Friday, February 26, 2021

The Startling Revelation Of How A Secret Alliance Protected Democracy & Brought Down Trump

Header for lead story in TIME (Feb. 15-22) on shadow campaign that took out Trump

The name "Mike Podhorzer" may not roll off the tongue or ring any bells, but it was evidently at the center of a massive alliance that basically prevented Trump and his seditionist minions from stealing the 2020 election.   This according to a lengthy investigative piece by Molly Ball appearing in TIME magazine (Feb. 15-23, pp. 42-51).  

Podhorzer had earned his stripes for nearly a quarter century as a senior adviser to the president of the AFL-CIO.  As noted by TIME columnist Molly Ball: "Among Democratic insiders he was known as the wizard behind some of the biggest advances in political technology in recent decades."   

This served him in good stead when it became clear last year that Trump  was desperately trying to disrupt the 2020 election.   Then he realized that "the usual tools of data, analytics and polling would not be sufficient" to the task of stopping a president after power at any cost.

In this case being unprepared for two equally appalling outcomes: 1) Trump losing and refusing to concede, and 2) Trump winning the Electoral College by corrupting the voting process in key states.

This realization propelled Podhorzer into "scenario planning"   around the potential for a contested election. Fortunately, with some further investigation he found others - allies- eager to join forces.  These included the Fight Back Table - a coalition of resistance forces, and other liberal activists who would be assembled at the local and national levels into the Democracy Defense Coalition.

The latter would basically be a "bipartisan election crisis task force".    This included a group of former elected officials assigned to research emergency powers they feared Trump might exploit. 

Though many liberal activists saw Trump clearly as a dangerous dictator in the making, Podhorzer was determined to avoid any hysteria or hyperbole, This proved critical when other powerful allies came on board, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporate business leaders. 

By March 3 Podhorzer had drafted a 3-page confidential memo titled: ''Threats to the 2020 Election".  Therein he noted: "Trump has made it clear this will not be a fair election and that he will reject anything but his own re-election as 'fake'.  


"On Nov. 3, should the media report otherwise, he will use the right wing information system to establish his narrative and incite his supporters to protest." The memo then laid out four categories of challenges: attacks on voters, attacks on election administration, attacks on Trump's political opponents, and 'efforts to reverse the results of the election'"

The memo was masterful in being able to foresee, and hence respond to, every ploy Trump and his surrogates might use to undermine the election and hurl Trump into another disastrous 4 years.   This memo is what galvanized the massive alliance to stop him cold.

When the pandemic erupted at the height of thee primary season and the method of mail voting became a rational option- Podhorzer also foresaw Trump's attacks on it.    He also saw what limited access to such voting did such as in the Ohio primary where in-person voting had to be terminated leading to minuscule turnout.

With a November meltdown now obvious if Trump and his minions challenged mail voting, it became time for all hands on deck. Thus, Podhorzer - working from his D.C. apartment - commenced Zoom meets "for hours a day with his contacts across the progressive universe."   The groups included: Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace,  resistance groups like Indivisible and MoveOn,  progressive data geeks and strategists, representatives of donors and foundations, racial justice activists and others.

By April, Podhorzer was hosting a weekly 2 1/2 hour Zoom structured around a series of rapid -fire 5 minute presentations on everything from which ads were working, to messaging to legal strategy.   These gathering, which attracted hundreds "created a rare shared base of knowledge for the fractious progressive movement".  All the parties seemed to grasp it was time to put petty differences aside and come together for the good of the nation.   Thus, the meetings "became the galactic center for a constellation of operatives across the left who shared overlapping goals but didn't usually work in concert."

The realization soon dawned that liberals-progressives alone would not be sufficient to the task of protecting the election.  Thus, as 2020 progressed it stretched to congress, the nation's statehouses and reached across the aisle to Trump-skeptical Republicans.

The first practical impediment was the bulky election infrastructure and it became clear money was needed to support a switch to mail ballots for many states - especially as the pandemic ramped up.  To this end the CARES Act helped, providing $400 m in grants to state election administrators.  Alas, this was some five times less than what Dems had asked for and would not be enough to re-align all the election systems.  Fortunately, private philanthropy stepped up with an assortment of foundations contributing tens of millions to  states seeking to implement absentee voting.

The concentrated effort helped 37 states and the District of Columbia bolster mail voting, and this went hand in hand with a massive education program. Since if people -voters didn't take advantage it was all for naught.    Coincident with the pro-mail voting campaign the other effort spearheaded by Podhorzer's group was battling disinformation - much of it spread by Trump  and his underlings- that mail ballots encouraged fraud.  Thus it was essential voters understood that despite what Trump was barking that: a) mail-in votes were not susceptible to fraud and b) it would be totally normal if some states weren't finished counting votes by election night.

