Hidden within the 45 pages of the most recent federal indictment of Donald J. Trump was a surprisingly hopeful revelation.
As the indictment lays out in stunning detail, the former president and his handful of co-conspirators were utterly shameless in spreading lies in hopes of ginning up support for what was, effectively, an attempted coup. The actions of the former president in the wake of the 2020 election have been dispiriting for many Americans, particularly as so many prominent current Republican leaders have shown a willingness to defend Trump and continue to spread his false narratives about the election.
But as the indictment makes clear, what saved this country from an authoritarian takeover by deeply unethical and mentally unstable individuals, wasn’t the courts, or law enforcement, the military, or Democrats who opposed Trump.
It was Republicans at the state level who weren’t willing to trash the U.S. Constitution to keep Trump in power.
As the indictment details, Trump and his minions spent weeks pressuring Republican officials in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin to set aside the election results in their states to keep Trump in office.
That pressure ranged from soliciting Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” to asking legislative leaders in several states that backed Joe Biden to use Republican majorities in their Legislatures to set aside the vote totals in their states and send electors to Washington who would back Trump. In every case, Trump used disproven arguments that his own staff— including White House attorneys, his top campaign officials, top Justice Department officials, his Director of National Security, and Homeland Security officials— had repeatedly told him were false.
In state after state, top GOP officials, as well, refused to knuckle under Trump’s pressure. They resisted him despite knowing that doing so could well cost them their political careers, given that so much of Trump’s base had so easily fallen victim to his election lies and were likely to be angered by their refusal to go along with his illegal demands. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers put it clearly and forcefully in a public statement he issued shortly after telling Trump he wouldn’t break the law for him.
“As a conservative Republican, I don’t like the results of the presidential election. I voted for President Trump and worked hard to reelect him. But I cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.
I and my fellow legislators swore an oath to support the U.S. Constitution and the constitution and laws of the state of Arizona. It would violate that oath, the basic principles of republican government, and the rule of law if we attempted to nullify the people’s vote based on unsupported theories of fraud. Under the laws that we wrote and voted upon, Arizona voters choose who wins, and our system requires that their choice be respected.”
In part because principled Republicans stood up to Trump, it is easy to forget how close we came to losing the America that we’ve all known, a place where the peaceful transfer of power was largely taken for granted for more than two centuries. Had individuals like Mr. Bowers, Mr. Raffensperger, or Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey not been individuals of integrity, this nation could easily have been plunged into civil war. The Trump administration had already discussed the invocation of the Insurrection Act if their attempted takeover would have succeeded, which would have sparked massive protests.
In other words, there was nothing that Trump wouldn’t have done to hold onto power, but he needed other Republicans in key positions to make that possible. He found out that there were still Republicans of conscience to block his illegal efforts.
That was then, of course. America certainly can’t rest easy in part because Trump has worked over the past two and a half years to try to elect Republicans from the so-called MAGA wing of the party, individuals whose only fealty is to Trump, not the Constitution. They represent the dangers of a second Trump term, since they could be in a position to keep him in power indefinitely. The Constitution may limit the president to two terms, but we would be foolish to think that Trump would suddenly concern himself with words on a piece of paper he’s never read— particularly when leaving office could leave him, once again, vulnerable to prosecution or jail time for his various crimes.
As the latest indictment reveals, it was Republicans of character and integrity who saved us from Trump’s illegitimate effort to hold power in 2020. Will similar Republicans be there in the future to provide the necessary check on a would-be dictator? At this point, that’s an awfully big unknown.