There’s an uncomfortable reality about the 2024 Presidential election which has received little attention in the media: the best case scenario for Democrats – and for the republic – is a repeat of the chaotic aftermath of the 2020 election. Chaos. Conspiracism. Efforts to delegitimize the election. Possibly even a modified repeat of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. And I don’t mean that Democrats would benefit from this scenario; I mean it’s the best they can hope for.

It’s a reality worth reckoning with: the systems upholding our government are in a more precarious situation today than they have been during the lives of anyone currently living. What happens next is unknown, and the possibilities are bleak. Reckoning with the situation as it exists, not just as we wish it existed, is the only way to prepare for it, the only way to know what to do now, in the meantime, to preserve as many options as possible for a good outcome. And it’s that line of thinking – the one about preserving our options amid this uncomfortable reality – that has led me to an uncomfortable conclusion: this summer, Democrats need to do whatever is possible to support moderate Republicans in Congressional primaries. 

I will tell you how I arrived at that distasteful conclusion, but first, it’s important to understand the possible realities which lay ahead of us. When it comes to forecasting the aftermath of elections, I turn to Brynn Tannehill. An author, aviator, and defense analyst, Tannehill predicted the outcome of the 2016 election, as well as the post-2020 unrest. Over the past two years, she has written poignantly about what might come next.

In pieces she has published since 2022, Tannehill has laid out the four most likely outcomes of the 2024 election, and attempted to forecast what the aftermath would be in each of those scenarios. Her work is not sensationalistic; it is clinical and analytical, drawing on her professional background. It is also terrifying.

By Tannehill’s reasoning, the smoothest outcome is one where Joe Biden wins the Presidency by both the popular vote and the Electoral College tally, and Democrats win control of the House of Representatives. In this scenario, “Trump and Republicans will allege fraud and rigged elections. They’ll try to block certification at the county, state, and federal levels…Trump followers will be incited to violence, which is likely to be more successfully put down than January 6, 2021.” Ultimately, amidst ongoing destabilizing rigamarole, Joe Biden will be sworn-in for a second term in January 2025, and we will enter the long, slow process of red states refusing to acknowledge his legitimacy. 

That is the best case scenario. What are the others?

The second scenario Tannehill sees is one in which President Biden wins the Presidency by both the popular vote and the Electoral College tally, but Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the event of that outcome, it is highly likely that Republican Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (or whichever poor soul is serving as the Republican Speaker by that point), will decline to certify the results of the election, and will toss the outcome to the House of Representatives, which will vote based on the procedure laid out in the Twelfth Amendment. In such a situation, the vote will almost certainly result in Donald J. Trump being made President of the United States, subverting the will of the voters and officially overthrowing the elected leader of the country. This series of events, according to Tannehill, “tilts toward the civil war scenario more than any of the other election outcomes.”

The final two scenarios involve Donald Trump winning the Presidency – either by losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral College in a replay of 2016, or by winning both the popular vote and the Electoral College – and various descents into the autocracy he has so frequently promised to deliver if he returns to office. In those scenarios, the House of Representatives is unlikely to come into play: only one party has ever attempted to use Congress to overturn a Presidential election, and that party will have no interest in overturning an election which Donald Trump has won. 

So what does any of this have to do with Republican Congressional primaries? Unfortunately, a lot. If Biden wins the Presidential election but Democrats do not win control of the House of Representatives, the House of Representatives – not the current one, but the one elected in November, which will be sworn into office before having to certify the results of the Presidential election – will determine the outcome of the Presidential election. Whether or not that potential Republican majority will be willing to overturn that result comes down to who wins primaries this summer, months before the November general election, and what kind of people they are.

In Republican Congressional primaries around the country and here in Colorado, there are showdowns occurring between candidates who deny the results of the 2020 election, and those who, to some degree at least, reside in reality. Whichever faction wins those showdowns could, in at least one of the scenarios above, ultimately determine the future of the nation – and it all comes down to how the Twelfth Amendment works. 

The Twelfth Amendment, in effect since 1804, establishes the procedures by which candidates are elected to the Presidency and vice Presidency. Though it had rarely been the focus of any sustained attention between 1824 (long story) and the aftermath of the 2020 election, part of the amendment lays out a process by which, in the absence of any candidate having a majority of votes, the House of Representatives may choose the President. In that scenario, though, members of Congress would not vote as individuals: they would vote as state delegations. Only delegations with Republican majorities – and, crucially, enough Republicans in those majorities supportive of the effort to overturn the election – will ultimately cast their votes for Donald Trump. If he can assemble 26 such delegations, he wins.

