The GOP's 'outrageous' effort to overturn the election and its deference to Trump cements its status as 'a willing party to authoritarianism'

  • The Republican Party engaged in a brazen and unprecedented effort this year to ignore the will of the voters, overthrow a free and fair election, and install its preferred candidate in power.
  • Had the party succeeded in its efforts, most recently via a longshot Texas Supreme Court case, "that would have ended" US democracy, said Jason Stanley, an expert in fascism.
  • The fact that a majority of House Republicans backed Texas' lawsuit shows the GOP is a "willing party to authoritarianism," Stanley added, because it's "openly signaling that they regard the only legitimate outcome as one that leaves them in power."
  • The party's near absolute deference to President Donald Trump, moreover, is a sign that even though Trump will leave office in January, Trumpism is here to stay.
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On Monday, 538 members of the Electoral College convened across the country to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential election. The process is a staple of the US electoral system that typically doesn't draw much national attention because it's widely viewed as pro forma, a procedural step in the peaceful transfer of power that has been a bedrock of American politics since the country's founding.

This year, however, the eyes of the nation are on the Electoral College because it represents, in many ways, US democratic institutions withstanding a brazen and unprecedented assault by one of two major political parties as it seeks to ignore the will of the voters, overthrow the results of a free and fair election, and install its preferred candidate in power. Republicans carried out their attempted coup d'etat with the enthusiastic support of the incumbent president, as well as a maj of the party's apparatus.

The most striking development in the GOP's efforts was a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas this month asking the Supreme Court to nullify the election results in four battleground states that voted for Biden. The court, for its part, told the GOP to take a hike, roundly rejecting Texas' lawsuit in a terse yet monumental ruling last week.

Constitutional scholars and experts in authoritarianism breathed a collective sigh of relief after the court issued its rejection. But the fact that the case got as far as it did, and with most of the Republican Party's backing, was a telling sign to many of what the GOP now stood for.

"We already have a massively compromised democracy," said Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale University and the author of "How Fascism Works." But had Republicans been successful in their longshot bid, "that would have ended it."

Republicans almost succeeded in pushing the US 'out of the democratic camp'

"That was an outrageous move," Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College and the author of "Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe," told Business Insider, referring to Texas' case. "It was a blatant, Hail Mary attempt to try to leverage Republican appointees on the court for an openly partisan and anti-democratic purpose. And if it had succeeded, not only would it have destroyed the court's legitimacy, it would have pushed the US out of the democratic camp."

Texas' lawsuit was brought by the state's Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, who was indicted in 2015 on felony securities fraud charges and still hasn't gone to trial. He's also under a separate FBI criminal investigation over allegations that he abused his office and engaged in bribery to help out a wealthy campaign donor.

After Paxton filed his lawsuit, 18 other Republican attorneys general backed the effort, as did 126 House Republicans, which is a majority of the GOP caucus. Trump also hyped the case, describing it as "the big one," before the high court kicked it to the curb. While a handful of senior Republican lawmakers expressed skepticism about the case, the vast majority of the party was either silent or actively supported the president and his allies' effort to maintain their grip on power.

"Today's authoritarians come in through elections and manipulate elections to stay in office," said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University historian and the author of "Strongmen: Mussolini to the President."

Had Republicans been able to pull off a victory in the Texas case, she said, Trump would have joined dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose 2012 election is widely believed to have been rigged and sparked massive protests, and the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Ben-Ghiat pointed out that both Putin and Orbán have since found ways to circumvent elections altogether, in Putin's case by having Parliament amend the Russian constitution, and in Orbán's case by having Parliament allow him to rule by decree.

That Trump and Republicans' effort to annihilate the backbone of the US's electoral process failed is a sign that "some resilience" remains in the democratic system, Berman said.

The Supreme Court joined lower courts and judges across the country who have handed Republicans defeat after defeat since Election Day in their bid to throw the race to Trump.

The president's campaign and key Republican officials have filed nearly 40 lawsuits challenging the election results since November 3 and haven't won a single case. And overall, according to the Washington Post, at least 86 judges from the state level all the way to the Supreme Court have rejected at least one legal challenge brought by Trump or his allies.

That said, Texas' lawsuit "makes crystal clear that Trump and perhaps a majority of Republicans are more committed partisans than they are democrats and have broken the oath they took to defend the Constitution," Berman said.

Focusing on Trump and not the Republican Party as a whole amounts to 'deliberately taking our eyes off the problem'

Trump, for his part, has been laying the groundwork to declare the election illegitimate if he lost since as far back as the 2016 race, when he ran against then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election," he teased at an October 2016 campaign rally, before tacking on, "if I win," as his supporters broke out into raucous applause. After losing the popular vote to Clinton, Trump lied and said that millions of "illegal votes" cast in California tipped the scales in her favor and that he was the rightful winner of the 2016 popular vote.

This year, as poll after poll showed him trailing Biden in the race for the White House, Trump rehashed many of those arguments, saying the only way he would lose the November election would be if it was "rigged" against him and if huge numbers of illegal ballots were cast.

As Business Insider has reported, this election was the safest and most secure in US history. But that hasn't stopped the president and, crucially, a majority of elected Republican lawmakers, from ginning up nonsense conspiracy theories about secret ballot dumps and Democratic cabals working with dead communist dictators to help Biden win the White House.

The GOP's actions have proven that it is a "willing party to authoritarianism," Stanley said, specifically pointing to the fact that most of the House Republican caucus "signed on for stealing the election" by supporting the Texas case. The party is now "openly signaling that they regard the only legitimate outcome as one that leaves them in power."

For that reason, he said, focusing only on Trump instead of the broader fact that Republicans have shown an overt willingness to subvert democracy and sow doubt about the legitimacy of an election if it suits their needs amounts to "deliberately taking our eyes off the problem."

Officials who carried out their legal duty to certify the 2020 results in their respective states have faced death and rape threats from the president's supporters as he shames them on Twitter for being traitors to the party. Employees working for an election vendor that was targeted by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have had to go into hiding after they and their families were threatened. US intelligence agencies are investigating a website that featured the home addresses of election officials along with photos of them with rifle crosshairs superimposed on the images.

And on Monday, as Michigan electors prepared to carry out their constitutional duty to cast votes for the rightful winner of the election, they had to be escorted from their cars by armed law enforcement officers and taken into the heavily guarded capitol building because officials were concerned about "credible threats of violence" stemming from a large pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rally taking place outside the building.

The silence from Trump and his Republican backers was deafening. But some officials spoke out.

Mike Shirkey, the majority leader in the Michigan state Senate, issued a statement saying "Michigan's Democratic slate of electors should be able to proceed with their duty, free of threats of violence or intimidation."

And Rep. Paul Mitchell, an outgoing Republican congressional representative from Michigan, said he was so disappointed by his party's actions that he was leaving it altogether.

It is "unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote," Mitchell wrote in a letter to Republican leaders. To that end, he said, he is withdrawing his "engagement and association with the Republican Party at both the national and state level."

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