Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Why the "Just Vote" Response to the Trump-Inspired Constitutional Crisis Does Not Work

On Monday, I wrote about the Robert Kagan piece appearing in the Washington Post in which the conservative scholar warned that the nation is already in a constitutional crisis as Trump is laying the groundwork to steal the 2024 election by changing the rules and positioning his supporters to control the vote counting and certification process.

There have been a number of thoughtful responses to the piece, some supporting Kagan's warnings, others saying his concerns are overblown.  A response that falls into the latter category was penned by Jack Shafer, Politico's senior media writer:

Jack Shafer, Politico
The Kagan nightmare scenario has triggered a large spasm of liberal panic since his essay published, driven partly by understandable worry about the fragility of our democracy, but also an undercurrent of powerlessness—as though Trump could, almost by waving his hand, reassert control of the country.

But there’s another way to look at it. Is this nightmare scenario really a function of Trump’s power and his dominance over his party? Or do the extra-Constitutional methods Trump might adopt as we enter the 2024 election penumbra reflect his essential weakness, and the continued decay of Republican power? Are we looking at a player holding a set of superior cards or a weak-hand bluff artist threatening to blow up the casino unless he wins the pot?


The only person or party that attempts a coup d’etat is the one that cannot win by other means. Gearing up for a coup—which we can concede that Kagan gets right about Trump—is not a sign of political strength but one of political weakness. By signaling an attempt to regain power by any means necessary, Trump essentially confesses that Trumpism is not and is not likely to become a majoritarian movement.

The problem with Shafer's analysis is the underlying premise that the matter will ultimately be governed through democratic processes, with a majority of voters deciding the election at the voting booth.  Indeed, in his last paragraph he urges readers to "keep [their] cool and just vote."  

Kagan almost certainly would agree with Shafer that that Trump's autocratic maneuvering reflects political weakness.  But isn't that the point?  Trump is trying to seize control of those counting the votes exactly because he knows the voters are unlikely to give him a win at the polls.  Shafer is merely supplying the motive, not contradicting Kagan's thesis.

"Indeed you won the elections, but I won the count." 
--Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza

Indeed.  Trump is not a smart man, but he even he understands Somoza's approach to elections.

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