Greg Sargent’s latest piece for the Washington Post is a fictitious news article in which he envisions how various news outlets might cover a Trump coup in 2024. The problem Sargent wants to highlight is the way that some outlets frame both sides of the debate as legitimate:
So here’s an effort to imagine what such both-sides coverage would look like if Trump were to succeed in overturning the 2024 election via means similar to what he attempted in 2020.
It goes without saying that this scenario is highly unlikely. But the point of this exercise is to probe just how much more it would take to break us out of some of these both-sidesing conventions.
That brief line about this scenario being “highly unlikely” is doing a lot of work here. We’ll come back to it in a moment. First, here’s how Sargent thinks the 2024 coup would be reported:
Twelve months to the day after street violence broke out at the Capitol as the GOP-controlled Congress voted to invalidate Vice President Kamala Harris’s electors from Pennsylvania, resulting in a protracted dispute that ended with the Supreme Court declining to hear the case, Democrats and Republicans cannot even agree on the most basic facts about what transpired.
The result is that the reversed 2024 election has become just another wedge in a divided nation that remains more polarized than ever. Though Democrats continue to say Harris won Pennsylvania, and some experts agree, polls have shown most Republicans continue to believe that Harris didn’t legitimately win the 2024 election and subsequently tried to steal it…
Though Harris appeared to win the popular vote by less than half a percentage point, the GOP-controlled legislature tried to appoint a slate of electors for Trump. This was thwarted when Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro appointed a slate for Harris.
But on Jan. 6, 2025 Republicans in the GOP-controlled House and Senate, united in the belief that there had been widespread fraud in Pennsylvania, voted to object to Harris’s electors, and declared Trump the winner of the electoral count vote. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, with five conservative justices declaring this a political question.
To be fair, I don’t think Greg Sargent is the only person envisioning this particular fantasy scenario taking place 2+ years from now. I think this is probably pretty widespread at this point. Many Democrats really believe state legislatures, the congress and the Supreme Court are all going to work together to overturn an election which Joe Biden or Kamala Harris will win.
That’s true even though Trump’s efforts to find evidence of fraud to change the electoral outcome in 2020 didn’t work. Arizona’s months-long audit of the election results wound up confirming the results. There were a couple hundred cases of fraud detected which is still a problem but not nearly enough of a problem to change the outcome despite it being a fairly close race. As for the five conservatives on the Supreme Court that Sargent is worried about, they were already there and yet they didn’t intervene to hand Trump the election.
Basically what Sargent has created here is a piece of paranoid fan fiction pulled straight from the progressive id. It’s real aim isn’t to sound an alarm but to convince fellow newsroom progressives that now is the time to side with Democrats (as Sargent always does) from now until 2024, lest his story come true.
Now let’s return to that brief admission that this scenario is highly unlikely. As I pointed out the other day, Republicans don’t need a grand conspiracy to defeat Democrats at this point. Polls suggest Democrats are likely to lose in 2022 because they are not popular. They aren’t popular because, on any number of issues—education, policing, general competency—they are not doing very well. They’ve been guided by their own left-flank, i.e. people like Greg Sargent who represent a relatively small fraction of the overall electorate, into a blind alley.
To put a fine point on it, Democrats lost House seats in 2020 rather than gaining them (as many had predicted they would) because a majority of voters thought defunding the police, lockdown hypocrisy and closing the schools for a year was excessive and extreme. If Democrats insist on doubling down on these policies, they will continue to lose on the merits.
Joe Biden seemed to be able to float above the noise created by his own left-flank for a while by keeping the fringe at arm’s length and claiming he’d return things to normal, to managerial competence. But the competence balloon was punctured by the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fact that he wasn’t able to end the pandemic as he’d (unwisely) promised he could, by rising inflation, by overpromising on BBB and other problems of his own making. And that means that a future fantasy in which Biden or Harris win the 2024 election is already a bit of a stretch. A lot can change in the next 2-3 years and maybe there will come a time when this scenario seems possible, but at this moment Biden is stuck around 40% approval (and Harris looks no better). Before they can be cheated, they would have to be in a position to win.
This is the reality which Democrats would rather not talk about. The future isn’t shaping up as one in which Dems win elections but for the nefarious efforts by the GOP. The more likely future is one in which they lose elections fair and square because voters don’t like what they’re doing. And once you admit that’s the case, the fan fiction about stolen elections looks less like a warning to a complacent media and more like media partisans begging their progressive allies to provide the Democratic party with a deus ex machina rescue from a looming failure of their own making.