Last night, I had -- well, epiphany is probably too strong of a word. Crystallization, perhaps. A thought I already basically knew just became clearer in my mind. Namely: that the next time a major Republican candidate tries to overturn the results of an election, they're going garner a lot more support from the Republican establishment (in particular, the GOP judiciary).
Oddly enough, it was the 5th Circuit's latest ivermectin ruling that triggered the realization. Even at the start of the pandemic, we wouldn't see right-wing judges pulling stunts like this. The seals were still in place; it takes time for them to crack. But as they start to come undone, there's no backstop of legal or ethical duty to hold them in place.
Despite Trump's regular warnings (dating back to 2016) that he would not respect the results of an election that he lost, few in our political and legal elite really believed that he would go through with an overt plan to steal the election. Remember "What's the downside for humoring him?" It wasn't real until suddenly it was. And as a consequence, Republican elites hadn't really braced themselves to go all in for election theft. It's not just that it was too much, it was that it came too fast. They weren't ready.
But with time and distance, the Republican Party has come to assimilate Trump's actions as justified (same as they've done for every other one of Trump's abuses). Those who actually did unashamedly oppose Trump's actions have been ruthlessly purged from the party. Nascent momentum to support consequences for Trump during the second impeachment trial have entirely disappeared as far as the GOP is concerned. The unthinkable became thinkable, and Republicans have had four years to come up with clever rationalizations and apologias for why actually overturning democratic elections is fair play and What The Founders Would Have Wanted.
I've remarked before that GOP election theft attempts are akin to the carnival game where you swing a hammer and try to ring the bell. They weren't strong enough to ring it the first time. But they're getting stronger. It's not just that the next attempt will be less slap-dash and more well-organized (though it is that). It's also that the GOP has had time to mentally brace itself that stealing elections is appropriate, even necessary, and certainly just.
In 2020, virtually all GOP judicial actors refused to go along with Republican efforts to steal the election. Come 2024, I do not expect to see that unanimity anymore. They've steeled themselves for stealing, and next time they will come harder than before.