Trump Republicans are a greater threat to democracy than Trump himself

Three months before the 2022 general election, momentum is tangibly growing for holding Donald Trump and Trump Republicans legally accountable for a range of criminal activities tied to their ultimately violent effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

But Trump’s stepchildren – scores of current candidates who won’t accept the 2020 election’s outcome and want to control future elections – will be on this fall’s ballots, underscoring that the anti-democratic threats posed by Trump Republicans have evolved and are not over.

“It’s time for every American to pay attention,” said a July 28 update by States United Action, a bipartisan organization opposing election deniers and defending representative government. “These aren’t just fringe candidates. Election lies are showing up in the platforms of politicians with years of government service as well as candidates seeking office for the first time.”

As of July 28, 22 states and the District of Columbia have held their 2022 primaries. More than 60 percent of secretary of state contests, whose responsibilities include overseeing elections, and 40 percent of races for governor and attorney general “currently have an election-denying candidate on the ballot,” States United Action reports. Their tally does not include scores of like-minded candidates seeking state legislative races and even law enforcement posts.

“This is America versus Trumpism,” as one analyst said on a late July briefing that sought to tie the impact of the hearings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol to the less-widely recognized stakes in 2022’s general election.

“Across the country, politicians who won’t accept the result of the last election are seeking control over future elections,” States United Action said. “Election Deniers are now seeking these jobs and positions across the country in a coordinated attack on the freedom to vote.”

In coming weeks, political media may begin to assess the political paradox of looming threats by GOP authoritarians to expand their gains since 2020 – which include passing 50 state laws that “politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections” – against the prospect that Trump and his gang may at last face criminal charges for their failed coup.

In August, numerous states will hold primaries with election deniers seeking the top statewide offices – governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Those primaries include Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri on August 2; Wisconsin on August 9; and Florida on August 23.

Shifting Opinion on Trump Coup

Meanwhile, the January 6 Committee’s investigations have shifted public opinion. When their hearings began in June, there were still questions – at least among independents and moderate Republicans – about whether Trump and his enablers had committed crimes and whether the public would pay attention. After eight hearings, which will resume in September, it is clear that growing numbers of Americans are watching, there is no doubt Trump led an ultimately violent criminal conspiracy to overturn the presidential election, and the pressing question is whether there will be accountability under state and federal criminal codes.

The momentum for accountability also can be seen in revelations that the Department of Justice is questioning a larger circle of Trump allies, including his cabinet. At the same time, missing texts surrounding Trump’s actions on January 6 have grown from the Secret Service guarding Trump to top Department of Homeland Security officials. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has alerted many Trump aides they may face prosecution.

Election lawyers tracking these developments say that criminal charges likely to first appear in Georgia – possibly before the general election. The DOJ is expected to act after the election (unlike 2016 when the FBI in late October reopened its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails).

Polls have found that 60 percent of likely 2022 voters see Trump’s failed coup as criminal. Political independents – who support Republicans or Democrats – are increasingly frowning upon Trump’s lies and tactics, expect accountability, and say they would not vote for 2020 election-denying candidates seeking office in 2022’s general election.

“Sixty percent of Americans say that they were not patriots and 63 percent say they were not bystanders,” pollster Celinda Lake said at a late July briefing by Defend Democracy Project, a Washington-based group dedicated to the principle that voters determine election results.

2022’s Election Deniers

However, as the focus expands from holding the coup plotters accountable to countering ongoing power grabs by Trump Republicans, the challenge gets more complex.

In GOP-majority state legislatures, these authoritarians used 2020 stolen election lies and old cliches demonizing Democrats to pass new laws criminalizing small errors in the bureaucratic tasks conducted by election workers and established get-out-the-vote routines by campaign volunteers. The most common focus of the punitive laws is limiting the use of mailed-out ballots and restricting voters’ options to legally return them.

A related threat concerns a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this fall. It involves the radical right-wing legal theory that was at the heart of Trump’s failed coup, the so-called independent state legislature doctrine. Its most extreme version claims that the Constitution only empowers state legislatures to set election rules and run elections: not state constitutions, state supreme courts, gubernatorial vetoes, election boards or citizen initiatives. (Trump’s forged Electoral College certificates in seven states sought to delay Congress on January 6 and redirect the certification of 2020’s winner to GOP-majority state legislatures that would have backed Trump.)

These new laws and legal gambits are based on old lies and partisan prejudice. Since the 1980s, Republicans have been claiming that Democrats can only win if they fabricate voters and votes – so-called voter fraud. But Trump’s stolen election lies and failed coup, which can be called election fraud, have been seized upon by pro-GOP opportunists.

Self-appointed election integrity activists have emerged and promoted themselves to Trump’s base and right-wing media as super patriots. These posers have raised millions from Trump voters by hawking conspiracy theories that have been debunked by credible Republicans. But their bogus analysis and lies, amplified by right-wing media, have enraged Trump’s base.

The consequence is that violent threats against election officials have escalated and not abated. This targeting has roiled the previously boring and bureaucratic field of election administration, which typically are county-level operations staffed by local civil servants.

