Cheney has explicitly demanded accountability for the Jan. 6 insurrection, and by implication, accountability for the majority of House Republicans who, in spite of that disgraceful event, nonetheless voted to overturn a legitimate U.S. election for the simple fact that their candidate didn’t win. She has specifically warned fellow Republicans not to “perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6.”
But House Republicans are in no mood for accountability, because this is the strategy they intend to use going forward when, as seems increasingly possible, they regain their majority in 2022. A Republican House majority in 2022 and 2024 means Republicans, not Democrats, will be counting electoral votes in 2024.
Thus, what we’re seeing here is a glimpse of the endgame: the ultimate weaponization by the Republican Party of Trump’s Big Lie. Everything that Republicans have done since Jan. 6—from demanding unquestioned subservience to Trump, to relentlessly reinforcing the lie of election fraud to their base, to the systematic institution of state-by-state voter suppression laws—points to one logical goal: to overturn the will of the American people when it becomes convenient for them to do so.
As Sargent observes, the signs are there for everyone to read.
Now consider what else we’re seeing. Some Republicans are increasingly asserting a willingness to overturn future elections: Rep. Jody Hice’s primary challenge to the Georgia secretary of state is driven by the promise to use his power to invalidate future outcomes.
Other Republicans are asserting the freedom to keep alive the fiction that the election was stolen forever. In Arizona, a GOP-sponsored recount is underway that’s plainly designed to manufacture fake evidence bolstering that false conclusion.
All of this is taking place with the full approval of the party, and the nodding assent of nearly every elected Republican official in Washington. It’s far more than testing boundaries, it’s a barely veiled effort to eliminate the pesky will of the American voter entirely from the equation.
Republicans are untethering themselves from any obligation to recognize future legitimate election outcomes, which will provide the rationale to overturn them, a freedom they are also effectively in process of appropriating. Cheney is insisting on a GOP future premised on a full repudiation of these tendencies, and getting punished for it.
Imagine a close election in which the Democratic candidate ekes out a victory in Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Iowa or Ohio—all states that (for now) are under complete Republican domination. Imagine it in Pennsylvania, which currently has a Democratic governor, but may not by 2024. The GOP legislature in any of those states, in defiance of the popular vote, and supported by readily ginned-up lies on Fox News about “election fraud,” sends an alternative slate of electors to the Congress. A House majority thoroughly dominated by Trump lackeys then certifies those results, ignoring popular vote tallies.
Sargent acknowledges that such a scenario would implicate many contingencies, such as the individual power and willingness of state governors to overrule the state legislatures. It seems doubtless that such disputes would also be resolved by the Supreme Court.
But, as Sargent notes, quoting Constitutional law scholar Edward Foley, the dispute itself would “be a major crisis,” much as the one American voters were treated to in 2020. It’s not implausible that the result would be contrary to the will of the American people. It’s very plausible that if the 2024 election involved Donald Trump, there also would be widespread violence.
“The core component of the democratic process is that we count the votes as cast,” Foley told me. The punishing of Cheney, Foley concluded, suggests that the Republican Party might be institutionally “abandoning the very essence of democracy.”
Sargent believes that the potential for Republican sabotage of the 2024 election should be part of the Democrats’ own narrative as the 2022 elections approach.
The real crime against our democracy that occurred on Jan. 6 was not the storming of the Capitol by a Trump-supporting mob, but the actions of those 147 Republican House members who voted not to certify a free and fair election, simply because it did not yield their desired result. With a Republican Party that is radicalizing ever further on a near daily basis, no one should entertain the slightest doubt of what the GOP officials would do if they possess the power to do it.
After all, they’ve already shown us that democracy means nothing to them.