The window is closing on Donald Trump’s impotent legal efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden. Almost every state reached its safe harbor deadline Tuesday, compelling Congress to accept their election results. The absurd lawsuits filed on his behalf continue to be rejected—most recently by the Supreme Court, which on Tuesday declined to hear a case brought against Pennsylvania, one of the states that cemented Biden’s win last month. And, in less than a week, electors will meet to make that victory official.
Trump is nonetheless keeping the farce going, claiming during what was ostensibly an Operation Warp Speed event at the White House Tuesday that “we won in those swing states,” but that his supposed success was undercut by a broad Democratic conspiracy. “There was terrible things that went on,” he said, calling on a “legislator or legislatures…a justice of the Supreme Court or a number of justices on the Supreme Court” to intervene on his behalf. “Let’s see if they have the courage to do what everybody in this country knows is right,” he said.
It was shortly after those remarks that the Supreme Court, to which he appointed three justices, denied the injunction Pennsylvania Republicans had requested—a strong signal that the high court, no matter how conservative, is not going to be any more accepting of Trumpworld’s frivolous and anti-democratic claims than the lower courts have been.
As for the legislatures, some state Republicans are going along with his efforts to undermine democracy. Some GOP lawmakers in Arizona’s House and Senate, which have closed temporarily after they were exposed to COVID-19 by the president’s infected lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have endorsed Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen.” More than a dozen current or newly elected Republicans earlier this week attended a so-called “Protect the Vote” rally in Phoenix. “We need to decertify the election,” one said. In Pennsylvania, which Biden also won, the state’s House speaker was one of 64 Republicans to sign a letter calling for its election results to be thrown out by the United States Congress—a reflection, for some in the party, of the fear they have of crossing Trump’s base. “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” Kim Ward, the top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate, told the New York Times, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”
Such worries aren’t necessarily unfounded; officials, even some who had been Trump loyalists, have received death threats for breaking with the president, and just last week, the home of Michigan’s secretary of state was surrounded by an armed mob. But in endorsing or remaining silent on Trump’s conspiracy theories, whether it’s because they believe them or see them as politically advantageous or are afraid of retribution, they are complicit in an unprecedented, all-out assault on American democracy from within.
So too, of course, are the national Republicans, who with very few exceptions have continued to enable their unhinged party leader. On Tuesday, one GOP member of the House, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, floated a resolution that would condemn any lawmaker who presses their Dear Leader to “concede prematurely before these investigations are complete.” That might not go anywhere, and might be easy to dismiss as the posturing of one relatively obscure congressman. More difficult to overlook, though, was Republican leaders’ uniform refusal the same day to formally recognize Biden and Kamala Harris as the president-elect and vice president-elect. Democrats on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies had put forth a resolution to acknowledge “the transition of power” from the Trump administration to the incoming Biden administration. But the committee’s three Republicans—Mitch McConnell, Roy Blunt, and Kevin McCarthy—all shot it down. “It is not the job of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to get ahead of the electoral process and decide who we are inaugurating,” Blunt said.
It’s tempting to call what GOP lawmakers are doing cowardice. But more than a month after the election—and with the president having not only failed to produce any evidence, but even a cogent claim—it’s clear that an embarrassing lack of courage only partly explains their ongoing allegiance to Trump. Some, like the Republicans who have privately congratulated Biden but will not do so publicly, or the ones who anonymously air their concerns about Trump to the press, are certainly indulging in this madness because they’re afraid of getting a mean tweet directed at them. But it seems clear that there are also some who share in Trump’s indifference to democratic principles, prioritizing power over all else. Utah Senator Mike Lee practically said as much in October, a month before Election Day: “We’re not a democracy,” he tweeted, justifying the minority rule his party has inflicted on the country.
It’s fair to assume that many in the GOP are going along with Trump’s election lies and delusions for the same reason they have engaged in voter disenfranchisement schemes: as a means to an end. If there’s a difference here, it’s that this is all so transparently cartoonish. A few Republicans, including another Utah senator, have found it in themselves to say that this has all gone too far. “Trying to get electors not to do what the people voted to do is madness,” Mitt Romney said Tuesday. “It would be saying, ‘Look, let’s not follow the vote of the people, let’s instead do what we want.’ That would not be the way a democratic republic ought to work.” But unless others in his party are willing to say as much, Trump will continue to push this all as far as he can.
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