For example, on July 29, a Massachusetts man was arrested for an alleged bomb threat against the Arizona secretary of state’s office. In Wisconsin, a pro-Trump sheriff in suburban Racine County is refusing to investigate pro-Trump activists who forged online ballot requests; they wanted to show the process was dishonest but instead were caught by election officials.

“In many ways, the Republican election officials have it worse than the Democratic election officials,” said David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that has organized an election official legal defense network, in a late July media briefing.

“The Republican election officials know the [2020] election was secure. They did a remarkable job. Most, if not all of them, voted for Trump,” he continued. “And now they find themselves under attack and, unlike election officials in maybe deeply blue areas, when they go home at night, their own families, and friends… wonder if they helped steal an election because they have been lied to so much [by Trump and his boosters].”

Frontline Responses

Election officials have responded to this fraught new environment by tightening security and seeking to proactively reach out to local media and community leaders to try to bolster greater awareness that modern election administration is accurate and filled with checks and balances.

Numerous non-profit groups have catalogued the danger signs and have sought to respond. CEIR, for example, has organized a nationwide legal defense network to assist threatened local officials. Neal Kelley, who managed the nation’s fifth largest election district in Orange County, California, is now working with the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, which seeks to train local police to protect election officials and voters from illegal threats and intimidation. Grassroots groups like Scrutineers, which educates activists about election administration, recently conducted non-violent conflict resolution training for election observers.

In many respects, defeating Trump Republicans in 2022’s general election is seen by these advocates of fair elections and representative government as the most tangible line of defense before the 2024 presidential election. As the January 6 Committee’s disclosures continue and prosecutors move closer to indicting Trump Republicans for their 2020 actions, these and other pro-democracy advocates hope the public will put country ahead of party and vote this fall.

“An informed voter is a powerful voter,” said States United Action. “Election Deniers are on the ballot in many state primaries in August, including all 11 primaries for secretary of state. And pro-democracy candidates of both parties will be on the ballot in the general election this fall. It’s never been more important for our state leaders to believe in free, fair, and secure elections.”

DOJ's election threats task force gets grilled after securing just one conviction despite more than 1,000 referrals

A Department of Justice task force to combat violent threats against election workers has received more than 1,000 referrals since it was launched in July 2021 but has only secured one conviction, a House hearing revealed Wednesday.

“It’s received well over 1,000 reports of threats, but it’s only secured one conviction,” said Rep. Richie Torres, D-NY, House Homeland Security Committee vice chair. “Which raises the question, ‘Why only one conviction?”

At the hearing on the election security landscape, the lack of accountability was also tied to more local law enforcement. Often police departments were reluctant to press charges after being contacted by the election officials, the committee was told, because police officers often did not know where the legal line was between illegal threatening conduct and permissible political speech.

“Law enforcement, in many cases, is unaware that issues on Election Day or leading up to the election can be a real threat or a real issue,” said Neal Kelly, who now chairs the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, which seeks to educate police on this issue, and was formerly the registrar of voters in Orange County, California, and was a police officer before that.

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“Beat officers, officers on the ground, just are not familiar with criminal code for election violations or that threats to election officials are occurring in large numbers,” he said. “When I was in Orange County, I had police officers respond to some scenes and they just thought it was a civil matter. They were not aware that there were actually criminal violations that occurred at a vote center.”

The House hearing comes as 2022’s general election is heating up and there is disagreement over what are the biggest ongoing threats facing voters, election officials and American democracy. Polls conducted since the House January 6 Committee has been holding hearings detailing ex-President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election have shown many voters, especially independents, want provocateurs and insurrectionists held accountable.

“The threats to election security vary widely in the United States,” said Torres. “There’s the threat of a cyberattack on election infrastructure. There’s the threat of influence operations that radicalized people with misinformation and disinformation… And there’s a threat of violence and harassment and intimidation against election officials themselves.”

Torres asked which threat was mostly likely to “endanger” the 2022 midterms.

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Elizabeth Howard, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and New York University law school and a former Virginia state election official, replied that widespread threats to election officials were her top concern “because of the cascading effects that result.”

“What we’re seeing across the country are election officials who are deciding to leave the profession,” she said. “For example, five of Arizona’s 15 counties now have new election directors this cycle. Six of Georgia’s most populous counties have new election directors this cycle. This creates the potential for more mis- and disinformation because the people taking the retiring election officials’ place are not going to have the same level of experience [running elections].”

Kelly said that the 2020 election “amplified” the harassment, but “I’ve heard them before. If you go back to 2018 in Orange County, there was a number of similar threats and issues arose when we had congressional districts flip from red to blue... It’s not just at the national level. It can certainly happen at the local level. We see that, and I will say this, it’s not just the battleground states.”

“In every single election we see rumors, we see myths and disinformation,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, who had to leave her home and have police protection after the 2020 election and after her state’s recent 2022 primary. “Those rumors tend to peter out.”

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“Unfortunately, we are still on a daily basis, in my state and across the country, living with the reverberating effects of the big lie from 2020,” she continued. “The recent activities that happened in my state where we almost failed to certify an entire county’s worth of votes in a primary election [Otero County] are a direct result of that rhetoric.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic members of Congress were united in squarely blaming Trump’s false stolen election claims, and, to a lesser degree, social media platforms, that paired conspiracy-minded people with conspiracy theorists, for the uptick in threatened violence. Republican committee members, in contrast, said increased federal oversight of state-run elections was their top worry, and often went on to repeat Trumpian conspiracy theories about 2020.

