Democrats warn Trump using midterms to seize power he failed to on Jan. 6
Former President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally on Saturday, April 2, 2022, near Washington Township, Michigan. - Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/TNS
WASHINGTON, DC — If at first, you don’t succeed (at the ballot box, in court or by an armed mob) try, try again (by controlling elections themselves). That seems to be Trump’s new plan, which has many observers, including Jan. 6 committee members, worried that America’s on the verge of a revolution.
While many are braced for another violent insurrection, some fear a quiet takeover of American elections has already taken root on the right. And they’re afraid it’s going to bear fruit soon.

“I am concerned that the same language, on the very same channels, at the same level— maybe even higher this time — is going to result in people losing their lives,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), a member of the select Jan. 6 committee, told Raw Story. “This investigation has underscored for me that the Jan. 6 riot wasn't a spontaneous thing, you know, ‘a couple of First Amendment protesters who got out of hand.’ The president knew these people were armed, and he called on them to come down to the Capitol.”

That attack was last year. All eyes are now on this year’s midterms and the 2024 presidential election, which, arguably, kicks off on Nov. 9.

No matter which party comes out on top of this year’s midterms, the ranks of the far right are guaranteed to greatly expand in the new Congress. There are 291 Republicans on the ballot this cycle who have rejected the results of the 2020 election and would have joined the effort to keep Trump in office. Moreso, 171 of those GOP candidates are vying for safe GOP-controlled seats, according to the Washington Post. That means, even if Democrats are able to maintain control of one or both chambers of Congress, Washington is about to be sent a battalion of new Trump loyalists.

“The lie hasn’t gone away. It’s corrupting our democratic institutions. People who believe that lie are now seeking positions of public trust," Jan. 6 Chair Bennie Thompson prophetically warned this summer. "If that happens, who will make sure our institutions don’t break under the pressure? We won’t have close calls. We’ll have catastrophe."

Since the Capitol was stormed, Trump tripled down. The repetition seems to have worked. Without presenting any new evidence—and after 61 out of his 62 court challenges failed—polls have steadily shown Trump’s convinced roughly 70% of Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president.

That has many Democrats braced for the worst.

Is America now a banana republic?

A slew of lawmakers with foreign policy experience have remained deeply unsettled by the parallels they now draw between America and despotic nations across the globe.

Those elected officials who have studied insurrections or witnessed them while stationed abroad are more than alarmed by the evidence presented by the Jan. 6 panel. And lots was revealed, including evidence appearing to show the intelligence community knew the attack was planned yet failed to properly warn lawmakers at the Capitol. Heads also turned after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that ahead of his ‘Stop the steal’ rally, Trump told the Secret Service, “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”

Many now say it’s clear that Trump served as the puppet master.

“Like a lot of insurrection leaders, he knew his insurgents, and he knew how to motivate them,” Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-AZ), a former Marine, told Raw Story. “In Iraq, we used to see this happen, where insurrectionists would actually use mobs that got whipped up by imams, and here, Trump is the imam, and the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were the insurrectionists.”

Even as most Republican officials and voters alike now downplay the attack, Gallego says the myth of the stolen election has morphed into a more dangerous myth on the right: The claim that there was never really an attack on the Capitol or that what occurred was no big deal.

During the attack, Gallego used his military training to help his colleagues. He famously hopped on a desk on the House floor during the attack so he could better direct, guide, and command his fellow lawmakers in both parties during the initial attack.

Rep. Ruben Gallego at the Korea DMZ. Office of Rep. Ruben Gallego.

The former Marine later recounted how he “was going to kill somebody that day.” This summer, he relived that day. After watching the J6 panel lay out its case connecting the dots to Trump over its nine hearings, Gallego found himself incensed all over again.

“What we’re seeing now is that this was a true conspiracy from beginning to end to weaponize the crowd, to incite them, to send them like a bullet towards Capitol Hill,” Gallego said. “He knew that they were armed. He knew that they were dangerous, and he was going to try and lead that insurrection from the front himself except for the Secret Service stopping him.”

Even as the right downplays the insurrection, it’s important not to be distracted by their evolving rhetoric, according to Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA). She has a master’s in International Security Policy and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University. The attempted coup seems expertly designed, she argues, to keep as much distance between Trump and his felonious followers as possible.

