The second answer is that even when Trump has seemingly failed to get his way, he has still succeeded in doing enormous damage. He has moved a suite of terrible acts from the category of unthinkable to the category of possible. No, there won’t be a coup. But we have on record the first ever formal U.S. Army repudiation of a coup. That’s bad enough.
Trump’s co-partisans won’t join the coup. That’s good. They won’t disavow it either. A president who yearned to use the military to overthrow an election remains by far the most popular figure—and most potent fundraiser—in one of the country’s two great parties. That’s a fact with consequences that will not end on January 20.
Most elected Republicans surely disagree with Trump’s actions. They dare not say so. They will try to pretend it never happened—as Don Draper says to Peggy Olson in Mad Men, “It will shock you how much it never happened.” But to the extent that the pretense cannot be sustained, they will have to find ways to condone or excuse Trump’s actions. Along the way, they’ll push the Republican Party toward becoming a self-consciously post-democratic party, a party that accepts antidemocratic and anti-constitutional methods to advance its goals and protect its supporters’ interests.