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“There was more dedication to democracy, more commitment to democratic institutions, than I had expected,” Kathryn Olmsted, a historian of conspiracy politics at UC Davis, told me. “Because it wasn’t just a game of pretend anymore.”
Baldly stealing the election for Trump could have been costly to men like Raffensperger and Kemp. The backlash in the general public would have been immense. A plurality of their voters, after all, had cast ballots for Biden. Even so, Persily said, “I also want to praise their integrity. I think they realized they had a higher obligation here to the democracy. We shouldn’t pretend that they didn’t pay a significant price. Their political futures in Georgia are really in doubt as a result of this.”
“They weren’t ready to give up on the American experiment,” Hasen said.
This hypothesis has limits. Conscience restrained the powerful this time, but power also corrupts. If the election had been closer, or if a judge had given legal cover, or if one of the legislatures—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia—had gone first, the temptations and pressures on others would have been harder to resist. More than once, but for circumstance, Trump’s efforts might have found traction and momentum might have broken his way.
The shock of the Capitol mayhem, which left five people dead, has momentarily changed the balance of power in Washington. Trump has begun to pay a price for inciting insurrection. Ten Republicans joined with the Democrats to impeach him for a second time. Trump lost two things very dear to him: the PGA golf championship he planned to host next year at his club in New Jersey, and his almighty Twitter account. He was locked out of his accounts, as well, on Facebook and YouTube.
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Three banks, two real-estate brokers, and a law firm have withdrawn from any further business with Trump. He has lost valuable contracts to operate two New York City ice rinks and the carousel in Central Park.
Cruz and Hawley have lost key backers after leading the election denialists in the Senate. Numerous businesses and political-action committees have suspended contributions to any Republican who voted to overturn the Electoral College.
In Georgia this week, two Republican state senators lost their committee chairmanships after joining in Trump’s attempt to overturn the state’s election results. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, an ally of Raffensperger, stripped them of their seniority.
These are useful starting points. Our democracy can begin to heal itself if it rewards and honors people who did the right thing and punishes those who wrought the worst damage upon it. Republicans who want to make amends for election denial can speak the truth now and speak it loudly. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put a down payment on that on Wednesday afternoon, merely by admitting that Biden won. He has a long way to go.
History is not finished with Trump, Cruz, or Hawley. If we value our democracy, they will face justice now. The reckoning has only begun.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Arizona's attorney general had joined an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to discard the election results in four states.