“Isn’t it true, by implication, that the ballots cast in Wisconsin – by absentee drop box deposited ballots – were illegal in the 2020 election,” Rep. Dan Bishop, R-NC, asked Oliver, referring to July 2022 ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that banned their use one month before the state’s upcoming primary.

“I cannot speak to the ins and outs of the specific legality, the constitutional questions that came forth in Wisconsin,” Oliver replied. “What I can tell you is that in states like mine, where we have secure 24-hour monitored systems that are permissible under state law, [that] we do not see the level of concern. And frankly, the alleged fraud that has been leveled against such ballot collection systems.”

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These kinds of exchanges evaded the central question of what the most pressing security threat was facing upcoming midterm elections. And, as important, what could be done to counter election-centered threats and violence?

“When something like 40 percent of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen, about 60 to 70 percent of Republicans… clearly, that is the root cause of the threats of violence that many nonpartisan election officials are facing,” said Rep. Tom. Malinowski, D-NJ, addressing Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, where polls have found 62 percent of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen. “What should responsible leaders in our country be doing to address that false believe out there?”

“I guess I find the silver lining to every cloud – that folks are interested in this topic right now at a level that they would not normally be,” replied LaRose. “I view this as an opportunity to educate people about the safeguards that exist, and make sure that information is available in every part of our state.”

Only the committee vice chair, Torres, asked repeated questions about the Justice Department’s election threats task force and why it only had one conviction.

“Is the issue one of law and the law is insufficiently protective of election workers or is it one of enforcement?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“The DOJ task force has taken important steps but clearly what they’ve done is not enough,” Howard replied, summarizing her more detailed written testimony. “We think that they need to expand the task force to include state and local law enforcement. As our Brennan Center survey showed, almost nine out of 10 election officials who had been threatened reported those threats not to federal officials, but to their local law enforcement.”

The DOJ did not testify. But later in the hearing, Kelly amplified Howard’s comments by noting that most local police officers are unfamiliar with election-related crimes and are reluctant to present cases to local prosecutors.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Washington, Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke to reporters and pushed back on the accusation that the DOJ wasn’t doing enough to hold perpetrators of 2020-related election violence accountable.

Garland replied:

“There is a lot of speculation about what the Justice Department is doing, what it’s not doing, what our theories are, what are theories aren’t, and there will continue to be that speculation. That’s because a central tenant of the way in which the Justice Department investigates — a central tenant of the rule of law — is that we do not do our investigations in public. This is the most wide-ranging investigation and the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into. And we have done so because this represents, this effort to upend a legitimate election, transferring power from one administration to another, cuts at the fundamental of American democracy. We have to get this right. And for people who are concerned, as I think every American should be about protecting democracy, we have to do two things. We have to hold accountable every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn a legitimate election. And we must do it in a way filled with integrity and professionalism – the way the Justice Department conducts investigations. Both of these are necessary in order to achieve justice and to protect our democracy.”

Garland primarily was referring to crimes surrounding the planning and execution of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Other recent news reports have said that internal DOJ memos suggest the department would not likely indict Trump before the 2022 midterm elections, if he were to be indicted.)

In contrast, the testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee concerned the ongoing and current threats to local and state election officials by followers of the big lie, where local and federal police, for differing reasons, have barely held those threatening violence to account.

Loyal Republicans dumped Trump in 2020: Conservatives debunk every false claim and trace shifting patterns in 6 states

A who’s who of political conservatives – former federal judges, U.S. senators and GOP election lawyers – have issued a report that is the most extensive rebuttal yet of Donald Trump’s stolen election claims in six of 2020’s battleground states.

The report, “Lost, Not Stolen: The Conservative Case that Trump Lost and Biden Won the 2020 Presidential Election,” refutes the 187 claims made in Trump’s 64 post-election lawsuits, as well as erroneous conclusions in several post-election reviews that pro-Trump state legislators outsourced to pro-Trump contractors. (Trump lost every lawsuit except one that involved a non-election issue.)

But the report’s most intriguing aspect may be the short summaries where it described how sufficient numbers of otherwise loyal Republican voters in six states turned away from Trump in 2020 compared to 2016, causing his loss.

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Those summations, coming from conservatives, echo the January 6 committee’s testimony from mostly Republican witnesses, which polling has found have been persuasive among political independents to reject Trump’s ongoing election-denying claims and frown on 2022’s election-denying candidates.

“Our conclusion is unequivocal: Joe Biden was the choice of a majority of the Electors, who themselves were the choice of the majority of voters in their states,” the report’s introduction said. “Biden’s victory is easily explained by a political landscape that was much different in 2020 than it was when President Trump narrowly won the presidency in 2016.”

“President Trump waged his campaign for re-election during a devastating worldwide pandemic that caused a severe downturn in the global economy,” it continued. “This, coupled with an electorate that included a small but statistically significant number willing to vote for other Republican candidates on the ballot but not for President Trump, are the reasons his campaign fell short, not a fraudulent election.”

