Last Monday, Donald Trump flew into Fayetteville for a rally to support Dan Bishop, the state senator and congressional candidate behind HB 2.
There, he plowed through his usual litany of MAGA grievances before the usual sea of mostly white faces, which included this line: “You go to California, which has so many sanctuary cities. They don’t know what’s happening out there. You have people that want to get rid of those sanctuary cities; they just aren’t able to do it with the people that get elected. A lot of illegal voting going on out there, by the way.”
The president complaining about sanctuary cities is nothing new. Neither are conspiracy theories about voter fraud in California, which he’s used to suggest that he actually won the popular vote. But someone probably should have reminded Trump why he was in North Carolina—and why there was a special congressional election the next day.
The Ninth Congressional District was having a do-over election because, in 2018, a consultant for Republican candidate Mark Harris appears to have committed widespread election fraud—widespread enough to affect the race’s outcome, in fact—while running Harris’s absentee ballot operation. The State Board of Elections declined to certify the results, which had Harris up by fewer than one thousand votes in a district Trump carried by twelve points.
In other words, they (allegedly) cheated.
Last Tuesday, the (alleged) cheaters prospered. Bishop won by two, enough for Trump to beat his chest about how he saved the day, though still a ten-point shift from 2016.
The next morning, eighteen years almost to the minute from the 9/11 attacks, North Carolina Republicans cheated again. And again, they prospered.
For the first time since 2013, the state GOP doesn’t have absolute power. There’s a Democrat in the governor’s office, and last year, Democrats overcame gerrymanders to break GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate and give Roy Cooper a meaningful veto. (To do so, they had to actually win more votes statewide than Republicans.)
Republicans aren’t used to sharing power—or competing for it. So when Cooper vetoed their budget in June in an effort to force a negotiation over Medicaid expansion, they refused to budge. A few piecemeal spending bills notwithstanding, there’s been a stalemate ever since.
To override Cooper’s veto, House Republicans needed seven Democrats to flip—or, more likely, to not show up for a vote. Over the summer, Democrats found this a constant concern, particularly with a House speaker who made clear that he’d call the vote the second he had the numbers, no matter how he got them.
They worried, not without justification, that he’d do it if enough of them went to the bathroom or were out sick.
In that sense, what happened last week shouldn’t have been surprising.
But it was shocking.
On the evening of September 10, Democrats insist (and Republicans deny), Republicans leaders assured them that the next morning’s session would be perfunctory, with no votes taken, as are most morning sessions.
It was 9/11, after all. Cooper was going to attend a memorial ceremony. Only fifteen Democrats showed up to the House chamber the next morning.
Fifty-five Republicans did.
Once the few Democrats present realized what was happening, they objected. State Representative Deb Butler shouted at House Speaker Tim Moore: “How dare you subject this body to trickery, deceptive practices, hijacking the process! It is so typical of the way you conduct yourself. How dare you, Mr. Speaker! If this is the way you believe democracy works, shame on you!”
But it was too late. You can’t shame the shameless—nor can you preach democracy to those contemptuous of it.
The override now heads to the Senate, where Republicans need to flip two Dems. One hopes Democrats won’t be naïve enough let their guard down again.
Like their counterparts in D.C., North Carolina Republicans have bought into the mantra that winning is all that matters, that power is an end unto itself. They didn’t hesitate to use an anniversary the GOP once treated as sacrosanct to launch a sneak attack on democracy.
There’s some irony there.
Let this serve as yet another reminder that the guardrails of American institutions are soft, and those willing to exploit them first and ruthlessly often prevail—at least in the short term.
The problem is, in the end, the victors tend to destroy the very thing they’ve set out to conquer.
Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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