Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"If Trump Had Lost the Electoral College, How Would the GOP Have Responded? Lithwick and Cohen Admonish Democrats to Wonder "What If?"

Dalia Lithwick and David Cohen offer a classic “trading places counterfactual” in an op-ed in today’s New York Times.



Criticizing the Democratic Party’s passivity in the face of irregularities in the recent election, the authors attempt to rally the democratic base to show a backbone by counterfactually contrasting their limp response to the likely response of Republicans had the roles been reversed.

They write:

“Contrast the Democrats’ do-nothingness to what we know the Republicans would have done. If Mr. Trump had lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote, an army of Republican lawyers would have descended on the courts and local election officials. The best of the Republican establishment would have been filing lawsuits and infusing every public statement with a clear pronouncement that Donald Trump was the real winner. And they would have started on the morning of Nov. 9, using the rhetoric of patriotism and courage.”

“How can we be so certain? This is what happened in 2000. When Florida was still undecided after election night, the Republicans didn’t leave their fate in the hands of individuals or third-party candidates. No, they recruited former Secretary of State James A. Baker III to direct efforts on behalf of George W. Bush. They framed their project as protecting Mr. Bush’s victory rather than counting votes. They were clear, consistent and forceful, with the biggest names in Republican politics working the process.”

By contrast, the authors continue,

“….the Democrats are doing nothing of the sort. Instead, they are leaving the fight to academics and local organizers who seem more horrified by a Trump presidency than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The Republicans in 2000 threw everything they could muster against the wall to see if it stuck, with no concern about potential blowback; the Democrats in 2016 are apparently too worried about being called sore losers. Instead of weathering the criticism that comes with fighting an uphill, yet historically important battle, the party is still trying to magic up a plan.”

“As Monday’s Electoral College vote approaches, Democrats should be fighting tooth and nail. Instead, we are once again left with incontrovertible proof that win or lose, Republicans behave as if they won while Democrats behave as if they lost. What this portends for the next four years is truly terrifying.”

Lithwick’s and Cohen’s conclusion shows how imagining alternative pasts can provide timely guidance for the future.

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