Lost Not Stolen was co-authored by former U.S. Sens. John Danforth (Missouri) and Gordon Smith (Oregon), former federal judges J. Michael Luttig, Thomas B. Griffith, and Michael W. McConnell, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg and David Hoppe, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Paul Ryan.

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Here are excerpts summarizing the ticket-splitting in the six battleground states.

Arizona

“Biden outperformed [Hillary] Clinton’s 2016 results, and Trump performed worse than he had in 2016,” the report said, before parsing Biden’s 10,457-vote margin.

“Disaffection for Trump among Republican voters led to ticket-splitting that hurt Trump and helped Biden,” it said. “Nearly 60,000 voters did not vote for Trump even though they voted Republican down-ballot; of these, 39,000 voted for
Biden. Considering only the two most populous counties in the state, more than 74,000 disaffected Republicans did not vote for Trump in 2020; 65% of these (48,577 votes) voted for Biden; those 48,577 votes alone represent 4.6 times Biden’s margin of victory over Trump.”

Georgia

Biden beat Trump by 11,779 votes, making Biden the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.

“Biden capitalized on grassroots organizing, a rapidly diversifying electorate, significantly increased turnout, and suburbs growing in population and becoming inhospitable to 2020 Republican candidates,” the report said. “Democrats have made slow and steady gains in Georgia, with candidates focusing on bringing out Democratic voters who did not vote in previous election cycles, thus closing the gap with Republicans in recent elections. In addition to bringing out Democratic voters, Biden also succeeded among swing and suburban voters.”

Michigan

In 2016, Trump won by 10,700 votes. In 2020, Biden won by 154,188 votes.

“Biden’s victory is attributed to gains in suburban counties, especially those in Detroit suburbs, as well as strength in urban cores and small metropolitan areas,” it said. “Trump increased his share of votes in 63 of the state’s 83 counties, winning 73 counties; but Trump won fewer counties than the 75 he took in 2016, and the counties he did win are sparse in population. In addition, support for third-party candidates dwindled from 5% of the vote in 2016 to just 1.5% in 2020.”

Nevada

Though not widely covered nationally, Trump’s allies filed 10 suits that claimed that “thousands and thousands” of people voted illegally.

“President Biden carried Nevada by a margin of 33,596 votes over Trump, out of nearly 1.4 million votes cast,” it said. “Biden’s win in Nevada, like Clinton’s, is attributable to a reliable base of Democrats in southern Nevada [greater Las Vegas]. He performed far better with Latina women than Latino men and outperformed Trump with independents.”

Pennsylvania

In 2016, Trump won by 44,292 votes, compared to 2020 where Biden won by 80,555 votes out of 6.9 million votes cast.

“While Biden’s largest vote margins came from dense population centers with large Black populations, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he made gains in Republican counties and outperformed Clinton in counties she won in 2016,” it said. “Democrats saw increased support in suburban Philadelphia counties (as compared to 2016), while Republican gains in suburban Pittsburgh were not as great.”

Wisconsin

In 2016, Trump won by 22,748 votes. In 2020, Biden won by 20,682 votes.

“Biden’s win has been attributed to improved performance in Wisconsin suburban and smaller metropolitan counties, as well as traditional Democratic strength in urban areas,” it said. “Republicans’ margins in Milwaukee’s suburban counties were lower than in 2016, while Democrats made gains in urban cores and large suburbs and reduced their losses in small metropolitan areas.”

Enough, Conservatives Say

The Lost Not Stolen report said that Trump’s repeated stolen election claims were baseless and harmed public confidence in American democracy and elections. It quoted numerous court decisions were judges were extremely critical of Trump, such as this excerpt from a federal court ruling in Michigan:

“This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process. It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.”

The report’s co-authors urged “fellow conservatives” to stop following Trump’s continuing claims that the 2020 election was stolen and to instead focus on better candidates in 2022’s midterm and 2024’s presidential election.

“We urge our fellow conservatives to cease obsessing over the results of the 2020 election, and to focus instead on presenting candidates and ideas that offer a positive vision for overcoming our current difficulties and bringing greater peace, prosperity, and liberty to our nation,” it concluded.

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How the Supreme Court could wreak more havoc this fall — and beyond

During the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, more than 60 of Donald Trump’s lawsuits were readily dismissed by state and federal courts that cited a lack of evidence and rejected a radical argument in some cases – that only state legislatures were authorized by the U.S. Constitution to run elections.

Trump embraced that argument, called the independent state legislature (ISL) theory as a way to overturn his defeat in key states. It had been gathering dust in right-wing think tanks and academia, where it was championed under the banner of so-called constitutional originalism, whose adherents want the government to mimic what the founders established in the 18th century.

Trump, as the January 6 hearings have shown, saw the assertion of legislative authority as one way to seize a second term. Republican-majority legislatures, led by his loyalists, theoretically could bypass their state’s popular vote and appoint pro-Trump Electoral College members. Even though courts rejected Trump’s suits, and no legislature followed that script, 84 GOP activists and officials in seven swing states forged documents giving Trump their Electoral College votes.

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“There is no legal theory that is more closely connected to Trumpism and the failed Jan. 6 coup,” Marc Elias, a Democratic Party lawyer, wrote in a July 6 blog.

The notion that arch-partisans should subvert elections did not end with Trump’s defeat. Instead of receding into disgrace, his attempt to push state legislators to muscle out outcomes can now be seen as opening a much more serious window with potentially deep anti-democratic consequences.

