So far the discussion around this year’s midterm elections has mostly focused on House and Senate races, which could break up the Democrats’ governing trifecta in Washington. There’s been far less focus on gubernatorial races, which only tend to matter to people in the states involved. But the big batch of competitive races for governor in 2022 could ultimately have a huge impact on the entire nation. Governors play a central but overlooked role in the certification of presidential elections, so the election of Republican governors in battleground states could increase the odds of a successful 2024 election coup by Donald Trump, if efforts to reform our election laws ignore the possibility of rogue governors.
Consider one of the key reasons that Trump’s last coup attempt failed: Under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, electors certified by governors are considered valid unless overturned by both chambers of Congress. In four of the states whose results were contested by Trump in 2020 (Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) Democratic governors were in place to prevent the certification of fake Trump electors. In two others (Arizona and Georgia), Republican governors refused to play Election Coup ball.
But MAGA bravos have a significant chance of winning Republican gubernatorial nominations in the Democratic-governed states mentioned above, and midterm dynamics give the GOP a better-than-average chance (at this early point) of flipping them all. In Arizona, Doug Ducey is term-limited, and the two top Republicans in the race to succeed him are supporters of the bogus 2020 election audit. And in Georgia, Trump is sponsoring a serious primary challenge to Brian Kemp by former U.S. senator David Perdue, who is campaigning on the theme that Kemp “let us down” by certifying Biden’s 2020 win in that state.
Yes, there is bipartisan interest in Congress right now in an effort to repair the hazy and dangerous provisions of the Electoral Count Act. But because the threat to democracy in 2020 came from Trump’s efforts to encourage state legislators and the vice-president to overturn the results, the potential threat of rogue governors may not get the attention it deserves.
Election expert Matthew Seligman has been warning that the tendency to fight the last war (or coup attempt) could lead to a scenario where a governor and/or some other certifying state official could send in a false certificate on behalf of the popular-vote loser and then count on a single congressional chamber to uphold it, as Business Insider’s Grace Panetta points out:
A far more urgent and straightforward threat though, according to Seligman, is something he calls the Swing State’s Governor’s Gambit. It would only require a few partisan officials who control the state government in one swing state to submit an illegitimate slate of electors for their party’s losing presidential candidate — and their party also controlling one chamber of Congress and counting it.
“As a result,” Seligman wrote in a recent report, “a hyperpartisan House of Representatives can collaborate with a swing state’s governor to steal that state’s electoral votes, and under the Act’s existing structure there is nothing the opposing party could do to stop them.”
Guess who is favored to control the House after the 2022 midterms? A “hyperpartisan” Republican conference led by Trump ally Kevin McCarthy. Usually control of the House doesn’t flip in presidential elections, so if McCarthy is Speaker going into 2024 he would probably emerge with the gavel still in his hand. And the 45th president is already trying to sabotage Republican support for doing anything to fix the Electoral Count Act.
So even if you are a progressive comfortably ensconced in a deep-blue state unlikely to go MAGA in 2022, the midterm gubernatorial elections in highly competitive states are well worth watching. Another January 6 nightmare with a different outcome in Congress could be in the offing.