With less than a month to go until Joe Biden is slated to be inaugurated the country’s 46th president, Trump and his coterie of post-election advisers appear to be working overtime to find ways to prevent a peaceful transfer of power. These are people outside the official government — from Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani to Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn — who are scheming in ever-more dangerous ways to use executive powers to bypass the actual election results and constitutional processes in order to keep their mafia-like regime alive. Many of them have been indicted, and in some cases, convicted, of a myriad of crimes. Flynn has already received Trump’s presidential pardon; and Bannon (already indicted) and Giuliani (likely to be indicted) would also clearly benefit from such largesse.
But, it’s not only this rogue’s gallery that is going all-in with Trump’s fascistic efforts to set aside an election that he lost by 7 million votes. Despite the fact that Mitch McConnell and other senior GOP senators have, at long last, acknowledged Biden as president-elect, the damage they did in delaying their acceptance of the election result until the Electoral College met on December 14 is immense. It has, in short, made space for lower-ranking GOP senators, House members, and state-level GOP politicians to opportunistically throw their lot in with the seditionists who are so actively trying to undermine the American democratic system of governance.
Part of this is simply theatrics: conservative politicians, in hock to a Trump-infatuated base, doing obeisance simply to protect their right flanks. For some politicians, part of it is about genuinely looking for ways to reverse the election result and preserve Trumpian power. And part of it, I suspect, is about staking out their own far-right positions in a post-Trump GOP as a new generation vies for the allegiance of the conspiracists and the white supremacists who now make up such a large part of the Republican Party’s grassroots.
Whatever the exact potpourri of motivations, the result is the same: A large part of the GOP, including a significant number of senators, is sticking with Trump as he goes down an overtly fascist, coup-plotting — and thus treasonous — route. In fact, when Forbes polled GOP members of Congress after the Electoral College vote, the vast majority still wouldn’t publicly accept Biden’s win.
The fact that senators are bucking Mitch McConnell on this issue is, given McConnell’s iron hold on his caucus these past many years, particularly extraordinary.
One of the U.S. senators still refusing to accept the election result, and still plotting ways to use the provisions of the 1887 Electoral Count Act — which allows a single senator to demand a full debate and vote on individual states’ electors — to disrupt Congress’s January 6 certification of the Electoral College vote, is newly elected Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville. He shares with Trump a performative, demagogic ability to rile up the mob, and has been telling GOP crowds that he won’t accept the election results — which he says are the result of Democratic operatives’ lying, cheating and stealing — and will likely challenge them in Congress on January 6.
Tuberville, who defeated Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November, is a rising star in the MAGA constellation. Setting off a food fight in the Senate a mere three days after he is seated would be as powerful a message as he could craft that he’s a natural heir to Trump’s extremist, irrationalist mantle.
Georgia’s two senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom are in tight election runoffs, have also repeatedly refused to say whether they accept Biden’s victory. And Loeffler has repeatedly refused to explicitly rule out the possibility of joining Tuberville and others in challenging state results, including her home state’s, in Congress.
Both the senators are in dead-heat races, according to polling, and both fear breaking with a Trumpian base that has, in recent weeks, begun calling for a boycott of the run-off elections in protest of what they say are Georgia’s fraudulent presidential election results. Loeffler and Perdue have both joined Trump in the past month in attacking Georgia’s secretary of state and governor — both Republicans — going so far as to demand the secretary of state resign for not managing to ensure a Trump victory.
McConnell’s junior colleague from Kentucky, Rand Paul, has continued to claim, without producing evidence, that the election was “stolen,” and has intimated that he, too, may force a Senate vote on whether or not to accept the electoral college result.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who has in recent weeks been particularly sycophantic in his pro-Trump activities, going so far as to convene hearings on election fraud, has hinted that he might also push to reject the Electoral College results.
Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom clearly have presidential ambitions of their own, have also suggested they are concerned enough about the results that they might consider challenging them in the Senate.
While the Constitution provides for such challenges, it is extremely rare for senators to actually force a debate and vote on the Electoral College results. In 2000, when George W. Bush won the presidency after the Supreme Court ordered an end to recounts in Florida, not a single senator challenged the results — despite Gore having won the popular vote, and despite all the controversy surrounding the outcome in Florida. To the contrary, Gore actually urged his party’s senators to forego challenging the results, reasoning it would only further fracture an already damaged polity and country.
Four years later, California Sen. Barbara Boxer did raise objections to the result in Ohio — which was dogged by allegations of voting irregularities — following Bush’s re-election in 2004; but defeated presidential candidate John Kerry didn’t back her challenges, no colleagues supported Boxer in her actions, and her efforts died a quick death.
In fact, since 1887, when the Electoral Count Act was passed, there have been no truly contested elections where the result was seriously cast into doubt by congressional intervention and by meaningful Senate opposition to certifying the Electoral College tally. And there have certainly been no losing presidential candidates prior to Trump who have themselves spearheaded efforts to build a congressional coalition to overturn an election result.
Trump’s willingness to go down this road in order to, in practice, destroy the democracy to maintain his hold on power arguably represents the most dangerous moment of political schism in the U.S. since the civil war. At such a moment, every person in a position of power owes it to the American people — not to mention the oath of office they took, swearing to uphold the constitutional order — to mightily push back against the plotters and the saboteurs operating out of the White House. Instead, in the final weeks leading up to the inauguration, Tuberville and his co-conspirators have leapt into bed with the would-be-tyrant. What a chilling warning about the fragility of the American democratic experiment.
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