The 2022 and 2024 House elections are not just political battles over the Biden agenda or the Trump tax cuts. US democracy itself will be on the ballot.
You can write it down: Jan. 6, 2025, will be a hinge date in history. On that day, American democracy either will live or die. And if we do not take aggressive steps to ensure that Democrats control the House of Representatives when we get there, the prognosis for our republic is grim.
It is rare to have advance notice of a monumental moment. Before Pearl Harbor, no one suspected that Dec. 7 would “live in infamy.” We could not predict years beforehand that we would celebrate our nation’s birth on the Fourth of July or mark 9/11 as a monument to national tragedy and heroism.
Yet it is now clear that the Sixth of January 2025 will join those historic dates. A joint session of the new 120th Congress will meet that day to count the electoral votes from the 2024 election. The House of Representatives should perform its largely symbolic function and certify the will of the voters, naming the winner of 270 or more electoral votes as the president. That is how it should go. But there is a real chance that it will not.
GOP could install its own president
House Republicans are now firmly in the grip of a deeply anti-democratic right-wing populism. Almost all have now essentially pledged to “support and defend” Donald Trump and Trumpism rather than the Constitution of the United States. They no longer are constrained by once inviolate norms or even by observable facts. If these radicals control the House on 1/6/25, and if a Democrat has won the Electoral College vote, it now seems completely possible that Republicans will instead confirm their own choice as president of the United States. If that happens, the world’s greatest democracy will come to an end.
The mechanism would be the same as the one they tried after the 2020 election: invalidating the Electoral College votes of certain states that went for the Democrat, thereby throwing the election to a vote of the House. This gambit failed because Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the majority Democrats blocked it. We will not have that protection in 2025 if the Speaker is Kevin McCarthy. He voted with the insurrectionists last January.
But wasn’t that just a protest vote? If they have power next time, would House Republicans actually do something so catastrophic?
Well, consider their recent behavior. Almost all have helped spread Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election being stolen. Two-thirds of them took that seditionist “protest” vote just hours after a violent mob stormed the Capitol, maimed police officers, erected a noose, and desecrated our democracy’s most sacred spaces. Only 10 of them voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection.
They ejected from their leadership Rep. Liz Cheney for her failure to tell the Big Lie. They replaced her with a Trump toady who has supported the ludicrous Arizona recount that involves hunting for “Chinese bamboo” in the ballots. And they have even begun trying to erase from communal memory the horror, chaos, death and destruction of the insurrection, claiming it resembled “a normal tourist visit to the Capitol.”
So yes, it’s easy to predict that a House GOP caucus that remains deeply committed to Trump and his seditionist lies would steal the presidential election if they could. That means that the House elections in 2022 and 2024 are not just battles over normal political questions, like the future of the Biden agenda or the Trump tax cuts. Rather, our democracy itself will be on the ballot. But with gerrymandering and voter suppression laws sweeping the GOP-held states, winning these races will be tougher than ever.
Stopping the next attempted coup
Small-d democrats of all political stripes must be galvanized to much greater action than normal. We need nothing less than a Committee to Save the Republic: a coalition of Democrats and democracy-affirming Republicans. And the wealthy must dig deep, providing a huge well of resources to take on three essential tasks: First, we must protect at-risk House Democrats from the torrent of GOP lies that cut down so many of their colleagues in 2020.
Second, we must help Republicans of good will to weaken the GOP House candidates from behind their own lines, with ads aimed at their voters and third-party challengers to spoil the bids of insurrectionist Republicans. Finally, we must install pro-democracy decisionmakers in the states, by electing secretaries of state and attorneys general to help ensure that Republicans cannot steal the presidential race before it reaches the House.
A pillar of the American experiment has been the rock-solid stability of our political system. Despite often deep and angry divisions, nothing has threatened to alter the very nature of our democracy since the Battle of Gettysburg. But the republic now faces an existential threat, and we know the date on which the plotters will attempt a coup. The only question is whether we will do enough to stop them.