“It's a very common tactic to have militia groups who are at an arm's length, that you can direct but not control. That you can claim you have no responsibility over who ends up actually committing the acts of violence,” Jacobs told Raw Story. “Which is why it's important we don't only hold accountable the people who commit acts of violence but the people who encourage and incite it as well.”

That’s why Jacobs isn’t as worried about another armed insurrection as she is about Trump’s supporters—inside and outside of Congress—working off our screens to upend election laws so the deck is permanently stacked in their favor.

“What we often see in other countries is that the first time it's a big chaotic, violent event. Future attempts to overturn the will of the people are more insidious. They use the norms themselves, the institutions themselves, the rules themselves that are put in place,” Jacobs said. “And so I'm actually less concerned about a big violent attack and more concerned about those more insidious attempts to overturn the will of the people because they will be much harder to counteract.”

Under former President Bill Clinton, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) worked to end global conflicts in his role as a senior director in the National Security Council. Later, as assistant Secretary of State for democracy during the Obama-Biden administration, his role was to strengthen and preserve democracies across the globe.

The congressman is worried America’s democratic norms will erode unless something is done, because Trump’s supporters have become more adept at hiding since Jan. 6.

“The important thing for everyone to remember is that these people, today, in state after state across the country, are trying to do by quasi-legal means what that mob tried to do with baseball bats on Jan. 6,” Malinowski told Raw Story. “So this continues. This is not just a rehashing of history, it's a window into the start of a movement to overthrow American democracy that continues to this day and that is supported today by a larger proportion of elected Republicans than it was on Jan. 6.”

Select Committee NEW Footage

Since the insurrection, Republican legislatures and governors “have passed at least 42 restrictive voting laws in 21 states,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The nonpartisan policy organization reports 33 of those new restrictions are in place in 20 states. They’re being employed for the first time during these midterms.

The future is now – and it’s violent

Even if another armed insurgency isn’t what these foreign policy experts fear most, they’re still braced for more political violence.

Many Democrats worry the increasingly bitterly partisan, hate-filled, and violent rhetoric that’s been flooding battleground states this year will spill into America’s streets. They fear it, they say, because they’ve already seen it in communities nationwide.

Just this August, after Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property was raided by FBI agents sent to reclaim classified documents, an armed man tried to breach the FBI office in Cincinnati.

“What I am worried about is the irresponsible language that elected officials who have a platform are using that caused people to show up here on Jan. 6 and engage in violence against law enforcement officers, Capitol police,” J6 committee member, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) told Raw Story. “We already saw that happen once with the Cincinnati shooting. This person believed the lies that were sold to him by people in positions of power. He acted on it and committed crimes and as a result lost his life. And so this is very, very serious.”

Others point to the deadly "Unite the Right" in Charlottesville during Trump’s first year in office. While neo-Nazis felt emboldened to show their faces publicly, the public backlash against them forced many to go back underground. But the rhetoric didn’t stop. It just moved to new alt-right channels, like Gab.

Before killing 11, including numerous Holocaust survivors, at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, the shooter spread his antisemitic hate on Gab. And just this May, an 18-year-old white man who espoused the “Great Replacement” theory in social media posts slaughtered 10 people at a Black grocery store in Buffalo as he live-streamed the massacre on Twitch (until the company turned his stream off some two minutes into the horrific rampage).

After the Buffalo shooting, Democrats moved a resolution denouncing the theory — the one spread by the likes of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that claims western elites are set on replacing white majorities with multicultural ones. The resolution was added to a noncontroversial procedural vote to kick off debate on gun-control debate.

The move was intended to taunt the GOP, as they were, basically, dared to oppose it. Democrats thought it would be a tough vote for their counterparts. It failed to garner a single Republican vote.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) sponsored the measure and says elected Republicans are now in lockstep with Trump.

“He knows that people respond to his tweets and what he says, and he knows how the far right feels about him and feels about his leadership. I mean, everything from the tiki torch march…to the whole referring to African nations as ‘shithole countries’ or referring to Mexico sending their ‘rapists’ here,” Bowman told Raw Story. “He has been dancing a two-step with white nationalists and the ‘great replacement’ theory from the beginning of his campaign, so I think the evidence is becoming more and more clear, and more and more damning.”

The rhetoric has only gotten more pitched in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, with Trump hinting at pardons and apologies for those arrested in the failed insurrection. Trump has also taken further strides to appeal to the fringe right-wing elements of his base, namely his attempts to court QAnon.

Trump Says He’ll Pardon Jan. 6 Rioters If Reelected

Like Bowman, other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are braced for violence.

