The Republican Civil War begins in earnest this week, and while I expect Trump's coup attempt to fail, the Trumpies and the never Trump GOP are going to be at each other's throats, and the trick for the rest of us is not to be caught in the inevitable collateral damage.
In the coming days, that MAGA revenge complex could target everyone from low-level members of Congress to Vice President Mike Pence, as Congress meets on Jan. 6 to formally certify Biden’s victory. “Republicans,” Trump warned on Twitter, “NEVER FORGET!” speaking to lawmakers who have said they will not oppose Biden’s certification. And Trump allies are plotting to fund potential pro-MAGA primary challengers to oust those disloyal Republicans.
“We’ll put some money behind” trying to oust these Republicans, said Alex Bruesewitz, one of the organizers of Stop the Steal, an organization linked to high-profile MAGA personalities that is helping organize a major Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally in Washington.
The swift move to vengeance offers a preview of how Trump and his MAGA community plan to reshape the GOP in the coming months — creating Trump loyalty tests for Republicans, then working to evict anyone who doesn’t fall in line. The goal is to identify those who are most worthy of inheriting the MAGA base with Trump out of office. But the result may be that no one except Trump can rally the MAGA coalition.
“I think that Trump and his supporters in the base, or his supporters in the Republican Party, are going to continue to be a big part of the party for the foreseeable future, including in 2022,” said Alex Conant, a GOP political consultant and the former communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Most congressmen don't wake up in the morning worried about their general election. They worry about their primary.”
At the moment, Trump is focused on eviscerating Raffensperger, who has rebuffed Trump’s attempts to subvert the Georgia election results — and so, too, is his base.
While Trump’s allies launched a normal fusillade of personal attacks against Raffensperger — former House Speaker and Trump ally Newt Gingrich called him “anti-Republican” — they also called for criminal charges. Some suggested it had been illegal for the call to be recorded, even though Georgia law only requires one party in a conversation to consent to an audio recording. Others went further.
“Traitors in our midst,” tweeted Chanel Rion, White House correspondent at the pro-Trump outlet OAN, along with the hashtag “#InvestigateRaffensperger.”
Next, MAGA attention will focus on Capitol Hill, where Congress will meet on Jan. 6 in a joint session to formally certify November’s presidential election. Pence will oversee the proceedings as vice president. Historically, the gathering is an afterthought, a noncontroversial rubber stamp on an already settled outcome.
But in the Trump era, the president, scores of Republicans and throngs of his supporters are insisting that lawmakers should refuse to sign off on the results, incorrectly arguing that the election was rigged.
Trump-supporting entities are trying to concoct novel constitutional powers that Pence could wield at the last minute from his largely ministerial perch, which mostly involves opening the envelopes with each state’s Electoral College votes, and then handing them to a secretary for recording. Alexander Macris, a video game writer who became known for his role in Gamergate, the online harassment campaign targeting women, suggested in a viral essay that Pence could re-interpret the 1877 Electoral Count Act in a way that would allow him to simply not count the votes.
Edward Foley, the director of the Election Law Project at Ohio State University, flatly rejected the interpretation.
“I mean, it was raised in the 19th century, but it’s never been accepted in the sense that the Supreme Court's never adopted it. It's never even prevailed at Congress,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped pro-Trump outlets like The Gateway Pundit from making tantalizing offers directed at Pence.“Pence can place himself in the history books alongside Thomas Jefferson or he can sign off on the destruction of the United States as we know it,” read an op-ed on the site.
Others have traded carrots for sticks: Prominent conspiratorial-minded figures, such as pro-Trump Georgia lawyer Lin Wood, claimed that Pence could be arrested, tried for treason and executed by firing squad if he did not act on Trump’s behalf. And out in the wilds of the QAnon conspiracy community, the process might not even matter: Pence, some argued, might be a body double, put in place by a Satanic cabal to further its plots.
Lawmakers in Congress, meanwhile, have different concerns on their hands: Many will soon seek reelection. And for a certain brand of politician, going MAGA is the safest bet.
“Most of these people that won during the  primaries, they said, ‘I'm the most like Trump.’ And that's why most of them won their primaries,” said Breusewitz, the Stop the Steal organizer. “And so if they go back, the voters will hold them accountable.”
Some 25 years ago, Newt Gingrich took over with his Contract With America. Ten years ago, it was the Tea Party and Birthers who displaced them. Now, the MAGA revenge complex, as Politico's Tina Nguyen puts it in the above article, is running the show. I expect the battle to be brief and bloody. Trump will still be ringmaster of the GOP circus after he's kicked out of the White House and the smoke clears.
The real problem, again, remains the potential for breathtaking violence over the next month.