As Donald Trump backs out of the White House kicking and screaming, tensions are rising in a right-wing-media world divided between those who are unquestioningly loyal to Trump, and those who are abandoning the ship before its January 20 decommission date. After Trump’s latest attempt to steal the 2020 election, in which he called Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, begging him to “find” 11,780 votes—exactly enough for him to surpass Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state—conservative-media figures find themselves at yet another line in the sand drawn by the outgoing president’s inability to accept reality.
The Washington Examiner has gradually veered in a pro-Trump direction, undergoing a staff shakeup in early 2019 that some reportedly feared would take it in a direction more accommodating to the president. But after Trump essentially tried pressuring Raffensperger to buck election law, Examiner senior columnist Timothy Carney wrote that the stunt “might destroy the Republican Party and the conservative movement.” The piece argued that Trump, whom it described as a “narcissist” incapable of accepting defeat, is carrying out an “idiotic” power grab. “And now the test of being a Real Republican is whether you support this destructive farce,” it noted, referencing the coalition of GOP lawmakers who appear ready to ride or die with Trump and his delusions. Those who don’t, it noted, “including Reps. Chip Roy and Thomas Massie and Sen. Mike Lee…will be, no doubt, excoriated as fake conservatives, swamp-dwellers, and RINOs. This is a perverse litmus test.”
In response to a group of GOP senators and senators-elect, led by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, attempting to audit election results via an “Electoral Commission,” one of National Review’s more pro-Trump columnists joined ranks with the president’s deserters. On Sunday, Andrew C. McCarthy wrote that the 12 Republican senators who plan to object to the January 6 certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory are instigating “a lawless gambit” and a calculated, partisan “farce that, if Democrats tried it, would be decried by conservative constitutionalists as the ultimate Swamp usurpation of state sovereignty.” McCarthy, who authored a 2019 book defending Trump during his impeachment that was cosigned by the president himself, went on to argue that while he “supported Trump…he lost. It’s a shame he can’t find it within himself to accept that and appreciate—as, for example, Richard Nixon did in 1960—how threatening to national cohesion a protracted post-election crusade could be. But how much more damage are his diehard supporters willing to do to the Republican Party and the conservative cause it purports to serve?”
A separate National Review editorial published Sunday—”The Folly of the Cruz Eleven”—argued that if “the Cruz-led objectors somehow actually got their way, they’d trample federal law and state sovereignty and blow a hole in the hull of American democracy.” And The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a staple of the conservative establishment, wrote Sunday that while Trump “doesn’t seem to care what damage he does in promoting the myth of his victory,” such damage will spread as he “puts pressure on other Republicans to take up his lost cause.” These objections in Congress likely will not result in any significant progress for Trumpworld, but a dozen senators and more than 100 members of Congress threatening to reject the will of electors on Wednesday marks an escalation from Republicans merely hyping Trump’s conspiracy theories. So while significantly more lawmakers would have to join them for a chance at stopping the Electoral College certification, the public appearance of objecting to Biden’s victory gives possible 2024 hopefuls like Hawley and Cruz a chance to boost their celebrity status among Trump’s base.
On the Trump side of this “perverse litmus test” is Newsmax, a once-obscure conservative outlet that propelled itself closer to the mainstream by attacking Fox News from the right—a lane that opened when the top cable-news network did not go all-in on the president’s “stolen election��� claims. While Newsmax has finally granted Biden the “president-elect” title, the network quickly stepped in to defend Trump after The Washington Post published audio of the Raffensperger–Trump phone call. “The Washington Post claimed that in his talk with Raffensperger, Trump ‘repeatedly urged him to alter the outcome of the presidential vote in the state.’ This claim is false,” reads a Newsmax piece. “The transcript of the call shows Trump demanding an honest accounting of the ballots, which he says would give him more than 11,000 votes.” Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that frequently traffics in conspiracy theories, tore into Raffensperger for calling “the President, our President, a liar,” and “[leaking] the call to the nasty anti-Trump publication, The Washington Post.” The blog concluded that “there is nothing that the President says that is untrue [during the call]. Raffensperger lied about the President lying but this is what liars do—liars call other people liars.”
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