Not to be alarmist, but the November 8 midterm elections could be the last in which the United States operates as a functional democracy. President Joe Biden hinted at this when he declared on September 1 that America is at “an inflection point—one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that’s to come after.” Yet the President stopped short of stating the obvious: The 2022 competition pits his own relatively hapless Democratic Party against an authoritarian Republican Party that seeks power in order to rig the electoral process to its permanent advantage.
Biden got it right when he said, “Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: Either they win or they were cheated. And that’s where MAGA Republicans are today.” But then he asked us to imagine that MAGA Republicans are somehow distinct from the Republican majority.
A veteran of thirty-six years in the U.S. Senate and eight years in the vice presidency, Biden can’t wrap his head around the fact that the Republican Party of Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush is no more. “Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans,” he insisted, “are MAGA Republicans.”
Seriously? Given a chance to reject MAGA Republicanism, Wyoming’s GOP voters instead booted legacy conservative Liz Cheney out of Congress. Why? Because Donald Trump told them to. The same thing happened in Republican primaries in Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and dozens of other states where Trump-backed candidates prevailed. There were a few exceptions, but that didn’t change the rule: This is Trump’s Republican Party, and he is teaching it to disregard democracy.
The GOP that Biden knew—that of country club moderates and bipartisan compromisers—has been remade as an authoritarian cabal that seeks power in 2022 and 2024 for the purpose of remaking the American political system so that it will never again be forced to cede power.
What’s at stake is not merely control of Congress, although that is up for grabs at a point when Democrats and Republicans hold fifty seats each in the Senate, and the Democratic majority in the House could be lost by flipping as few as five seats. If traditional midterm patterns hold, awarding significant gains to the party that is out of power, Republicans could well take control of both chambers and make Biden the lamest of lame ducks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, would then become Majority Leader and block Biden’s policies and appointments to a Supreme Court that is already serving as the legal arm of the Republican National Committee. Meanwhile, McConnell’s cronies in Congress and at the state level would be positioned to mangle election laws so badly that Trump really could lose and yet “win” in 2024, in which case, according to Steve Bannon, “4,000 shock troops” will take over the regulatory state.
How bad could a federal government controlled by Trump, Bannon, and Congressional Republicans get? These are people who see Hungarian strongman and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as such a role model that they made him the star of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas.
Orbán’s party never loses. And, if their American cousins get their way, neither will Trump’s. That’s where all this election denialism, voter suppression, and diminishment of democracy ends. To think otherwise is absurd; to say otherwise is dangerous.
What’s at stake in 2022 is electoral democracy as we know it. That makes this the most consequential midterm election since 1862, when Congressional majorities aligned with the narrowly elected President Abraham Lincoln. In that distant election year, Lincoln acknowledged, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”
Biden needs to stop looking for honorable Republicans. The “Party of Lincoln” is finished. It is now the “Party of Trump.” And if the “Party of Trump” wins, democracy is doomed.
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