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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

December 12: About That GOP “Coup” Claim

If, like me, you’ve been watching as much of the House Judiciary Committee deliberations on impeachment as you can stand, you have endlessly and interminably and redundantly heard Republicans argue that Democrats are engaged in a “coup” to overturn Trump’s election. This is how I responded at New York:

The House Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Republican Doug Collins of Georgia, nicely articulated the central impeachment conspiracy theory Trump defenders are reinforcing during his opening statement prior to the testimony of constitutional experts on December 4, per the New York Post:

“’This is not an impeachment. This is just a simple railroad job. And today’s is a waste of time …

“’Do you know where this started? It started with tears in Brooklyn, in November 2016, when an election was lost …

“’Why? Because the chairman said it just a second ago. We’re scared of the elections that we’ll lose again,’ Collins said, referring to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the panel. ‘So we got to do this now.’”

There you have it: Democrats are simultaneously trying to overturn the 2016 election and nullify the 2020 election. Never mind that it’s Trump and his allies who endlessly fulminate against nonexistent voter fraud, claiming (with zero evidence) that he was robbed of a popular-vote win in 2016 by “millions of illegal votes,” or that Democrats won the House in 2018 through illegal “ballot harvesting” (the entirely legal and ethical practice of delivering signed and sealed mail ballots to election authorities). Forget about the chronic Republican efforts to dig potholes on the path to voting places and thwart anything like majority rule. It’s the Democrats who cannot be trusted to accept adverse election results.

Ben Shapiro’s latest column is a much fuller exposition of this claim, under the headline: “Will Democrats Accept the Results of the 2020 Elections?”

It begins with this extraordinary reconstruction of reality:

“Democrats blamed Clinton’s election loss on Russian interference, on voter suppression, on anything but Clinton’s campaign performance.”

Having almost surely read (and written) more left-of-center 2016 election analysis than Shapiro, I laughed aloud at this assertion. I’d say that, by and large, Democrats blamed Clinton’s election loss on the following causes far more than Russian interference: (1) the Comey letter; (2) media emphasis generally on the Clinton emails; (3) the Electoral College system; (4) Clinton campaign mistakes in messaging and mechanics, and especially the failure to see disaster brewing in Michigan and Wisconsin; (5) voter complacency in anticipation of an easy Clinton win; (6) voter reluctance to elect a woman as president; (7) Jill Stein; (8) Bernie Bros; (9) inadequate efforts to turn out minority voters; (10) unprincipled Trump-loathing Republicans who voted for him anyway.

Yes, some Democrats did properly note that Republican secretaries of State and campaign operatives spent a good part of the 2016 cycle, like they spend every cycle, trying to hold voting opportunities for those people (you know, the ones who want to vote themselves welfare benefits and get new Obama Phones) to a minimum. But neither Russian interference nor voter suppression was even mentioned in the elaborate postmortems of reasons most often cited by Clinton supporters and media types conducted by Nate Silver and Molly Ball. The notion that overseas election interference was an idée fixe leading from “tears in Brooklyn” to impeachment is just a crock.

Shapiro makes similar leaps across facts and logic in shifting to the future:

“Now in the run-up to 2020, Democrats are already suggesting that if President Trump wins, the election will have been illegitimate. This time, they’re pointing to Trump’s supposed attempt to gather information from the Ukrainian government on potential 2020 rival Joe Biden in return for release of much-needed military aid. In fact, Democrats state that if Trump is not impeached, the 2020 results will inevitably be deemed improper.”

Actually, House Democrats have consistently made the point that it’s the president’s attempt to secure foreign-government interference that is an impeachable offense, not any likelihood that it did or could have succeeded. And the point about the cost of letting him get away with it is that it might embolden him to do worse things, not that the 2020 election will “inevitably” be deemed improper. No one that I have heard — other than Republicans — is talking about a Democratic challenge to the legitimacy of Trump’s reelection, barring something unforeseen. There’s certainly nothing remotely as alarming as the president’s perpetual “jokes” about not leaving office if he loses or when his second term ends — a possibility for which his and his allies’ attacks on the integrity of the 2016 and 2018 elections have built a foundation among the MAGA folk. The notion of a preemptive partisan coup to keep voters from eagerly reelecting Trump, of course, makes no sense given Republican control of the U.S. Senate compounded by the supermajority requirement for removal of a president.

I’m going to be charitable and recognize there is naturally going to be confusion when efforts to tamper with elections are the basis for an impeachment effort that occurs not long before another election featuring the same president. Impeachment is not, as Shapiro calls it, an effort by Democrats to “run an end around with the electoral process.” It is and has been, since the Constitution was ratified, a part of the system in which elections are another part. Democrats can regard Donald J. Trump’s presidency as “illegitimate” for all sorts of reasons, ranging from his unprecedented mendacity to his megalomania to his contempt for the rule of law to the undisguised joy he takes in dividing people into warring tribes by appealing to his supporters’ most atavistic — and, I might add, irreligious — instincts. And yes, many Democrats think presidents elected by popular minorities — like Trump and George W. Bush in his first term — lack moral authority. But nobody’s talking about disregarding and nullifying elections, unless it’s those “this is a republic, not a democracy” conservatives who believe their mandate to rule came from God or nature, not from the people.

All this “coup” talk may just reflect the Rovian principle Team Trump has adopted of accusing its accusers of harboring one’s own vulnerabilities and dark thoughts.

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