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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”

The words of Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party candidate vanquished in Mississippi’s runoff on Tuesday by Sen. Thad Cochran and the state’s GOP establishment, were not the most gracious. But they contained an important truth about why Cochran prevailed after finishing second in the first round of voting on June 3.

In winning, Cochran overturned many of the cliches of political analysis: that runoffs draw lower turnouts than the main event; that incumbents who run behind the first time around typically lose second rounds; and that politics today is all about “turning out the base.”

Actually, Cochran did “turn out the base,” or at least part of it, but it was the Democratic base. Mississippi’s African-American voters crossing into the Republican primary almost certainly provided the political veteran with his margin of victory. They did this because McDaniel’s neo-Confederate views scared them and because they agreed with Cochran that money from Washington matters to their state’s well-being.

Oddly, Cochran’s triumph was a vote for core Democratic principles. Realizing that there were not enough votes in the normal Republican primary electorate to sustain the incumbent, Cochran’s top lieutenants — led by former Gov. Haley Barbour and Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s chief strategist — reached far outside its boundaries by doing something Republicans rarely do, especially in Mississippi: They defended the federal government and mocked McDaniel’s implied claims that the state could do just fine without its help.

As my Washington Post colleague Dan Balz reported, Barbour was unabashed in pointing out that “more than 15 percent of Mississippi’s state education budget comes from the federal government, including virtually every penny we spend on special education.” Who imagined a Republican would win a primary running on special ed? Voters heard about the magnitude of defense spending in the state’s economy, and former NFL quarterback Brett Favre made an ad that spoke of Cochran’s work in bringing vital relief after Hurricane Katrina.

Cochran’s campaign was thus a model not for other Republican candidates but for Democrats who are too wary of saying outright that government does a lot of good. This pro-government message drew African-Americans but also various establishment figures in the state well aware of the benefits of Washington’s largesse. Burns Strider, a Democratic strategist with deep roots in Mississippi, was impressed by Cochran’s mobilization of these leaders, notably friends of the state’s institutions of higher education.

Yet in the racially polarized world of Mississippi politics, it was Cochran’s success with African-Americans that was most striking. And there is no doubt about the difference they made. “If you work your way down through the Delta counties and look at the size of the turnout increase, that was the result of Senator Cochran’s black turnout program,” Strider said.

Sam Hall of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson noted that in the Delta area, Cochran increased his advantage over his runoff tally by more than 4,000 votes. In Hinds County that includes Jackson, “several large black precincts saw big increases.”

African-Americans responded not only to positive appeals from Cochran but also to McDaniel’s past as a talk show host and blogger who skirted if not crossed the line of racism. Last summer, McDaniel delivered the keynote address at a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the drive to secure black voting rights that was met by violence and even murder, Cochran found himself under sharp attack from the right for relying on black voters and for “playing the race card,” a charge conservatives normally reserve for Democrats.

On the Breitbart website, Joel Pollak wrote: “Cochran played the race card,  dividing the electorate for the sake of his own decrepit incumbency.” Another Breitbart post read: “The fact that they played the race card and ran mailers and robo calls in African-American areas accusing their own party of being racist is downright despicable.” Twitter lit up with similar comments Tuesday night after Cochran was declared the victor.

This rancor could usefully challenge Republican leaders to grapple openly with the role of race within their coalition. And that a long-serving, quite conservative Republican senator could survive only by expanding the GOP electorate beyond the faithful is a reminder of just how conservative the party’s primary electorate has become. Broadening the party by admitting the inadequacy of anti-government shibboleths cannot be a one-state, one-time, one-incumbent proposition.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]