“Democrats Won’t Cede the Streets This Time”

Ron Brownstein for The Atlantic:

During the long legal battle in Florida that ultimately determined the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, specifically discouraged Jesse Jackson, the veteran civil-rights leader, from organizing public protests to demand a full counting of the disputed ballots.

Gore wanted to fight solely in the courts, though that meant ceding the streets to Republicans, who held raucous rallies accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election from the GOP nominee, George W. Bush, including one showdown in the Miami-Dade elections-board offices that became immortalized as the “Brooks Brothers riot.”

No one can say what exactly will happen if Donald Trump contests an apparent loss on November 3 by insisting that the results are riddled with fraud. But one prediction is safe: Democrats won’t cede the streets to the GOP again in the weeks after the election.

A wide array of progressive groups is already coordinating efforts to ensure substantial public protest after the election to defend the vote counting. Their assumption is that Trump will try to intimidate state officials tabulating mail-in ballots by mobilizing the same sort of armed supporters who poured into midwestern capitals to protest the coronavirus lockdowns in the spring and confronted Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer. The intent on the left, if it comes to that, is to meet Trump’s demonstrators with overwhelming numbers; the goal is to establish a presence more reminiscent of the street uprisings in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the more recent prodemocracy protests in Ukraine and Hong Kong, than of anything in modern American experience….

The prospect of massive protests on both sides is only one of many ways the contest between the parties could extend beyond Election Day in an unprecedented manner—perhaps up until Inauguration Day, on January 20. If the November 3 voting produces anything less than a blowout lead for either side—and perhaps even if it produces a blowout lead for Joe Biden—the post-election period is likely to test how far both GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republican voters will go in tolerating efforts from Trump to subvert the rules of small-d democracy.

On that front, a new study from the Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry M. Bartels offers important—and ominous—findings. Bartels found that antidemocratic and authoritarian ideas have secured a substantial foothold within the GOP’s electoral coalition. In a national survey he conducted in January, just over half of Republican voters (including both self-identified Republicans and independents who lean toward the party) strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” Just under half agreed that “strong leaders sometimes have to bend the rules in order to get things done.” About two in five agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” And almost three-fourths concurred that “it is hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout.”

Strikingly, less than one-fourth of Republicans disagreed with any of these statements. (No more than 8 percent strongly disagreed with any of them.) The rest described themselves as unsure.

Equally remarkable in Bartels’s research: The key predictor of which Republicans were most receptive to ditching democratic rules wasn’t age or education or any other demographic factor. Instead, hostility toward the nation’s growing racial and ethnic diversity—the central chord of Trump’s messaging—was the single best predictor of a willingness to abandon democratic precepts. Close behind was hostility toward cultural change, such as greater acceptance of gay rights.


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