Julian Sanchez: Trump is looking for fraud in the wrong places
Now, however, he has pushed even deeper into illiberal territory, spuriously attacking the legitimacy of the election. In doing so, he has won the support of many of the party’s federal officeholders (including a majority of House Republicans) and the silence of the large majority of the rest. Just a handful of Republican senators, Mitt Romney most impressively, have found the backbone to call him out.
America’s constitutional order, the political scientist Gregory Weiner argues, depends on a style of politics that the conservative political philosopher Michael Oakeshott called “nomocratic.” Nomocratic regimes hold themselves accountable to public processes (such as voting) whose outcome no one can be sure of in advance. They commit themselves to the rule of law and democratic decision making, even if the other side wins. Teleocratic politics, by contrast, is accountable to particular outcomes. Legitimacy comes not from following the agreed-upon rules but from obtaining the desired result. In other words, the election is valid—provided our side wins.
Trump has placed himself explicitly in the teleocratic camp. Teleocracy is incompatible with democracy and the rule of law; Trump’s position would once have horrified Republicans. Now, by acquiescing to Trump, they have made it their de facto creed. By contrast, although prominent Democrats questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election in 2016 and George W. Bush’s in 2000, Democratic leaders generally adhere to nomocratic tenets, and none has come remotely as unmoored from them as Trump has.
The country now has not just two political parties but two political regimes, one nomocratic and the other teleocratic, cohabiting but incompatible. The closest modern parallel might be the South in the days of Jim Crow. Ostensibly, the South was part of American democracy, but in reality it was a separate polity—undemocratic because so many voices and voters were excluded, teleocratic because its permissible outcomes were bounded by white supremacy.
That arrangement, of course, proved not only unfair but unsustainable. Trump’s reorientation of the GOP as the party whose guiding principle is “Heads we win, tails you lose” is likewise unfair and unsustainable. With so few national Republicans willing to renounce Trump’s electoral Calvinball, it is hard to avoid concluding, as the political historian Geoffrey Kabaservice told The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein, that the Republican Party, “without acknowledging or realizing it, has become an antidemocratic force.”
Trump has consolidated his role as the Republican Party’s godfather
Plenty of Republicans, both in politics and on the street, view Trump and his policies with distaste. But, as the saying goes, when you have them by the—well, let’s say by certain soft parts of their anatomy—their hearts and minds will follow.