Over the past week, the president of the United States has accused members of the opposition party of attempting to “steal” elections by finishing a count of all of the votes. Florida Governor Rick Scott, a candidate in one of those contested elections, ordered a state agency to commit resources to a criminal investigation into election officials in Broward County; it found nothing. The White House and the Republican National Committee were reportedly furious at Arizona Senate candidate Martha McSally for not taking the same approach as Scott; she eventually conceded to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Georgia’s election is all fucked up.
Consider for a second how quickly the Wall Street Journal editorial board would mobilize to call for military invention if the following tweet had been sent by the socialist leader of a country in South America.
If 2018 was supposed to be a test of the mechanics of American democracy before the next presidential election, then we failed. Miserably.
In fairness, anyone who’s been paying attention for the last two years could have seen this coming. Even after he won the presidential election in 2016, Donald Trump spread a number of conspiracy theories about voter fraud in California being the reason he lost the popular vote by millions, and about mythical Massholes costing him New Hampshire’s four electoral votes.
But seeing Trump and the GOP in action over the past week during all of these fiascos—which should call into question the efficiency of how states like Georgia and Florida conduct elections, rather than whether the rights of voters should be stripped away—has truly been a sight to behold. Whether he’s intentionally doing this or if he’s too stupid to understand how elections work is irrelevant. Nearly everyone in the GOP has seized the opportunity to hash out their longstanding beef with democracy.
What makes it even more distressing is the fact that, beyond how it actively impacts his life, Trump ultimately does not give a shit about whether Ron DeSantis or Brian Kemp or Rick Scott win their respective elections. He will care about his own re-election. And given the events of the past week and everything we know about Trump, it’s worth asking the same question that was at the back of all of our minds in 2016: If Trump loses, will he concede? Is he capable of admitting that he’s lost something? Anything?
This, more than who the Democratic nominee is or what Trump’s approval ratings are or any of the sort of horserace metrics the media focuses on, is the big existential question of 2020. And given what we’ve seen happening in Florida, we also have to consider the possibility of the Supreme Court intervening to help a Republican win the presidency for the second time in 20 years. It’s questionable whether or not there’s anything the Democrats or the public can do to defend itself against these scenarios.
What’s clear is that the public tide is turning against the GOP’s brazen hostility towards democracy. Florida, by nearly 30 points, voted for the biggest expansion of voting rights in the state since the Voting Rights Act. Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada voted to ease access to voter registration. Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri all voted for independent redistricting commissions, and Utah could still join them. As the icing on the cake, Trump ally Kris Kobach—perhaps the biggest advocate for voter suppression in the country—lost his election for governor of Kansas.
And in the House, where Republicans’ eight-year rule is coming to an end despite their best efforts to gerrymander themselves into a permanent majority, the Democrats are promising that their first bill will be elections and ethics reform, which includes national automatic voter registration and reimplementing parts of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court five years ago.
Would any of these things protect against a scenario where Trump decides that a loss in the 2020 election is fake news? Probably not. But nearly a decade of Republican claims about voter fraud and measures to defend against this pretend problem quite literally brought us to this point. And the best way to begin to defend free and fair elections is to begin to remove them, over what will likely be the shrill objections of the man in the White House.