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Arizona Audit Fuels the MAGA Coup Express

It’s all out there in plain sight: The MAGA bloc aims to determine both who votes and who counts the votes. Or put another way, whose votes should count and whose should not.

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A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, works to recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona., Courtney Pedroza | Getty Images

Last week the MAGA bloc told the country once again what they think and what they intend to do. The only uncertainty about their proclamations is how successful we in the anti-Trumpist majority are going to be in blocking their plans.


The MAGA message that got the most media attention was their response to the right-wing-sponsored audit of the 2020 vote in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Never mind that the only hard numbers provided by this charade expanded Biden’s margin of victory. Forget the immediate debunking of every one of the audit’s allegations about irregularities by the Maricopa County Election Board. All that mattered was the boasting from MAGA Maximum Leader Donald Trump:

“[The audit] “uncovered significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD!” It “conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”

So, without even a hiccup, the “Stop the Steal” movement is barreling ahead. Faster than January 6 was transformed from an embarrassing fiasco to a model of patriotic heroism, the audit was converted from a humiliation into more ammunition for the Big Lie. On the surface a claim about something that already happened, the Big Lie is mainly a weapon to shape the future. It is wielded to de-legitimize the results of any future election that Republicans don’t win. That’s why Republicans are now pushing audits in other states – even ones that Trump carried last November.

The purpose goes beyond ginning up the base. The Big Lie drives a legislative and judicial action program to expand voter suppression and give Republican state lawmakers greater control over elections. Governors and state election boards are to be pushed aside; gerrymandered state legislatures will be empowered to disregard any election result they don’t like. Any secretaries of state who are inclined to put observance of the law over partisan interest are to be targeted and purged. According to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada — have either declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated.

It’s all out there in plain sight: The MAGA bloc aims to determine both who votes and who counts the votes. Or put another way, whose votes should count and whose should not.


For proponents of the Big Lie, it’s not about illegitimate votes, it’s about illegitimate voters.

The most watched host on cable television – Fox News’ Tucker Carlson – was explicit about that on September 16:

“To our leaders illegal immigrants have a very specific functional purpose. They are a tool to change the country forever… to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the third world … In political terms, this policy is sometimes called the great replacement – the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”

The great replacement thesis is a core tenet of white nationalism: “legacy Americans” (and they don’t mean Native Americans, they mean white people) count. Others – those with dark skins, those from the Third World (or in Trump’s memorable phrase, “shithole countries”) – don’t. Trump is the choice of the majority of “real Americans.” Therefore, he should have been declared the winner in 2020. If he isn’t put back in office before 2024, the white-nationalist-driven MAGA faction plans to correct that mistake by making sure gerrymandered state legislatures – backed by the Supreme Court and about-to-be-purified Republican congressional delegations, will determine the outcome.


MAGA’s coup preparations include violence as part of their arsenal. Threats of violence are already being used to make sure there are no repeats of 2020 when a handful of Republicans put following the law above partisan loyalty and upheld the election results.

Tricia Raffensperger, wife of the Georgia election official who has been one of Trump’s top targets, has been getting chilling messages for months: “You and your family will be killed very slowly” and “We plan for the death of you and your family every day.”

Last week threats against another object of Trumpian wrath bore fruit. Anthony Gonzalez, one of ten GOP Representatives who voted for impeachment, announced he would not run for re-election. Gonzalez said he no longer wanted to “have my wife and kids escorted through the airport” by security or receive ominous messages that “We’re coming to your house.”

Against the backdrop of the January 6 assault on the Capitol and the public welcome of armed militias into the MAGA fold, does anyone still cling to the illusion that such threats are not credible? Or that if they show more success in driving Republicans out of office, they won’t be extended to Democrats and progressives – and carried out?

Any complacency on that score ought to be put to rest immediately. If Trump’s response to Gonzalez’s announcement – “One down, nine to go!” – isn’t convincing enough, how about the words of Andrew Kloster, a GOP Attorney now on the team looking into how Wisconsin’s election was conducted:

“We need our own army of local bureaucrats. And we need to fight for our locales. We need our own irate hooligans (incidentally, this is why the left and our national security apparatus hates the Proud Boys) and our own captured DA offices to let our boys off the hook.”


There’s no shortage of voices from across the anti-MAGA spectrum that are sounding the alarm. “Never Trump” Republicans have been roasting the Trump enablers among their former colleagues for several years now, and the latest blast from ultra-Neocon Robert Kagan is one of the most comprehensive indictments yet:

“Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his [2024] victory by whatever means necessary…. the amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020.”

Recent writings from the liberal camp have also escalated their warnings. Typical is an essay in The Atlantic by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblattauthors of How Democracies Die:

“We are convinced that the Republican Party leadership is willing to overturn an election. Moreover, we are concerned that it will be able to do so – legally.”

And Bill Fletcher, Jr, a prominent voice from the section of the left that has warned about the danger of Trumpism from day one, minced no words in a recent article:

“The Republican Party has announced itself to be the political party-for-dictatorship.”


The point on which these disparate political voices agree provides the basis for the kind of broad, defend democracy coalition that can successfully defeat the MAGA bloc. But of course each component of this coalition has a different idea of the key to victory, related to different visions of what a post-MAGA country ought to look like.

Kagan pins his hopes on the few Republicans who have been critical of Trump coalescing into a determined battalion of “Constitutional Republicans” who will actually fight Trump, not just issue occasional statements or cast symbolic votes.

Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that the Republican Party needs to be “de-radicalized,” and doing that requires incentives that will force the GOP to compete for a majority of voters rather than suppress votes. They propose a set of reforms to “expand access to the ballot, reform our electoral system to ensure that majorities win elections and weaken or eliminate antiquated institutions such as the filibuster so that majorities can actually govern.”

If the constituencies that Kagan and Levitsky/Ziblatt embraced and acted on the ideas they propose, they would up their contribution to defeating the authoritarian threat.

But it wouldn’t be enough. That’s where the action program advocated by Fletcher and other radicals comes in. To beat the Trumpists we need to learn from our experience in 2020 and start preparations now to galvanize massive voter turnouts in 2022 and 2024 and equally massive outpourings of energy to defend the results. To do that requires linking the fight for political democracy to the fight for improvements in the material conditions of the lives of the majority.

It is the organizations and individuals currently on the frontlines of the fights for racial and gender justice, climate justice, workers’ rights, and peace in all their specific manifestations – on both electoral and non-electoral terrain – that are key to making that happen at scale. The challenge to the ecosystem of social justice formations that has grown so much since 2016 is to link the work of building and unifying the broadest possible front against Trumpism with building its own reach and institutional power (for the long haul).

It’s not an easy road to navigate. And no force on the left has yet demonstrated its particular strategy and practice offers the most promise of success. But perspectives within the broad framework of “block the right and build the left” have become more developed and grounded in U.S. history than even a few years ago. (See for example, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Barbara RansbyTarso Ramos, and Calvin Cheung-Miaw). That – and the extensive preparations underway for 2022 and 2024 by the host of progressive and left groups that threw down to beat Trump in 2020 – are the reasons we can succeed.

Max Elbaum has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since the 1960s. He is an editor of Organizing Upgrade and the author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso Books, Third Edition, 2018).