When the Republican Congress bent over backward late last year to pass a historically unpopular tax scam bill that stole from the middle class and gave all the money to the party’s wealthy donors, it raised a brutal question about their mindset. Did they pass the politically suicidal bill because they had already concluded that Donald Trump’s unpopularity was going to cost them the midterm elections anyway? Or did they pass it because they knew the Russians were going to rig the midterm election in their favor? It’s now safe to dispense with the latter theory.
Make no mistake, the Russians will try to meddle in the congressional elections this November. It’s what the Russians do these days. But we’re seeing a record number of Republicans in Congress, particularly committee chairs, announcing that they’re not going to run for reelection. If they were under the impression that Russia had this in the bag for them, they’d be running again, knowing they’d win. Instead they’re bailing out, because they know they’d lose.
The 2016 election also taught us that a whole lot of effort has to go into rigging an election just to move the needle even slightly. The Russians spent a year and a half conspiring with the Donald Trump campaign, spent millions of dollars on targeted fake news, possibly hacked into voting machines and shaved off a few votes here and there in the hope that no one would notice the math was subtly wrong, and took an extraordinary risk on the world stage in the process. All of that effort was required just to shift things by a couple of points in a handful of key swing states. In fact it probably wouldn’t have worked at all, if the FBI hadn’t released a misleading letter eleven days before the election which falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton was newly under investigation.
Now try to imagine the Russians successfully altering the outcomes in congressional races in four hundred-plus districts across all fifty states. That’s not particularly realistic, and certainly not now that everyone knows to watch for it, and the antics would need to be even more subtle. The Russians will try. They may even be able to flip a few elections if we’re not vigilant. And the Republicans still have good old fashioned voter suppression and gerrymandering on their side, because they always find some way to cheat by a point or two here and there.
But take a look at the signs that the Republicans in Congress are sending us. They’re so sure they can’t get reelected, they’re not even bothering to run. They didn’t pass the tax scam because they thought they already had reelection rigged in their favor. They passed it because they knew Donald Trump’s toxic unpopularity was going to cause them to lose anyway. So let’s dispense with the fatalistic notion that the GOP is somehow going to cheat its way into keeping a majority in Congress, and do the legwork required to blow them out even more thoroughly than they think they’re going to get blown out.
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