Unlike Trump’s bungling lawyers, the activist Supreme Court will hear a case next fall that centers on the independent state legislature theory. The narrow question in Moore v. Harper is whether the North Carolina Supreme Court can overrule its legislature that drew gerrymandered districts. If some version of the ISL theory is validated, the broader implications are that the Supreme Court could gut the modern system of checks and balances that govern state elections.

“This would be as deep a dig into American democracy that we’ve seen in at least a century,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Policy and Governance. “Just look at the recent period. Both Democratic and Republican states have passed laws to enhance their party’s opportunities in November and have had their supreme courts step in and reject those.”

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“And that’s an example of the kind of institutional battle that the American system of separation of powers, both at the national level and the state level, has invited,” he said. “What the North Carolina case foretells, if it’s actually upheld by the Supreme Court, is an end to that at the state level. It would remove the state courts as a check on the rapacious use of partisan power.”

Jacobs and other election scholars emphasize that the acceptance of a case does not mean that the court’s mind is made up – even though three justices have said in other rulings that they support the independent state legislature theory. But rather than reject the case outright, the Supreme Court is lending credence to a power grab that has been, until now, inconceivable in mainstream legal circles.

“The ultimate big problem with ISL theory is that we’ve always run our elections differently,” said Thomas Wolf, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. “You really do end up where the legislature is essentially supreme with the exception of some federal constitutional, or some federal legal checks, on their power.”

Runaway Trump Republicans

The 2020 election’s aftermath has shown what Trump Republicans are willing to do – and suggests what the Supreme Court might validate or incite.

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The cadre that forged Electoral College documents in swing states was not alone. On January 6, 2021, after a mob delayed Congress’s certification of the Electoral College winner, eight senators and 139 representatives voted to reject Biden’s victory. Back in battleground state capitals, pro-Trump legislators followed up by launching bad-faith investigations to hunt for illegal voting – Trump’s excuse for why he lost; not that he was rejected by GOP moderates.

The post-2020 legislative inquiries found nothing. But the disinformation they sparked on pro-Trump media convinced his base that Joe Biden was not elected legitimately. Legislatures are not courtrooms. The pro-Trump legislators faced no penalty for indulging evidence-free conspiracies apart from not getting re-elected. (As of mid-June 2022, more than 100 election-denying candidates for statewide office or Congress have won their GOP primary.)

The big lie led to Republican-controlled legislatures passing new laws to complicate voting in Democratic strongholds. Democratic governors in states like Michigan, where Republicans control the legislature, vetoed the new laws. Republican governors in Florida, Georgia and Arizona signed them.

While many of the initial reactions to the Supreme Court’s acceptance of Moore v. Harper have concerned its potential impact on 2024’s presidential election, further reflection by election experts suggests that any embrace of the ISL theory could open up a Pandora’s Box of backsliding on the frontlines of American democracy.

The fallout could include the dismantling of nonpartisan government election administration by replacing best practices – which, during 2020’s pandemic, allowed for more voting options – with brazen partisan schemes.

“There’s the cataclysmic potential impact on the separation of powers in the American federal system,” said Jacobs, who also oversees a program that trains election officials. “There’s also a practical impact of the nonpartisan professional administration of elections, the work that very few Americans know about, but that’s responsible for the fair conduct of our electoral machinery.”

Election Administration Impacts

A few pundits have asked what state legislatures could do if they faced no checks and balances from their state constitution, state supreme court, gubernatorial vetoes, and state agencies. One scenario is legislators could grant themselves the power to certify all winners. But the possible impacts are much wider and local, a look at post-2020 litigation, legislation and enacted laws reveals.

“In the run up to the November 2020 presidential election, state courts heard and considered dozens of cases involving the application of state election law,” Elias noted. “As importantly, after the election, Trump and his allies lost 28 lawsuits in state court, nine of which involved the Trump campaign itself. In 2021, at least 39 voting rights and redistricting lawsuits were decided at the state court level.”

The scope of these lawsuits and legislation involves almost every stage in voting and counting ballots. Before 2020’s Election Day, there was litigation about voter registration, voter purges, voter ID laws, limits to voter assistance, absentee ballot requirements, use of drop boxes to return those ballots, absentee ballot return deadlines, timetables for fixing mistakes by voters and more.

In response to Trump’s loss, Republican-led legislatures have imposed new limits on voter assistance, rolled back voting with mailed out ballots, expanded partisan observers and imposed penalties on election officials who may seek to maintain order, and, in Georgia, reconstituted local election boards with GOP appointees.

In other words, partisan legislatures that face no checks and balances could drastically change how their state’s elections are run. That reaction was seen in 2013 in many southern states, after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the Justice Department’s federal oversight of new election laws and rules under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Like today’s abrupt shuttering of abortion providers in red states, that 2013 ruling saw numerous voting restrictions erupt.

A May 2022 report by a trio of pro-democracy groups, A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration, previews what may come if the ISL theory is validated.

The groups tracked hundreds of bills in 32 states and found five categories of legislative overreach: “Usurping control over election results,” “Requiring partisan or unprofessional ‘audits’ or reviews,” “Seizing power over election responsibilities,” “Creating unworkable burdens in election administration,” and “Imposing disproportionate criminal or other penalties.”