As it currently stands, Colorado’s 8-member House delegation is 5-3 in Democratic hands, and there is only one competitive race on the calendar: Yadira Caraveo’s bid for reelection in the north metro area’s district 8. If Caraveo were to lose that race, Colorado’s delegation would be 4-4, deadlocked, and likely unable to cast a vote either way in a Twelfth Amendment election by the House. While such a deadlock would render the Colorado delegation unable to cast a vote overturning the results of a Biden reelection, it could also possibly be unable to cast a vote certifying the rightful election results, ultimately leaving Colorado voiceless in the selection of the next president. 

Even if Caraveo were to lose, though, the Colorado delegation would only be deadlocked so long as all four Republicans were willing to vote together to overturn the results of a lawful Biden victory. If even a single one of them refused to do so, the delegation would be able to properly cast its vote, in accordance with the will of the voters of Colorado, for Joe Biden – and, on that front, the news is slightly better than you might expect.

Colorado is in an interesting situation this election year: none of our three incumbent Republican members of Congress are running for reelection. Doug Lamborn, who has held the El Paso County-based district 5 seat since 2007, is on his way out the door. And Ken Buck, who has represented northern Colorado and the eastern plains in district 4 since 2015, has also thrown in the towel. Then there’s Lauren Boebert, who, though running for another term in the House of Representatives, is not actually running for reelection – she has abandoned the mountainous district 3 to take a shot at Buck’s district on the plains, leaving her current seat up for grabs as well.

No fewer than 30 Republicans have rushed into this void, jockeying for a chance to fill Colorado’s three solidly red House seats. Of those 30, most are non-starters – folks with low name recognition, nonexistent personal fundraising networks, and little chance of putting up serious fights for the respective nominations. Among the serious contenders for the three open Republican seats, though, are representatives from each faction: those in slavish thrall to Donald Trump, who do not accept the results of the 2020 election and are unlikely to accept the results of the 2024 election, if Trump loses it; and those who seem eager to return their party to an older era of Republicanism, when the party’s bigotry and economic violence were more genteel, and – crucially in this context – their respect for institutions and the rule of law was still intact. In every instance, it is better for the country if the latter beats the former – and, in at least one or two of Colorado’s open Republican House seats, there’s a chance that they will. Even if Caraveo were to lose her seat, the election of just one Republican who would be unwilling to overturn the election would prevent Colorado’s delegation from deadlocking during one of the most crucial votes in the history of Congress. 

Colorado’s Congressional districts (Source: Wikipedia user Twotwofourtysix)

Though I strongly advocate against ever placing any degree of hope in the hands of Republican politicians, the possible roads ahead are bleak, and we need to take all the help we can get. So, who are the Republican primary contenders who, on an off-chance, might not vote to compromise American democracy to a permanent end?

In District 5, being vacated by Doug Lamborn, the prospects are bleak. Before his failure to make the ballot, state Senator Bob Gardner would have been the best choice. Despite being a conservative Republican whose policy positions I tend to disagree with, Gardner is also undoubtedly an “old school” Republican. He held office before Donald Trump, and never went out of his way to perform the sort of demeaning rituals of obeisance which the former President elicited from so many elected Republicans. Nor, to his credit, did he deny the results of the 2020 election. Unfortunately, Gardner fell short on petition signatures, and will not appear on this June’s primary ballot. Though there are seven other candidates in the race, only two are real contenders: Colorado GOP chairman Dave Williams, and longtime radio host Jeff Crank.

Williams is a poster child for the kind of craven, amoral, Republican toadies who have taken over the party under the auspices of Donald Trump. A bomb-throwing culture warrior with no real work history and no ideas of actual substance, Williams is the type of man who sees Jim Jordan on television and thinks, “I should be that.” Suffice it to say, if elected to Congress, Dave Williams would gladly vote to overturn election results in order to favor Donald Trump, and he would find as many television cameras as possible to do it in front of. That leaves Crank. 

