Donald Trump this morning declared war on Democrats winning elections.
This is authoritarianism 101, casting doubt on the legitimacy of elections, and with every other institutional norm Trump and the GOP have eroded in the last several years, once trust in our elections is gone and is replaced by trust in Dear Leader Trump, we don't get that norm back.
And while Donald Trump may not have any actual authority to interfere with the Florida recount, GOP Gov. Rick Scott actually can cause a lot of damage.
So many controversies have bedeviled Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes — culminating in her office’s troubles in the aftermath of Florida’s chaotic 2018 elections — that her days in office are now numbered, insiders and lawmakers say.
She’s losing support from fellow Democrats and faces the increasing likelihood of an embarrassing suspension from office at the hands of either Gov. Rick Scott or his likely successor, Ron DeSantis.
Suspending Snipes from office would put a final exclamation point on one of the most contested midterms in recent Florida history, which has resulted in three statewide recounts — for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner — as well as recounts in three local legislative races. Removal proceedings in the GOP-led Florida Senate could also cause a possible rift among Florida state Senate Democrats if the black caucus rallies around Snipes in the same way it did around her predecessor, who was also African-American, more than a decade ago.
“This is not just the most troubled elections office in the state, it’s the most troubled elections office in the nation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, who contends that Snipes needs to be removed from office once the recounts that began Sunday in the races for governor and U.S. Senate are over.
But Dear Leader Trump says the recounts need to already be over. And Scott is looking for a direct link to Snipes's "mismanagement" and the recount.
Democrats say Snipes has privately confided that she plans to quit, but it’s unclear when. “I hope it’s soon,” said one state Senate Democrat who declined to be named. “Otherwise, she’s a goner.” Heading into the election, Democratic campaigns fretted about what her mismanagement would do in the second-largest Democratic county in the state.
Neither Scott's nor DeSantis’ teams will comment on the record about their plans for what many see as Snipes’ looming suspension, because both men are involved in races that are the subject of recounts and lawsuits. They don’t want their comments used against them in court, according to those close to both Republicans.
“I need to be careful with what I say about her,” Scott confided to a source who confidentially relayed the conversation to POLITICO, adding that the governor “is solely focused on winning. He’s senator-elect and he has blinders on to make sure it stays that way.”
Scott’s ire with Snipes is clear. He already linked the controversies of slow counting and what Republicans call “found” ballots in Broward to a liberal effort to “steal” this election; he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Investigate.
So far Scott hasn't been able to pin anything on Snipes for the recount, but if Scott loses, I fully expect that neither Rick Scott nor Donald Trump will accept those results, and then we have a nasty little fight almost certainly headed for the courts. The larger problem is of course the untold damage to the country's election system.
In a month of harrowing news, this development is still almost incalculably bad for American democracy. I now assume that a substantial minority of Americans believe that the results of the elections in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and California are democratically illegitimate unless the Republican candidate wins. Updating the lessons from the previous post,
- When electoral procedures lose popular legitimacy, it is nearly impossible to get that legitimacy back. Elections are one great way of building popular legitimacy, and if by assumption they no longer do, what will?
- Non-electoral sources of power are particularly dangerous when elections no longer legitimately empower politicians. It now falls to the very politicians who are involved in the recount to vouch for its legitimacy. The safest way to defend that legitimacy would be for the losing candidates to rebuke the President, directly and publicly. A public endorsement would be most meaningful if it were to come from, for example, DeSantis. Let us just ponder how likely that is.
- The downstream consequences from the loss of electoral legitimacy are nearly impossible to predict. I suspect that one consequence will be an ever-greater tolerance for executive malfeasance, on the logic that Congressional representatives and state governments lack democratic legitimacy.
Meanwhile, "They stole the election in Florida" will be the GOP talking point for the next two years, which of course the only way to fix will be a national voter ID law. And more importantly, does anyone still actually believe Trump will surrender power in case of impeachment or election loss in 2020?