Enacting these measures would upend America’s elections – for voters, election officials and for the legitimacy of American democracy – it concluded.

“Left unchecked, these legislative proposals threaten to paralyze the smooth functioning of elections,” it said. “Election administrators could be left powerless to stop voter intimidation. Election rules could devolve into a confusing and contradictory tangle, subject to change at the whims of partisan lawmakers. Election results could be endlessly called into question and subjected to never-ending, destructive reviews conducted based on no responsible standard. At the extreme, election results could simply be tossed aside, and the will of the people ignored.”

The key phrase from that assessment was “left unchecked,” which is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court’s originalists might unleash in Moore v. Harper.

Mark Meadows’ role as key co-conspirator in Trump coup comes into view

Trump didn’t pardon Meadows. But later gave his non-profit $1 million.

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

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And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

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“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

RELATED: 'So compelling': Fox News host Bret Baier reacts to 'stunning' Jan. 6 hearing

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.’”

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

READ: Legal expert uses OSU wrestling scandal to explain ‘hearsay’ to non-lawyer Jim Jordan

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Exclusive: How the FBI lambasted 'dozens' of Trump’s stolen election claims

In the weeks after 2020’s election, the Department of Justice investigated and dismissed a catalog of stolen election claims that were “completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation,” and privately and repeatedly said so to then-President Donald Trump, William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, told the House’s January 6 Committee.

But Barr and other top DOJ officials who recounted telling Trump what was wrong about his persistent claims of illegal voters, forged ballots, and altered counts, not only said that Trump refused to believe them, but that he had become “detached from reality,” as Barr put it, and instead surrounded himself with conspiratorial opportunists led by Rudy Giuliani.

In short, Trump rejected multiple FBI investigations in battleground states based on hundreds of interviews – disclosed for the first time during the committee’s June 13 hearing. Instead, he used the stolen election narrative, to, among other things, to raise $250 million from his voters, funds that the committee found were given to loyalists who fanned the stolen election lie, such a $1 million to a foundation run by Mark Meadows, his former White House chief of staff.

“The big lie was also a big rip-off,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA. “We found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go.”

RELATED: Bill Barr is trying to 'launder his reputation' to House investigators — even though he 'enabled' Trump's plot: legal expert

However, the revelation that the Justice Department investigated stolen election claims and found nothing is a remarkable disclosure during the second hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, as federal prosecutors almost never publicly discuss investigations that do not bring charges. Those senior DOJ officials also lambasted Trump’s self-appointed election experts as “amateur” investigators and publicity hounds who knew little about how voting, voting systems, and vote counting work.

Just days before Barr resigned in mid-December 2020, he recounted a meeting with Trump where the president handed Barr a report – since repeatedly debunked, including by the GOP-majority Michigan senate – that claimed that votes had been electronically flipped from Trump to Joe Biden. (The bogus report’s authors included people who went on to lead the post-2020 review in Arizona and are still perpetuating conspiracies in Georgia). Barr, under oath said:

“He [Trump] held up the report, and then he asked that a copy of it be made for me. And while a copy was being made, he said, ‘You know, this is absolute proof that the Dominion [voting] machines were rigged. The report means that I’m going to have a second term.’ And then he gave me a copy of the report, and as he talked more and more about it, I sat there flipping through the report and looking through it. And to be frank, it looked very amateurish to me. It didn’t have the credentials of the people involved, but I didn't see any real qualifications. And the statements were made very conclusory like this, ‘These machines were designed to engage in fraud or something to that effect,’ but I didn’t see any supporting information for it. And I was somewhat demoralized because, I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with… he’s become detached from reality…’ On the other hand, when I went into this, and would, you know, tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest [by Trump] in what the actual facts were.”

READ: CBS busts Bill Barr for 'completely different' public remarks compared to Jan. 6 deposition

Barr was not the only senior DOJ official to describe the stolen election promoters as amateurs and propagandists. BJay Pak, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, who was appointed by Trump and resigned two days before the January 6 insurrection, described how his office investigated how a doctored video clip – purporting to show a stash of ballots being taken from under a table and mingled with other ballots – was false. He testified:

“Unfortunately, during the [Georgia] Senate hearing, Mr. Giuliani only played a clip that showed them pulling out the official ballot box from under the table and referring to that as a smoking gun of fraud in Fulton County. But, in actuality, and review of the entire video, it showed that was actually an official ballot box that would [properly be] kept underneath the tables. And we saw them pack up because [of] the announcement that they thought they were done for the night. And then once the announcement was made that you should continue counting, they brought the ballots back out and they continued to count… The FBI interviewed the individuals that are depicted in the videos, that purportedly double, triple counting of the ballots, and determined that nothing irregular happened in the counting and the allegations made by Mr. Giuliani were false.”

Richard Donahue, a former deputy acting attorney general, recounted in videotaped testimony that he repeatedly told Trump different stolen election scenarios were false. For example, there was no truckload of ballots smuggled into Pennsylvania. There was no 68 percent error rate in Michigan’s voting machines. There was no ballot box stuffing in Georgia.

“I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked at Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donahue said. “We look at the allegations. But they don’t pan out.”

