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Opinion: Joe O’Dea dances with Trump while American democracy crumbles

August 6, 2022, 9:17 am
Joe O’Dea (Chase Woodruff, Colorado Newsline photo).

Consider how far we’ve fallen.

Former President Donald Trump led a violent attempted coup based on a lie and broke America’s centuries-long tradition of peacefully transferring power.

The America First movement, inspired by Trump’s stop-the-steal rhetoric, ever since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has claimed for itself license to trash every democratic norm it can find.

Quentin Young

Republican state lawmakers now engage in voter suppression as a matter of core partisan duty. Since the 2020 election, as States Newsroom’s D.C. bureau has reported, “26 states have enacted, expanded, or increased the severity of 120 election-related criminal penalties” for voters, election officials or people who assist voters. The vast majority of these penalties are in Republican-controlled states.

Last year at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center. These and other bills that would allow partisan manipulation of results “are justified by the myth of widespread voter fraud and a stolen election,” even though we now know that the source of the myth not only engaged in a weeks-long conspiracy to overturn the election but knew his claims of fraud were a lie.

New election laws in Georgia exemplified the right’s democracy-erasing maneuvers across the country. One provision allows the state elections board, dominated by the GOP-controlled state Legislature’s appointees, to exert influence over county election boards by installing allies to lead them. Such election interference legislation was a priority for conservatives this year, with versions passed in six states, which the Brennan Center says “could lead to tamper­ing with how elec­tions are run and how results are determ­ined.”

The new MAGA election laws range from the insidiously subtle to the cynically sinister, such as the legislation creating a voter-fraud police unit championed by Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, even though actual voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

Then there’s the North Carolina redistricting case. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Moore v. Harper, which could advance the independent state legislature theory, a once fringe idea that has gained adherents among America First legislators who would have preferred to reverse President Joe Biden’s 2020 win. If the hard-right majority court sides with North Carolina Republicans, legislatures could gerrymander and suppress votes essentially at will.

The democratic foundation of the United States is crumbling. Will it collapse? That depends in part on people like Joe O’Dea.

The Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, O’Dea in the June 28 Colorado primary defeated the election-denying state Rep. Ron Hanks. Hanks was outlandishly far right. He flat-out rejected the 2020 election results, marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with insurrectionists, and based his campaign mainly on conspiracy theories.

Every leader no matter their political views is called upon at this moment to unequivocally convey confidence in the legitimacy of elections and the democratic ideals of which Americans previously could be so proud. O’Dea does the opposite.

When O’Dea won you could hear a sigh of relief across the state, not least in the offices of establishment Republicans, and in no time he was welcomed as a “moderate” candidate. He supports abortion rights (a very limited version of them anyway) and didn’t make a spectacle of himself by indulging the Q wing of his party.

But, with the republic at risk, every leader no matter their political views is called upon at this moment to unequivocally convey confidence in the legitimacy of elections and the democratic ideals of which Americans previously could be so proud. O’Dea does the opposite.

O’Dea is aligned with the Trumpist forces warping the nation under the weight of autocracy, and ultimately there can be nothing less moderate than that. His vision for the country’s future accommodates the most corrupt and anti-democratic office holder modern America has ever known, and in the most meaningful ways his presence in Congress would be little different than that of Hanks.

During an interview prior to the primary, O’Dea said Trump deserved no blame for the insurrection, a critical failure to demand accountability for one of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. But the greater outrage came a moment later when he said he would vote for Trump for a second term.

In a Fox News radio interview after he won the primary, O’Dea again indicated, though less directly, that he would support a Trump run in 2024. 

Americans in the past six years have become desensitized to the right’s erosion of democratic norms, acts of institutional sabotage, default to bad faith, and the inflexible creed of party over people. But it’s worth pausing to consider what support for Trump implies. The twice-impeached former president tried to thwart the will of the people and topple constitutional authority. Condone that and you’ve signed your name to America’s death warrant.

O’Dea on multiple occasions has singled out DeSantis for praise as a potential GOP presidential alternative to Trump. But that Yale-educated MAGA governor, often called “Trump with a brain,” poses an even greater threat to the nation. Where Trump bumbles and behaves like a child, DeSantis calculates and acts with cunning. He was an early and vocal election denier who has evolved into a devotee of the Hungarian authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose democracy-crushing populism MAGA conservatives are anxious to emulate in the U.S. 

This is the kind of president O’Dea wants to see in the White House.

If that’s the direction in which he would help lead the country as a senator, it’s hard to see how his influence would fundamentally differ much from that of any political figure nominally positioned to his right.

With moderates like O’Dea, who needs extremists?

Editor’s note: This opinion column first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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