After five years spent bullying the Republican Party into submission, President Donald Trump finally met his match in Aaron Van Langevelde.
That’s right. In the end, it wasn’t a senator or a judge or a general who stood up to the leader of the free world. There was no dramatic, made-for-Hollywood collision of cosmic egos. Rather, the death knell of Trump’s presidency was sounded by a baby-faced lawyer, looking over his glasses on a grainy Zoom feed on a gloomy Monday afternoon, reading from a statement that reflected a courage and moral clarity that has gone AWOL from his party, pleading with the tens of thousands of people watching online to understand that some lines can never be uncrossed.
“We must not attempt to exercise power we simply don’t have,” declared Van Langevelde, a member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, the ministerial body with sole authority to make official Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. “As John Adams once said, we are a government of laws, not men. This board needs to adhere to that principle here today. This board must do its part to uphold the rule of law and comply with our legal duty to certify this election.”
Van Langevelde is a Republican. He works for Republicans in the statehouse. He gives legal guidance to advance Republican causes and win Republican campaigns. As a Republican, his mandate for Monday’s hearing — handed down from the state party chair, the national party chair and the president himself — was straightforward. They wanted Michigan’s board of canvassers to delay certification of Biden’s victory. Never mind that Trump lost by more than 154,000 votes, or that results were already certified in all 83 counties. The plan was to drag things out, to further muddy the election waters and delegitimize the process, to force the courts to take unprecedented actions that would forever taint Michigan’s process of certifying elections. Not because it was going to help Trump win but because it was going to help Trump cope with a loss. The president was not accepting defeat. That meant no Republican with career ambitions could accept it, either.
Which made Van Langevelde’s vote for certification all the more remarkable. With the other Republican on the four-person board, Norman Shinkle, abstaining on the final vote — a cowardly abdication of duty — the 40-year-old Van Langevelde delivered the verdict on his own. At a low point in his party’s existence, with much of the GOP’s leadership class pre-writing their own political epitaphs by empowering Trump to lay waste to the country’s foundational democratic norms, an obscure lawyer from West Michigan etched his name into history by standing on principle. It proved to be the nail in Trump’s coffin: Shortly after Michigan’s vote to certify, the General Services Administration finally commenced the official transition of power and Trump tweeted out a statement affirming the move “in the best interest of our Country.”
Still, the drama in Lansing raised deeper questions about the health of our political system and the sturdiness of American democracy. Why were Republicans who privately admitted Trump’s legitimate defeat publicly alleging massive fraud? Why did it fall to a little-known figure like Van Langevelde to buffer the country from an unprecedented layer of turmoil? Why did the battleground state that dealt Trump his most decisive defeat — by a wide margin — become the epicenter of America’s electoral crisis?
Read the rest in POLITICO Magazine, a story based on Tim’s conversations with more than two dozen Michigan insiders — elected officials, party elders, consultants, activists — about why the state was ripe for this sort of slow-motion disaster.