Had the Alexandria shooter had his way and murdered a score or more legislators on a baseball field, the country would have witnessed horrifying carnage–and, as Norm Ornstein has argued, it would have entered into genuine constitutional crisis. The slaughter of the members of one political party would have changed, in minutes, the balance of power in the federal government. A Killer’s Congress would have come into session for an extended time. Special elections don’t happen overnight, or within days or weeks.
It is hard to see how– by what exceptional displays of political leadership–the government in these conditions could re-establish its legitimacy. It would be exceptionally hard in the “best of times”. In a divisive, polarized politics, it is close to unimaginable.
As Ornstein points out, we cannot say that this miserable state of affairs could not have been anticipated. On 9/11, the Capitol only escaped a devastating attack because Flight 93’s passengers gave their lives to bring down the plane. We also cannot say that no thought was then given to reforms to protect the continuity and democratic integrity of government if its senior ranks were to be violently cut down. Ornstein joined with others to establish a Continuity of Government Commission, which then recommended measures for assuring in the event of catastrophe a functioning, constitutionally legitimate presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court. That was fourteen years ago.