At the same time, Democratic lawyers were battling a historic tide of pre-election litigation to suppress voting - especially mail voting.  In the words of Wendy Weiser, a voting rights expert at the Brennan Center for Justice: "The litigation brought by the Trump campaign was of a piece with the broader campaign to sow doubt about mail voting while making novel claims using theories that no court has ever accepted."

Thus did the alliance truly grasp the dimensions of the Trump full court press to overturn the election in his favor - basically extirpating hundreds of years of peaceful transfer of power.

Included in the armament of the Trump election destroyers was the tidal wave of lies and paranoid election conspiracy theories - or what I prefer to call ideations.  (Since the term "theory" has a proper scientific definition which should not be conflated with wild paranoid imaginings such as pushed by QAnon etc.)   Enter now Linda Quinn - a veteran progressive operative who co-founded Catalist -  the organization behind a secret project to track disinformation online and devise ways to effectively combat it.   The information on the sources of disinfo-   which otherwise would have spread unnoticed-  could then be found out and relayed to campaigners as well as the media to expose. 

  The biggest find from Quinn's research?  Engaging with toxic content only made it worse.  In her own words (ibid.):  "The more engagement something gets, the more the platforms boost it. The algorithm read it as 'Oh this is popular so people want more of it.'"

The solution, instead, was to pressure platforms like Twitter and Facebook to enforce their own rules- both by removing content or accounts that spread disinformation.   Thus did Quinn's research give ammunition to advocates pushing social media platforms to take a harder line, especially to do with election-related falsehoods.

 All of the aforementioned efforts culminated with election night. Predictably it began with Democrats despairing as Trump snatched a trio of early states: Ohio, Florida and Texas.   But Podhorzer was "unperturbed"  given the "returns were exactly in line with his modeling".  

That is, yes, Trump would get an early electoral lead, but it would wither away as the mail ballots (mainly from Democratic voters)  came in later.   So he knew in his heart that "so long as the votes were counted Trump would lose."

By 11 p.m. - according to the TIME account: "The liberal alliance gathered for a  Zoom call"  and "many were freaking out."  But cooler heads prevailed once Podhorzer showed them that 'victory was at hand".  Indeed, while he was soothing frayed nerves FOX News called Arizona for Biden.

Most importantly, the public education program had worked and further, the media had its head screwed on straight for once.  The respective anchors - even on FOX- were counseling caution and emphasizing accurate vote counts. 

The next issue for the Zoom meet was when exactly street protests might be needed.  Every manjack had to be mindful that "protests that devolved into street clashes would give Trump a pretext to send in federal agents" or even declare martial law.  So it became critical for all the activist groups to keep their powder dry and their heads clear.  Thus "the word went out: stand down."

Podhorzer credited the activists for their restraint so there wasn't a single Antifa vs. Proud Boys incident and "the Trump campaign didn't have a backup plan."

The final piece of the alliance strategy was presented on Nov. 6 when the groups were notified to "prepare for a weekend of celebration".   Thus, the message was:

"Counter their disinfo with our confidence nd get ready to celebrate. Declare and fortify our win."   Thus, the voters not the candidates would be the protagonists of the story.   The planned day of celebration just happened to coincide with the election being formally called on Nov. 7. 

"The votes had been counted. Trump had lost.  But the battle was not over."

The remaining page and a half of the article explains the further war Podhorzer had to wage to secure the win against Trump's lies, depredations and disruptions.  Ms. Ball also makes it abundantly clear this shadow campaign was not a conspiracy in the nefarious sense, but rather in the positive sense of defending our institutions from lies and sedition.  

As it turned out there were numerous perilous moments, interludes, when democracy might have been turned on its head.   But those in Trump's target sights - such as three Pennsylvania state lawmakers and the Georgia Secretary of State (Brad Raffensberger) - managed to find their courage when they needed to and resisted Trump's pressure to negate results. As the article ends:  

"Democracy won in the end.  The will of the people prevailed.  But it's crazy in retrospect that this is what it took to put on an election in the United States of America."

The will of the people prevailed this time, barely, but will it again?   Bear in mind the orange pestilence plans to make an appearance Sunday at CPAC, announcing his 2024 political aspirations. The 'vampire' that should have had a stake driven through its heart - had the Senate Repukes all voted to convict- remains alive  and well and an abiding threat to our nation.

See Also:


The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicks off on Thursday, seven weeks and one day after Donald Trump sent a murderous mob to rampage through the Capitol in a final, violence-soaked bid to overturn the presidential election. The annual confab — which has become the central event of the year for Republican politics — not only has no distance from the events of Jan. 6, it is basically shaping up to be a celebration of both the man and the movement that inspired a fascist insurrection.

It's not just that Trump is going to be the headline speaker on Sunday, allowing the same man whose mob tried to kill members of Congress and his own vice president to soak in conservative adulation. It's also that the speaker's list is heavily populated by other major right-wing figures — including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — who spent the past few months stoking the Big Lie that led to the insurrection.

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