A radio host, former Americans for Prosperity employee, and Republican political consultant, Jeff Crank walks a fine line. For years, he hewed close enough to former President Trump to placate his own reliably MAGA radio audience, indulging and entertaining conspiracists, and providing a platform for the worst kind of conservative – but he did so without explicitly siding with them. To this day, I’m not sure if Crank has ever given a direct answer as to whether he believes the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, nor is it clear how he would vote in a Twelfth Amendment scenario if he were elected to Congress. That being said, it is clear how Williams would vote, and that gives Crank the edge. To the extent that any of this is good news (which is debatable), Crank also holds a dominant fundraising lead in the district.

The Republican primary in District 4, the plains district (deepest red in the state) long anchored by Ken Buck, sports more options than the contest in District 5: there are 12 candidates in that race, and about half of them have already raised six figures worth of campaign funds. Despite the surplus of options, though, none of them are particularly good. At a candidate forum in January, the gaggle of contenders was asked whether they believed the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Only two raised their hands: Lauren Boebert, and newcomer Trent Leisy. The rest sat still, hands on the table. At first blush, that seems like a good sign: the majority of Republican candidates in CD-4 did not affirm the belief that the election was stolen. Unfortunately, the rest of that candidate forum featured the candidates climbing all over each other with each attempting to prove that they support the former President more than any of their rivals. 

“I ran one of the largest pro-Trump PACs in the country,” boasted candidate Peter Yu.

“I voted for him in ‘16, I voted for him in ‘20, I’ll vote for him in ‘24,” former state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg said of Donald Trump.

Of the nine candidates present at that January forum, which occurred when Nikki Haley was still challenging Trump for the Republican Presidential nomination, only one fell short of pledging absolute loyalty to the former President. Candidate Chris Phelen vowed that he would vote for “the candidate that is on the ballot,” saying that “if Trump is on the ballot, I’ll vote for Donald Trump.” Unfortunately, Phelen is almost certainly doomed: to date, he has raised only $87,000. Lauren Boebert’s warchest, for comparison, sits at $3.4 million, nearly 40 times more than what Phelen has raised. 

The three top-raising candidates in the race are Boebert, followed at a distance by Deborah Flora, who ran for U.S. Senate in the 2022 Colorado GOP primary, and Sonnenberg. Both Flora and Sonnenberg have raised more than $300,000, dominating the rest of the pack but trailing Boebert by a factor of ten.

Some might be tempted to look to Sonnenberg as the reasonable Republican in District 4. He is a seasoned politician who served many sessions at the state Capitol, whose political career predates Donald Trump’s, and who has fashioned a folksy rancher-of-the-people vibe which plains voters have responded well to in the past. Unlike his former colleague, Bob Gardner, though – and despite his unwillingness to raise his hand for the stolen election question at the January forum – Sonnenberg has not kept himself clean of the kind of pro-Trump groveling the former President expects from Republican candidates.

“Donald Trump will beat this case and then will be re-elected in November,” Sonnenberg tweeted on Monday. “The American people see through this sham trial as the political persecution that it is.”

“Donald Trump is the victim of political persecution at the hands of radical liberals who hate him more than they love our country,” Sonnenberg tweeted in March.

These are not the tweets of a man willing to turn his back on Donald Trump in order to preserve the rule of law. Unfortunately, the only other serious contender in District 4, Deborah Flora, is equally at-home among the most rabid corners of the Republican Party. Though she did not raise her hand when candidates were asked if the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, Flora has built her career by taking advantage of Republican culture wars around “critical race theory” and “parents’ rights.” She has echoed and amplified allegations that LGBTQ people are child predators, and has helped mainstream the “groomer” slur which conservatives now often direct at queer people. 

Despite having twelve candidates, there are no good options in District 4: of the 12 candidates running, and the three who stand any chance whatsoever of winning, there is not a single candidate out on the plains who I would trust to hold the republic in his or her hands.

That leaves us with District 3, where the good-ish news is hiding. 

For the past four years, under the guidance of Lauren Boebert, CD-3 has been Colorado’s most MAGA Congressional district. Now that Boebert has carpetbagged to the plains, the district could be in for a major shift – not necessarily a shift into Democratic hands, but at least a shift into the hands of a very different kind of Republican than the one who currently represents it. Like in the state’s other two strongly Republican Congressional districts, the absence of an incumbent seeking reelection in CD-3 has attracted a crowd of contenders, ten in total. One of those candidates is former state Rep. Ron Hanks, who was personally in attendance for the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. He represented Penrose, near Cañon City, while in the legislature, but has since moved to Grand Junction, where he is renting a room from Colorado GOP Treasurer (and fellow Jan. 6 attendee) Tom Bjorklund. Hanks’ fundraising is going nowhere – to date, he has raised just over $9,000 – but there is still a possibility that the state party might boost his chances by officially endorsing him.