“It can happen again – and not just an expression of opposition but bloodshed. Bloodshed. We should be concerned about bloodshed,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told Raw Story. “We should be on notice that violence is not controlled. It is not stopped – unless we rise up and stop it.”

Jackson Lee chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. She’s appalled that the nation’s jails are overflowing with young people of color, even as Trump and his former top aides continue stoking discord and sowing falsehoods into the minds of millions of Americans.

“Shame on us and our system of laws that we can quickly get to petty theft—because we're all screaming about fighting crime in America—and we can't prosecute the chief insurrectionists of this nation?” Jackson Lee said. “This is the responsibility of the Department of Justice.”

It’s not just Democrats. Many police officers here in Washington also remain astounded.

The Law Enforcement Experience on January 6th

Former Washington D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a traumatic brain injury at the hands of the Jan. 6 mob and later a heart attack, says it’s been hard watching Trump and other top Republicans walk about freely after they tried to capture the White House through unleashing violence on the Capitol.

“What really makes my blood boil is to see the former president and his advisors conspire to and really manipulate individuals that they knew would be violent to help them achieve that,” Fanone told Raw Story at the Capitol over the summer. “There are Americans, Trump supporters, that believe that Donald Trump—regardless of whether or not what he was conspiring to do was legal—they believe that it was the right thing. And by that I mean, overturning the election, whether or not Trump was the actual winner of that election. They wanted it to happen, and they were in agreement with Donald Trump that that should happen.”

Elected Republicans going along

Throughout the Jan. 6 committee’s nine public hearings, Republicans were nearly impossible to find anywhere near the room. While the majority of Republican senators didn’t even bother to tune in, most House Republicans refused to stop by the proceedings, unless they got lost.

During the committee’s first primetime hearing over the summer, after receiving a Climate Hero award for his effort to plant more trees, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) heard a commotion down the hall from his office and came to investigate. Upon seeing the throng of reporters crowded outside the committee, he stopped and chatted.

A few reporters did triple takes, as they beelined it for the only Republican they’d seen all night (who wasn’t one of the two Republicans on the committee).

Turns out, he wasn’t there to study the new evidence.

“No. I’ve got a lot of other things that I focus on other than that. Like, what's happening in the economy, fuel prices, food prices, inflation – the things that I think are actually,” Westerman told Raw Story in the crowded hallway. “I know what matters to my voters back home in Arkansas, and I think to all across the country.”

The congressman was unaware the committee was even meeting. He had just stopped by to inquire as to the source of the steady hum of chatter that echoed off the Cannon House Office Building’s expansive marble halls.

That was the night U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards testified.

“There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up,” Edwards recounted under oath. “I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood.”

WATCH: 'It was carnage. It was chaos,' Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards says of Jan. 6 attack

When informed of her heart-wrenching testimony, Westerman replied he hadn’t seen it. But the Republican remembered his own experience on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I was in the Capitol the whole time during – the thing,” Westerman said after he paused to think of what to call the attack. “I saw some stuff.”

“What did you see?”

“People coming in and out. I could hear it more than I could see it.”

“Just another day at the office?”

“No, it was definitely not another day at the office,” the congressman replied. “There's no reason they should have done that. They were breaking the law and should be prosecuted for breaking the law.”

But, like many Republicans there that day, Westerman dismissed the special committee as partisan from its inception.

“It's an illegitimate committee based on the House rules, because [Leader Kevin] McCarthy didn't get to put anybody on the committee,” Westerman said, which is in line with what GOP leaders like McCarthy said even after the special panel released new evidence throughout this year.

Like many Republicans, Westerman opposed Trump’s second impeachment, in part because he opposed the “rushed process.”

At the time, he argued, such haste was “not in keeping with one of the House's most solemn responsibilities. Unlike previous impeachment votes, there were no hearings and very little debate of the serious charges brought against the president.”

That’s the problem with today’s GOP, Democrats argue. Until the insurrection finally proved a step too far for a handful of cabinet officials and aides, the Trump White House was staffed with Trump appeasers and pleasers alike. Democrats say Westerman is emblematic of today’s Republican Party, one where formerly independent-minded members of Congress have been transformed into Trump lap dogs who would rather contradict themselves than cross their populist leader.

“They never said anything in public,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) lamented of Trump’s top White House advisers before she dismissed her GOP colleagues at the Capitol, “and many of our colleagues refuse to call out the anti-democratic, corrupt behavior that we're still trying to clean up!”

