When reporters for major news organizations covered the aftermath of the United States' 2020 presidential election, they knew they were witnessing something that was unprecedented in U.S. history — and not in a good way. Never before had a lame duck president lost an election by more than 7 million votes only to falsely claim that he really won. Former President Donald Trump was unable to overturn the 2020 election results, but in a Washington Post column published this week, opinion writer Aaron Blake asks, "So, just how close did we come to an actual stolen election — stolen by Trump?"
"The picture of Donald Trump's scheme to get the Justice Department to help him overturn the 2020 election has been significantly filled out in recent weeks," Blake explains. "First came the disclosure that conservative lawyer John Eastman had authored a memo outlining the steps by which this would take place on January 6. Then came a major report from the Senate Judiciary Committee detailing Trump's pressure campaign to get the Justice Department to lay a predicate for that January 6 plot. One thing has become pretty clear in recent weeks: This plot was foiled in large part because the Justice Department and Vice President Mike Pence opted not to go along with it."
It might've played out differently, Blake noted, if Trump had had more compliant leadership at the Department of Justice (or a more malleable vice president). By Jan. 6, Bill Barr had already resigned as attorney general in part because of his disputes with Trump about the election. It just so happened the Jeffrey Rosen wasn't more willing to go along with the "plot" as acting attorney general.
The United States' systems of checks and balances held up in late 2020 and early 2021 thanks, in part, to Republicans who resisted pressure from Trump and his lawyers to help him overturn the election results. Blake points out that "Eastman's plan relied upon something, come January 6, that the Trump team didn't have: alternate slates of pro-Trump electors in the states at issue."
"Congress overturning an election is one thing; Congress overturning an election in which the given state legislatures hadn't even designated alternate slates of pro-Trump electors or legitimized the controversies in their states would be quite another," Blake notes.
Blake continues, "Eastman, in recent interviews explaining himself, emphasized that the plot would have been 'foolish' without those state legislatures designating alternate electors. That's certainly convenient for him to say now, as he's downplaying just how brazen the plot was. But it does reinforce how many pieces needed to fall into place for the plot to work. We'll never know how close we came to that being truly tested. But as we continue to sort through what became of January 6, it's worth taking stock of what a few more pieces falling into place might have meant — and the pressure points in our democracy they reveal."