It is rare for parties to endorse in their own primary contests, but the Dave Williams-led Colorado GOP has taken an unusually heavy hand in this year’s primaries, seemingly with the intent of enforcing the pro-Trump line while also boosting Williams’ own chances in CD-5. The problem for the party in CD-3 is that the leading candidate, the one who has outraised the rest of the field by a mile, does not toe the line. 

“I do not [think he won]. I have not seen evidence of fraud on a scale that would, in my view, change the results of the election.”

Those were the words spoken by Jeff Hurd at a campaign event in Mesa County two weeks ago. Hurd, an attorney from Grand Junction, is a political newcomer. He is also the leading fundraiser in the CD-3 GOP primary, by a margin of several hundred thousand dollars. Hurd, sitting just shy of $1 million raised, does not believe the election was stolen. In fact, he does not talk about Donald Trump much at all. He does not tweet about Trump. He does not mention Trump on his website. And his demeanor is not, in any noticeable way, Trumpian. Altogether, he is significantly more reminiscent of Scott Tipton – who represented the district from 2011 to 2021 – than of Lauren Boebert.

Jeff Hurd (Source: Facebook)

If Hurd wins the primary, there is a greater-than-zero chance that he would do the right thing in a Twelfth Amendment vote. For me, that is more than enough to hope that he beats Hanks and the other challengers. If I were a voter in the district, I would even go so far as to consider casting a primary ballot for him. By ensuring Hurd makes it through the primary, we ensure that Hanks doesn’t. We give ourselves some chance of having a Republican of integrity in office, where we otherwise have no chance.

But even if Hurd emerges from the primary victorious, he will still have to get through Adam Frisch in the General. The R+7 district heavily favors the Republican, but Frisch is nothing to sneeze at – nor is his $12 million warchest. If Frisch wins, the whole thing is moot: Colorado’s delegation will, in the worst case scenario, remain 5-3 – or 6-2, if both Caraveo and Frisch win – and no deadlock will happen.

Even if Colorado’s delegation avoids a possible deadlock scenario, the months between November 2024 and January 2025 will probably not be smooth sailing for the country. And, in this column which has attempted to find the rare “good” elected Republican, I feel compelled to note that the reason those months are likely to be precarious for our nation is entirely because of Republicans. If Donald Trump wins the presidency outright, there will be protests, but there will not be an attempt to subvert democracy. If Joe Biden wins, there will be Republican-led attempts to overturn that result. I am not here to valorize any member of the party which has systematically jeopardized the future of American democracy. But it is my love for democracy which compels me to root for any Republican in any Congressional race who stands a chance of preserving that democracy when the time comes – because, right now, it’s not clear we can preserve it without a few defectors from the Republican hive mind.

As it stands, there are 26 Republican-majority delegations in the House of Representatives, but – thanks to the tied delegations from Minnesota and North Carolina – only 22 Democratic-majority delegations. Though a possible Twelfth Amendment vote of the House would be held by delegations as they exist after the November elections, Democrats actually lost 11 seats in the House the last time Joe Biden won the Presidency, meaning a November victory for Biden does not necessarily equal a Democratic majority in the House. If Biden wins alongside a Republican House majority, we are in for rocky times, and the only thing that could spare us from the election being overturned would be a handful of Republican members of Congress, spread across a handful of delegations, being unwilling to overturn it. 

It’s a bad position to be in. In January 2021, though they did not get all the way to a Twelfth Amendment vote of the delegations, 70% of House Republicans voted against certifying the results of the Presidential election. Meanwhile, polling consistently shows that 65-70% of Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. The odds of enough Republican members of Congress turning their back on Donald Trump, their colleagues, and the vast majority of their voters in order to do the right thing for one single instant, and preserve American democracy, is worse than a coin toss. And it only gets worse if the election-denying MAGA fanatic faction wins all of the primaries. Wherever they are found this primary season, non-MAGA Republicans like Hurd warrant our support. Too much hangs in the balance to lift our noses at anyone willing to do the right thing when it matters.

And remember: that’s in the best case scenario.