To Democrats, the near uniform Republican reaction to the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid revealed how most in the GOP now just follow Trump’s lead, no matter the gravity or potential consequences.

After the raid, Trump attacked the FBI and called its agents “political monsters.” Efforts to “defund the FBI” sprung up almost immediately on the far-right. Besides fanning false flames of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy, Trump labeled President Biden “an enemy of the state.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed. Soon after Trump beat his drum, McCarthy called the federal government’s effort to recover classified and highly sensitive documents, which reportedly included state secrets on China and Iran, an “assault on democracy.”

The politics of willful ignorance on the GOP side of the aisle, according to his critics, have enabled Trump to present himself to his base as being completely above the law.

“By acting this way, he is basically saying, ‘I know that you're never going to charge me, because I used to have a lot of Republicans in Congress backing me, making sure that doesn't happen,’” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) told Raw Story. “But now he’s saying, ‘Look at all the supporters who still believe that this was stolen.’ He’s still pushing this big lie to get the public to say, ‘No, you cannot charge him.’”

GOP leaders condemned Trump during the attack on the Capitol and even as order was initially being restored. Since, they’ve been mum-to-supportive of the former president.

“This is why it's really scary, because Republican elected officials here in Washington have gone from kind of silent acquiescence to full-throated support,” Rice said. “And that's frightening.”

The Jan. 6 committee meticulously laid out evidence supporting its case that the former president invited, incited, and then directed the insurrectionists, even as Trump continuously repeated his false claim.

The Law Enforcement Experience on January 6th

“He knew it was a lie. He knew he was lying,” Jan. 6 committee member Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) told Raw Story. “He was told by everyone – the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, his advisors in the White House, his former campaign manager, his campaign lawyers – everyone told him, ‘You didn't win’ and ‘There's no path to victory,’ but he just kept going and he's still going today with the same lie.”

Trump kept going and going and going. And he doesn’t seem to have any plan to change his tone in the coming days, which has observers nervous ahead of Election Day.

Will reforms come in time?

The Jan. 6 committee isn’t expected to release its final report ahead of the midterms, which has remained, almost, incomprehensible to most progressives, many Democrats, and the few moderate Republicans left in Washington these days. But merely bringing criminal charges against Trump, his aides, and any of his congressional allies who allegedly helped plan the attack would still fall short of what’s ultimately needed.

“We have to fortify our institutions against coups, insurrections, and political violence and subversion going forward. That to me is even more important than individual criminal accountability, which is very important, but that's really up to the Department of Justice,” Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-MD) told Raw Story.

Besides sitting on the Jan. 6 committee, Raskin also served as the lead impeachment manager in Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial that occurred in the wake of the insurrection. While those recommendations likely won’t be available to the public until after ballots are cast in November, Raskin and other Democrats are hoping to retain enough control in Washington next year so they can safeguard America’s democratic institutions.

“Congress is in Article One for a reason. We’re the lawmaking branch of government, and we have a responsibility to try to make government work,” Raskin said. “So we will be releasing at the end of this whole process a bunch of recommendations about how to safeguard the integrity of our government and the separation of powers and how to make sure that elections don't come under attack in this way.”

Those recommendations will be dismissed by large swaths of the GOP—70%, if the polls are to be believed—which is why many Democrats say a new, bipartisan — even nonpartisan — coalition is needed to defend against today’s unique assault on the heart of democracy.

“It requires an alliance between patriotic Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—as represented by [the J6] panel, with Reps. Liz Cheney (WY), Adam Kinzinger (IL), and the others—working together to set aside our differences on what the corporate tax rate should be or how to regulate pollution and secure the foundations of our democracy,” Malinowksi, the New Jersey Democrat who formerly served as an assistant secretary of state, told Raw Story. “That kind of electoral alliance is possible.”

Even if all the reforms Democrats have called for are enacted, many at the Capitol remain braced for what lies ahead. Because with Trump, seemingly, still at the helm of today’s GOP—both inside and outside of Washington—many Democrats have trained themselves to prepare for the worst.

“The scariest part of all of this is that it could, and probably will, happen again,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) told Raw Story. “It frightens me for the future. It's obvious that the scheme was pretty sophisticated, and they were relentless. The one thing I'm struck by over and over is just how close we were to losing our republic to a bunch of scammers and frauds and cheats and losers.”