Trump 2024 could be American democracy's zero hour

Imagine that things are much less clear-cut than an outright steal by the Republicans. Imagine, instead, that Trump goads some legislatures to try for a steal, but others balk, prompting armed protests at state capitals. Conservative media outlets also fracture, with some opposing Trump’s moves but others cheering them on as the only thing standing in the way of the progressive imposition of a “theocratic oligarchy.”

Many Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, think Trump is full of it, but they’ve gone so far in endorsing his lies about election fraud going back to 2020, and in whipping up hysteria about the existential threat posed by the left, that they feel boxed in. The growing protests in Washington and around the country, organized by the militia movement, scare them. But so do the protests encouraged by the left in cities across the nation. Trump would be insisting that any outcome that doesn’t deliver the White House to him should be considered illegitimate, while Democrats claim the same thing about any outcome that doesn’t keep the White House in their hands.

In such a situation, we could end up with more than one slate of electors, with none of them adding up to 270. More than a constitutional crisis, this would be a legitimacy crisis that would raise the very serious prospect of full-blown democratic procedural breakdown, with no person or institution possessing the requisite authority and trust to swoop in and settle the burgeoning dispute.