Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


Then-President Donald Trump greeted a crowd of his supporters on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The War on Democracy Is Here

Trump is using America's democratic process to destroy democracy from within.

Steven Harper

As Ukraine fights for its democratic survival, former President Donald Trump's war on democracy in America continues.

For the first time, on January 12, 2022, Trump said the quiet part out loud. In a video message, he told Republicans gathered for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial primary debates, "Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate." Repeating the Big Lie that he won the election, Trump added, "We have to get tougher and smarter."

He's counting on the Big Lie to divert uninformed voters from the truth. He's betting that the apathy of others will allow his organized minority to prevail.

Trump's choice of venue was no accident. Pennsylvania was a key state in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Like most states, the secretary of state is its chief vote counter. But unlike most states, the governor—not the voters—selects the person who holds that office.

Now two of Trump's accomplices in 2020 are front-runners for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and they are polling far ahead of their competition.

Subverting Democracy Plan A: Lou Barletta

When Trump's court challenges failed to reverse the popular vote in any state, he needed a new plan to switch some of Biden's electoral votes into his column.

The first phase of the plan called for Republican allies in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to ignore Trump's loss in their states and submit a false slate of Trump electors to the Electoral College. If accepted, the phony electors would swing the entire election to Trump.

One of the signatories to Pennsylvania's phony slate was Lou Barletta, a former U.S. congressman. He was among the first politicians to endorse Trump in 2016, co-chaired Trump's 2016 Pennsylvania campaign, and served on his transition team.

So Barletta seemed like a shoe-in for Trump's endorsement—until Doug Mastriano came along.

Subverting Democracy Plan B: Doug Mastriano

The second phase of the subversion plan contemplated that Congress might not accept the phony Trump electors when it met to certify Biden's election on January 6, 2021. But their mere existence could create a cloud over legitimate Biden electors from those states.

That cloud would allow Vice President Mike Pence—as presiding officer of the session—to delay the proceedings in the hope of making Trump the eventual winner. Buttressing this phase of the plan before January 6, Trump urged state legislators to sow doubt and confusion about the election results.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano helped to organize and host a "Senate Republican policy hearing" at a hotel conference room in Gettysburg on November 25. Speakers included Rudy Giuliani promoting the Big Lie and Trump offering an 11-minute videotaped rant about how the election had been rigged.

Trump invited Mastriano to the White House that evening, but he tested positive for COVID and had to leave. Two days later, he introduced a resolution in the Pennsylvania senate authorizing the Republican-controlled legislature to choose the state's electors.

The following week, Trump followed up twice with Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R), asking him to "fix" the election problem. But on December 2, Cutler and the state's other three legislative leaders released a letter repeating what they had said publicly: The legislature had no power "to overturn the popular vote and appoint our own slate of presidential electors."

However, Cutler then joined Mastriano in other efforts to reverse Trump's loss. On December 4, they were among dozens of Republican state legislators who signed letters complaining about the election to Pennsylvania's attorney general and inspector general. Along with 62 other GOP members of the state legislature, they also sent a letter to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, urging that they object to the state's electoral votes for Biden.

On December 14, the Electoral College included Biden's electors from Pennsylvania in confirming his victory, but Mastriano persisted. Eight days later, he sent each of Pennsylvania's Republican state senators an email reminder of their invitation to lunch "with POTUS at the White House" on December 23.

And on January 4, 2021, Mastriano was one of 21 Pennsylvania state senators who signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), urging Congress to delay certifying the state's electoral votes for Biden because of "inconsistencies and questionable activities" relating to the election. Numerous courts in Pennsylvania and across the country had rejected Trump's similar claims.

The following evening, John Eastman, the subversion plan's architect, forwarded that letter to Greg Jacob, Pence's chief legal counsel: "Major new development attached. This is huge as it now looks like PA legislature will vote to recertify its electors if Vice President Pence implements the plan we discussed."

As rioters breached the U.S. Capitol the next day, Jacob responded that Eastman's scheme would not garner a single vote in the U.S. Supreme Court or any of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, concluding, "Thanks to your bullsh*t, we are now under siege."

Mastriano, who had organized bus trips to Washington for the "Stop the Steal" rally, was present when the mob attacked. The House committee investigating the assault has subpoenaed him.

In May 2021, Mastriano said that Trump had asked him to run for governor and had promised to campaign for him. The next day, a Trump senior adviser responded that Trump had not yet endorsed anyone in that race.

After all, Lou Barletta was already a candidate.

The Rest

Two months before the May 17 primary, 45 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans are still undecided. But most of the other GOP candidates aren't distancing themselves from Trump, including the two immediately behind Barletta and Mastriano in the latest poll:

  • William McSwain was Trump's U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. In a June 9, 2021 letter to Trump, he raised vague allegations of voter fraud and suggested that Attorney General William Barr had impeded his effort to investigate. "It's just false," Barr retorted. To him, the claims "appeared to have been made to mollify President Trump to gain his support for McSwain's planned run for governor."
  • As he prepared to join the gubernatorial race, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman moved closer to Trump and pushed the legislature's ongoing election investigation. "I don't necessarily have faith in the results," he said in August, still lacking any evidence of problems. Corman also signed the January 4, 2021 letter urging Pennsylvania's congressional delegation to delay certification of the state's Electoral College votes for Biden.

Trump is using America's democratic process to destroy democracy from within. He's counting on the Big Lie to divert uninformed voters from the truth. He's betting that the apathy of others will allow his organized minority to prevail. And he's hoping that most people don't realize that the outcome of November 2022 elections in Pennsylvania and other key states on Trump's hit list will have profound implications for 2024.

Every patriot should hope that he's wrong.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Steven Harper

Steven J. Harper is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of several books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He has been a regular columnist for Moyers on Democracy, Dan Rather’s News & Guts, and The American Lawyer.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

US Gas Flaring Releases Five Times More Methane Than Previously Thought

"This study adds to the growing body of research that tells us that the oil and gas industry has a flaring problem," said Jon Goldstein of EDF, which conducted related research on the practice.

Jessica Corbett ·

Activists Call Fed Pilot Program to Assess Banks' Climate Risk a 'Welcome First Step'

"To truly safeguard financial stability," said one campaigner, "the Fed must further introduce policies that reflect the high risk of fossil fuel investments."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Gut Punch': Biden Pulls Student Debt Relief for Millions as GOP States Sue

"The Biden administration told several million people they'd see their debt reduced by $10-20K, and a month later quietly wrote 'just kidding' on a website," said one affected borrower.

Brett Wilkins ·

Controlled by Right-Wing Justices, US Supreme Court's Approval Hits All-Time Low

"This is what happens when SCOTUS nominees lie about settled law at their nomination hearings," said one observer.

Kenny Stancil ·

Acidification of Arctic Happening Up to 4 Times Faster Than Other Oceans

The research followed reports that the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo