Trump Is Going to Be the Nominee in 2024. Why Aren't We Panicking Yet? | Opinion

What would you do if a wildfire was bearing down on your house? Most people would say some version of, "every last thing I can." Then why, as we see an inferno fast approaching America's house, are we doing so little to stop it?

Donald Trump will run for President again in 2024. This is very likely to drag our country over the edge of the abyss. As the government scholar Robert Kagan recently put it, "the United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves."

This is no exaggeration. Look at the three possible outcomes of the next presidential election, and you might start to agree with me that it's time to panic.

One possible outcome of the 2024 election is Trump runs and loses. In 2020, we saw what happened next: the Big Lie and a violent insurrection. And in the literal smoking ruins of the attack, 147 members of congress still voted to overturn a democratic election in America.

Trump's effort to nullify the result was stopped only on the strength of Mike Pence's backbone, a few state election officials, and a failure to fully exploit a rickety electoral vote counting law from 1887. And next time, it will be much worse: Previous voices of restraint have been sidelined, nonpartisan election administrators have been hounded from office, and actual insurrectionist officeholders have seen their influence grow. The majority of Republicans still don't accept the result even though Mike Pence pronounced it. How will they react when Kamala Harris does it?

A second possibility is that Trump wins legitimately. That likelihood is uncomfortably high, because there is so little margin for error: In 2020, Joe Biden got 52.3 percent of the popular vote; at 52 percent, he would have lost. Experts have pronounced this possibility a potential "extinction-level event" for American democracy.

But the third and most perilous scenario is that Trump wins illegitimately, using new powers that Republicans have given themselves to overturn results. These include a range of levers to throw out legally cast votes in Democratic areas or even have legislatures declare a chosen winner despite the voting outcome. This would put Kamala Harris in the hopeless position of either ratifying a stolen American election into a catastrophic Trump return, or attempting a legally dicey maneuver to try to overturn it. What would happen next is that millions would take to the streets to protest either a Trump coup or a Harris counter-coup.

This threat is very real. Republican voting laws have graduated this year from voter suppression to election subversion, a critical distinction according to the nationally-recognized, nonpartisan election law expert Rick Hasen. We usually focus on voter suppression: measures that may make it harder to vote. But the even more treacherous issue is election subversion, measures that give politicians the ability to interfere with election results. Republicans have passed 24 new state laws to do that.

In other words, all three possible 2024 election outcomes pose a high chance of violence and a breakdown of our system of government. Which is why so many election, legal, and government experts are so deeply alarmed that the Democrats in charge are not acting with more urgency.

It's not that they are doing nothing; they put their For the People Act on the Senate floor over the summer. But it was a hapless attempt, a collection of advocate dreams never scrubbed of its most sloppy, impractical content in order to be made ready for prime time. It thus became an easy target for Republicans to deride. Moreover, the valuable pith of the bill focused entirely on voter suppression, not election subversion.

alyssa farah trump 2024
Alyssa Farah, who served for four years in the Trump administration, doesn't believe former President Donald Trump could win in 2024. Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 9 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Democrats have since become mired in negotiations over a whole different set of social priorities. All are important. Yet none addresses the clear and present danger of the dissolution of the country. Our leaders are hearing the howls of the distant wolf pack louder than the bear at their doorstep.

And time is evaporating. Democrats are exceedingly likely to lose their congressional power in a year. But realistically, there is probably only a matter of months to act: An average of seven House members and three senators die each term, and legislating always becomes extremely difficult by August of an election year.

So what should they do now? The answer is clear: Democrats should be devoting all of their remaining energy to saving the country.

Step one: They must end the negotiations on social spending and infrastructure, and agree on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin's $1.75 trillion upper limit. Manchin holds the leverage, and reportedly is considering leaving the party over this. So give in and move on.

Step two: Democrats should cede ground on voter suppression in order to fight election subversion. Joe Manchin has gotten halfway there via his Freedom to Vote Act compromise, striking middle ground on voter identification, voting by mail, and voter list purging. But there is further to go, especially since Republicans blocked that effort. Democrats must re-focus around subversion protections, requiring every state to use a paper ballot, fixing the 1887 Electoral Count Act to forestall the maneuvers suggested in the infamous Eastman memo (the blueprint for a 2020 Trump coup), and guaranteeing fair and transparent vote counting and judicial review. They should fight for anti-voter suppression measures if they can, but it can no longer be the absolute top priority.

Step three: The Democrats must absolutely do nothing else. This singular focus in 2022 will raise the public salience and media coverage of this issue, giving Democrats three ways to be successful. They could actually get consensus with Republicans on preventing subversion. Or they could create enough public momentum to give Manchin and Sinema political cover to nix the filibuster to pass a bill to fight both subversion and suppression. And regardless, they would at least make the next election about fighting the forces of Trump and saving America, which is certainly a better political fight than the minutia of social spending. That might give them a prayer in the midterms, buying precious time to keep working.

And in the end, if none of this works, they will at least know that they tried every last thing they could.

Matt Robison is a writer, podcast host, and former congressional staffer.

The views in this article are the writer's own.