I must begin by saying that no one is sicker of this than I am. I did not wish to spend even one precious moment of 2021 writing about the election just past. We have serious work to do, beginning with getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible, so we can get on with a post-pandemic national reset that: rights our damaged international standing; helps our small businesses get back on their feet; seriously addresses climate change before it is too late; ferrets out and fixes inequities in our public health, education, and law enforcement bureaucracies that the virus laid bare; and begins to finally rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
This week, in a stunning and futile display of political cynicism and naked ambition, about a dozen Senate Republicans and two-thirds of the Republicans in the House are putting on a play. In what they see as a risk-free final act in the reality TV show that has been the Trump administration, these electeds are elbowing each other out of the way to publicly curry favor with Trump and his sizable audience for such antics. The most dangerous place in the room is between their leader, Ted Cruz, and the television cameras.
They aren’t so much freedom fighters as they are opportunists.
They know the election system worked fine; they’re just channeling the President’s ire at losing in the hope that he will anoint them as worthy successors to his crown. They are not the crusaders out to save American democracy that they claim to be. They are willing to subvert the system because—with all of the social-, ethical-, and political-norms that have been stripped away over the last four years—they think it will benefit them.
Their game is not to win, but to make sure the audience knows where they stand. They are demonstrably defying the will of the majority of American voters by demanding that those voters and their votes be cast aside in favor of the November election’s loser. While that comes with the risk that voters will turn them out for undermining the republic and the rule of law, they fear Trump a lot more than they do the voters. They fear that he’ll have the political half-life of cobalt-60, and remain able to lord his support and money over them long after his term expires. How much clout he will actually have a year from now is an open question.
Having exhausted their legal options, they’re now just fundraising for future runs. The specious claims and frankly silly conspiracy theories have netted Trump over two hundred million dollars since November, with seventy-five percent of the haul going directly to his PAC, and a quarter going to the RNC, not to any legal battle.
Publicly, they alleged fraud that they couldn’t prove in a court of law, and rarely bothered to mention in the more than four-dozen cases that they lost. Instead, after the flashy press conferences on the steps of various courthouses, they went into the courtrooms not with allegations of fraud, but with the equally unsupportable legal argument that states should not be allowed to make their own election laws. The courts, mainly overseen by Republican-appointed judges including at the Supreme Court, disagreed.
There is no “there” there, and they know it.
You would think that losing 59 out of 60 lawsuits would settle the case, but now we find that this delusionary disease is communicable. You might think that one virus at a time is enough.
Here’s a sampling of what Republicans and conservative media are saying:
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, generally a cheerleader for the president over the last four years, weighed in by calling it a “kamikaze mission,” adding that “Republicans should be embarrassed by Mr. Trump’s Electoral College hustle.”
Former Speaker of the House, Paul D. Ryan (R., WI), urged his former colleagues on Sunday to abandon their challenge to the results, calling it the most “anti-democratic and anti-conservative act” he could think of.
The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch publication that has never wavered in its support, led with this headline: “Give it up, Mr. President — for your sake and the nation’s.”
Ben Sasse, the principled conservative Republican senator from Nebraska said it best: They’re attempting to “Disenfranchise millions of Americans…Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Mr. Sasse wrote. “But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
Republican strategist Tom Nichols said it funniest: “If it were a movie sequel, it would be called ‘Dumb Fellas.’”