June 13’s hearing also featured videotaped testimony from top Trump campaign officials, from campaign manager Bill Stepien to campaign attorney Alex Cannon who also said that various election theft scenarios embraced by Trump were unfounded and conveyed that to him. An Arizona based claim that “thousands of illegal citizens” voted, Cannon said, turned out to be “overseas voters voting in the election; I obviously saw people who were eligible to vote.”

RELATED: 'Off her deep end': Rudy Giuliani erupts at 'completely hysterical' Liz Cheney over Jan. 6 hearing

But Trump did not want to hear these views. He surrounded himself with people who kept repeating the election was stolen – loyalists who top DOJ and campaign officials debunked.

“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,” Barr said. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

However, tens of millions of Republicans believed the words of their president and candidate, and several years after the 2020 election, still believe that it was stolen – even though Trump’s Justice Department and the FBI not only investigated and disproved those claims, but in sworn testimony to the January 6 committee, ridiculed the loyalists pretending to be investigators.

Domestic extremism expert explains why the Proud Boys would follow Trump -- and lead the Jan. 6 breach on the Capitol

During Donald Trump’s presidency, the Proud Boys stood out as street brawlers in the right wing’s culture war. They attacked protesters who criticized police for killing innocent people of color. They picked fights over the dismantling of confederate statues. But during the opening hearing by the House Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, they emerged in a new role, a front guard that attacked police and breached the Capitol.

Earlier on June 9, there was another hearing in Congress that concerned white supremacists like the Proud Boys. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee took testimony about “Domestic Extremism in America: Examining White Supremacist Violence in the Wake of Recent Attacks.” Among other things, the senators present, mostly Democrats, learned the FBI and DHS had not been compiling incidents of white supremacist violence.

One expert witness who has been tracking and working to stem white supremacy for decades, Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center and a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, had a different message. He explained that the Proud Boys and their allies were united and moved by the so-called “great replacement” theory, which posits that non-whites, led by Jews, were taking over the U.S. and must be stopped by any means.

Ward elaborated on his comments with Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld, where he explained that the rise of right-wing militants inside the GOP has bigger stakes than the political fate of its modern hero, Donald Trump. He said that the federal government needed to use its authority to defend local government officials more aggressively, especially election officials.

What follows are excerpts from that conversation.

Steven Rosenfeld: You told the Senate that white supremacists were united by old anti-Semitic and racist trope, and have been seeking political power, and gaining it, inside the GOP.

Eric Ward: Yes. Perhaps 20 years ago, this was perceived primarily as an issue for people of color, the Jewish community, and immigrant communities, facing this violence. But this violence is now mainstream, and everyone has found themselves the victim of this violence: from law enforcement to corrections officers, to government workers, to health workers, and election workers, and many more. So where do you then begin to try to understand this issue?

The purpose of my Senate appearance was to try to bring home one clear piece, which is, if you understand anti-Semitism, you understand that anti-Semitism is the unifying theory of this white nationalist movement. Anti-Semitism drives white supremacist positions on tactics and policy and rhetoric, and, without understanding how anti-Semitism is the unified view, none of it makes sense. Because yes, there are attempts to undermine democracy, there is anti-blackness, there is xenophobia, there is homophobia. These are things that exist in society. But the use of anti-Semitism by the white nationalist movement gives explanation to people’s anti-blackness or their xenophobic attitudes. And then it justifies the use of violence in the name of those bigotries. And that’s what I was trying to get across to the Senate committee. Anti-Semitism isn’t but one aspect of this problem; it is the actual problem that we are facing in America. It is, in short, an anti-Semitic war on America, and that is what the great replacement theory is.

SR: What does it mean for election workers?

EW: There are two areas I would focus on. The first is the great replacement theory sets the stage for the nullification of any legitimate election or election results that the white nationalist movement, and its growing coalition of support, doesn’t like. For it, its disappointments around the election aren’t a failure of it to carry its message to the American public. No, it is a conspiracy, a belief that [forces] seek to undermine the white population, and a belief that it is justified to respond to the loss of elections through physical violence and intimidation; as we witnessed leading into the presidential election, and as we witnessed on January 6. So even election workers should understate that anti-Semitism, and this great replacement theory that drives that anti-Semitism, is placing them at increased risk.

SR: And the second area?

EW: The second piece that we should understand is that in the drive of white nationalists to engage in this existential war against the Jewish community, it has targeted the GOP. One of the things I would have said if I had been asked the question [by senators] and it had been referenced [in other comments, is] why do you spend so much time talking about the GOP? I think, Senator [Josh] Hawley, [R-MO], mischaracterized it as an attack on conservatives. My response would have been, ‘I'm not an enemy of the GOP.’ But the GOP certainly has an enemy. And to be crystal clear, it’s called white nationalism. And I believe those who choose to ignore its anti-Semitic violence are placing the GOP and our nation at grave risk.

And some examples that come to mind. Most immediately, when he was asked a similar question in 2018, white nationalist leader Patrick Casey of Identity Evropa, now banned by the way [and] on a terrorist list, told NBC News the goal was to take over the GOP as much as possible. And through his nightly America First show, and his American First Foundation, white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes has stated that his aim is to remake the Republican Party into a truly reactionary party.

