that, absent an unexpected shift in uncounted ballots, Trump is going to lose this election. He will tie it up in litigation as long as possible, but it seems unlikely the Republican party will choose to die on this hill. They will let Trump go (without actually disowning him), content with a conservative court and the Senate.

Trump’s attack on the electoral system may not achieve the immediate objective of saving his skin, but I expect his claims to stay circulating within sections of the Republican base for years to come, ready to be weaponised. Dog whistling to electoral integrity will allow Republicans to push through even stronger measures to disenfranchise voters or gerrymander districts. So while its great that his immediate attempts to subvert democracy are failing, I am concerned he is setting the stage for a far more sophisticated successor. Time will tell.

*5 hours later*
I’m now not so sure about Republicans not dying on this hill. Here’s Newt Gingrich claiming the Presidential election is being stolen. Here is Republican House minority leader on Fox:

“Everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet,” Mr. McCarthy said on Fox News. “Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”

*24 hours later*

The eagerness by which the Republican establishment is attaching itself to Trump’s claims about electoral fraud raise questions about the relationship between the party and its base.

Lets start from the assumption that the GOP is moving forward as a minoritarian party. The electoral college and Senate already give rural lower population states disproportionately more influence. Mix in gerrymandering and it is possible to see how power can be held without a majority of the electorate. The key is an energized base that reliably turns out. Trump’s unexpectedly strong showing this election shows that relying on steady doses of radicalization works.

One implication is that the party can be held hostage by its base. If Trump succeeds in convincing a majority of them that fraud is underway, then the party has to go along with it, even if only rhetorically. Where the base is highly radicalized, party moderation becomes difficult; moderates will find themselves (and have found themselves) facing primary challenges from the right.

So far this has worked incredibly well for the GOP. With control over the Senate they can block the kinds of institutional reform needed to make the system more democratic; especially because democrats have repeatedly shown themselves more willing to compromise with GOP radicalism than confront it. More paralysis seems likely in the short run, but longer term its hard to see how the GOP’s strategy doesn’t lead to some kind of crisis.