It feels wrong and perverse and backward. It makes me squirm both in my seat and in my brain. I do not like this litmus test at all. But I find it helpful in evaluating what is – and what is not – effective politics.
The test – the question – is a simple one: What would Republicans do? And maybe you, the good-faith Bad Faith Times reader, reject this test out of hand. You say no, we will not be like them. We won’t – we can’t – follow their lead. When they go low, as Michelle Obama said so eloquently, we go high. That, you say, is the way forward out of this mess. That’s the only way to stop the relentless pull of fascism and the accelerating backsliding of democracies worldwide.
With every shred of due respect I can muster, I disagree. Republicans are excellent at politics. Their no-holds-barred strategies, dripping with the most ludicrous forms of bad faith, are designed to win. It’s all they care about: Winning. Politics, as they (rightly) see it, is a complex game that also happens to be a zero-sum contest. You can choose to win or choose to lose. It's your call.
So here goes: What would Republican elected officials do if the likely 2024 Democratic presidential candidate had fomented an actual, real-life insurrection against the United States government? What would Republicans do if a Democrat was on the verge of winning the party’s nomination a few years after trying and failing to overthrow the government?
That Democrat would very likely have spent every day of the past few years behind bars. That Democrat would have little to no chance of ever being free again, and everyone associated with that Democrat would meet swift justice and have the fucking book thrown at them. The Democrat’s family would likely be prosecuted as co-conspirators in the seditious plot. Every single member of Congress who voted to overturn the election and keep the Democrat in power would be stripped of their office and tried for treason. The Democrat’s house pets would be locked up in federal prison. Straight to jail for Fido. No treats for the fascist bad boy.
And that Democrat would certainly not be permitted to be on the ballot in any state in the union the next time around. This imaginary insurrectionist Democrat (if the concept of a milquetoast Dem staging a coup makes you laugh, you’re not alone) would have no path to becoming president again. None. Republicans would make sure of it.
While Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows definitely did not use the What Would Republicans Do (WWGOPD) rubric to boot Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot – Bellows seems far too earnest for such a game – she came to the same conclusion: The guy who in January 2021 encouraged his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol and stop the democratic process by any means necessary should not be qualified to resume the presidency, to simply waddle back into the Oval Office and take over the country he set out to destroy. Trump should, in any sane republic, be seen as an enemy of the state.
Bellows in December took the necessary step in protecting the republic from the threat of an anti-democratic candidate who has gleefully said in recent months that he will operate as a dictator if he can ratfuck his way back into the White House. In denying Trump a spot on Maine’s primary ballot, Bellows created a blueprint for other Democratic secretaries of state who have even a waning interest in safeguarding the country against the man who has openly sought the end of free and fair elections and the blatant politicization and weaponization of the civil service and law enforcement.
Bellows took action after five Mainers, including two former Republican state senators, challenged Trump’s qualification for the state’s 2024 ballot. Because, again, the guy spearheaded a violent coup a mere three years ago.
"So I reviewed very carefully the hearing proceedings and the weight of the evidence presented to me at the hearing. And that evidence made clear, first, that those events of January 6, 2021 — and we all witnessed them — they were unprecedented. They were tragic,” Bellows told NPR during an interview in which the NPR host was skeptical that the insurrectionist former president should be face any consequences for his treasonous actions (one day NPR will realize not a single conservative on earth listens to them; maybe that will stop their right-wing pandering). “But they were an attack not only upon the Capitol and government officials, but also an attack on the rule of law, on the peaceful transfer of power. And the evidence presented at the hearing demonstrated that they occurred at the behest of, and with the knowledge and support of, the outgoing president. And the United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government. And under Maine election law, I was required to act in response.”
For her trouble, Bellows was recently “swatted” at her Maine home when someone – presumably someone upset about her opposition to coup attempts – called law enforcement and said a man had entered Bellows’ home with a high-powered gun, prompting a heavily armed response from the cops. Still, Bellows remains resolute in her good-faith execution of a critically important job, as she told NPR: “Politics and my personal views played no role. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and that is what I did.”
Obviously elected Democrats are not going to engage in the cynicism of asking what Republicans would do, how they would manipulate the system to gain an edge and defeat their political opponents in this never-ending high-stakes game. For better or worse – worse, in my humble opinion – Democrats remain the rule followers, the ones parading around the town square, rulebook in hand, telling conservatives they can’t do this or that. This, as the BFT reader knows, is a classic case of good faith versus bad faith. The former usually doesn’t fare well against the latter, as Claudine Gay knows well.
Whether they follow Bellows’ sparkling, Leslie Knope-style civic good faith or whether they acknowledge the tiny devil on their other shoulder, Democratic officials need to do whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump off primary and general election ballots this year. The most straightforward, honest reading of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment – which bars insurrectionists from holding office – says Trump has no standing to run for office ever again (I enjoy when media outlets refer to Section 3 as an "obscure" constitutional remedy. Perhaps it's obscure because it's not every day that American presidents try to do violent coups.)
We can fully expect the all-important backstops of the right-wing project – Republican judges on the state level and the Republican activists on the Supreme Court – to fight back against any and all efforts to bar the Big Boy from running in 2024. I’m sure Clarence Thomas thinks of little else besides Harlen Crow’s literal swimming pool of money. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a coordinated effort among pro-democracy elected officials to stymie Trump at every turn as he faces the legal backlash of orchestrating a coup against the government he seeks to head. If Trump is the threat we believe he is, he should have no path to the presidency. None.
Follow Denny Carter on BlueSky at @cdcarter13.bsky.social and on X at @CDCarter13.