I’ve worked alongside conservatives, and faith leaders and law enforcement across the U.S. for nearly three decades. I think they work each day to build safe and prosperous communities by pushing back on this white nationalist attempt to dominate the GOP. They’re deserving of the active support of the GOP leadership in this moment, and they do not seem to be getting that support at the state and local level. And absent a GOP leadership that is willing to articulate that it rejects the great replacement theory, and the violence and intimidation that comes from it, election workers are going to find themselves at increased risk. It’s not really that folks don’t trust the election; it’s that they have bought into a story that tells them the loss of an election is part of a global conspiracy, and that’s what’s very dangerous.

SR: Do you think people understand that these kinds of fears are driving the Proud Boys?

EW: I think there is a misreading of what is happening in the United States. The misreading is that there are a series of different overlapping challenges happening in our society. There is this anti-mask, anti-vaccine, COVID populist uprising. Or that parents are upset with the teaching of race and accurate historical memory in schools. People are taking their frustrations out on government workers, including election workers. But poll after poll tells us that the great replacement theory is receiving stronger support across the Republican Party. And we have to understand that it is this narrative, the story that is being told, that is causing these different forms of political violence to manifest inside of our society.

Look, the different acts of political violence in our society didn’t create the great replacement theory. It is the great replacement that is encouraging these acts of violence. And yes, we have to face this through a number of different channels. We should absolutely understand that we should be competing for the conservative base. It is a moral imperative. And I think it is a strategic imperative to make the argument and to draw people out of this conspiracy.

But we can’t simply wait until conservatives, who have become susceptible to this anti-Semitic conspiracy, get to a point where they figure it out. The conspiracy is too dangerous. And we have seen this across the United States. It’s not just the mass shootings, but also the fact that election workers are terrified to do their jobs.

SR: What needs to happen if we can’t wait for Republicans?

EW: We have to begin to step up. But look, non-profits, and non-governmental civil society are already out there stepping up each and every day. We need the federal government to step up and offer relief to the local and county level. These election workers need significant support, and the support coming from non-governmental civil society, even in its best moments, is insufficient to match the scale and the needs of local government right now, including election workers.

SR: What would that support look like?

EW: I don’t understand the bureaucracy of government. I can’t tell what’s beyond the means of government to do. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the Department of Justice created community relationships to protect civil rights leaders and the civil right movement from having its constitutional rights violated, and from facing deep physical harm. They engaged in constitutionally protected practices. I do not understand why the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have not created similar programs in this moment to protect election work.

The federal government has to decide that it wants to defend democracy. It’s not clear to me that the federal government intends to do so. We are starting to see inklings of that. We can talk about the January 6 committee. We can talk about the FBI making the arrest of a candidate for governor [a January 6 insurrectionist] in Michigan. We are starting to see the push to hold individuals accountable, but it is very slow.

SR: It’s not using the full range of federal agencies and authority…

EW: The federal government could assist individuals and organizations, and local and state government, to be more aggressive in pursuing the perpetrators of violence. There are many possible responses. Take civil litigation. Let’s hold people accountable with the one thing that matters to everyone, which is the dollar. We know that bringing financial penalties to those who engage in political violence has been a great deterrent for future violence. Since Integrity First for America successfully sued Neo-Nazis and white nationalists for the destruction and violence that they left in Charlottesville, the number of public mobilizations has fallen.

These are things the federal government can do. And the last thing, as I said at the hearing, is there’s one thing that can be done that doesn’t require new rules, regulations, or law, and has been effective with curbing violence. That entire committee should denounce the great replacement theory. And it should encourage the entire Congress to do so.

SR: But the big picture is to understand the great replacement theory is it the glue holding white supremacist militants together. And their mindset goes beyond supporting Trump to stopping non-whites from having power in America.

EW: The white nationalist movement doesn’t spread hate to spread hate. It utilizes hate, bigotry, and fear in order to build political power. And to build political power, in this moment, it has to galvanize its base. And I believe what it’s primarily tapped into is demographic anxiety. There has been great anxiety around demographic change in this country since the 1980s. We have all heard it: the browning of America, the coming multi-racial majority even though that’s a contradiction: it assumes somehow that all people of color are going to be in agreement. An assumption that somehow the Latino community will stop identifying as whites… The reality is that the white population is more likely to continue growing in America than shrink, because of the high percentage of black people who identify as white, and multiracial, biracial children who often identify as white as well.

We all have demographic anxiety. We have all walked into a room where we don't know anyone. On the other hand, the white nationalist movement, and a growing number of irresponsible Republican leaders are saying that demographic anxiety isn’t natural. That it is an existential threat. And the way you respond to that existential threat is that you dominate, and domination may include destruction of American democracy. And that is what we are seeing.

And we have to figure out tools to respond to this. But again, this isn’t an ideological fight. It is the role of government to ensure that the American people remain unified around the idea of an American democracy that moves everyone forward together, and that bigotry has no place in the complex challenges that we’re trying to solve together as a nation.

Eric K. Ward, a nationally-recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy, is the recipient of the 2021 Civil Courage Prize – the first time in the award’s history that an American has won the prize, revealing the dangerous proliferation of hate crimes and political violence by authoritarian and extremist movements in the United States.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.