US President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election get more confusing by the day, even as they remain doomed to failure. The latest development was well-summarised by his tweets.
It’s time to put an end to it. There are three baskets of Republican elected officials right now. One group, most likely a fairly small minority, is gung-ho to use whatever power they can summon to subvert democracy. A second group, the majority, isn’t really thrilled with undemocratic, illegal and unconstitutional actions, but is also terrified of Trump and perhaps willing to enjoy the benefits in the unlikely event that he succeeds. But there’s also a third group that has stepped up before to support democracy, elections and the rule of law.
So far, it’s been sufficient for responsible Republicans to simply accept the election of President-elect Joe Biden.
But Trump continues to press increasingly far-fetched schemes like asking judges to invalidate legal votes and pressuring local officials to try to nominate Trump-friendly electors (that is, the members of the electoral college who actually cast the final votes for president) in states where Biden won. Republican Senators Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse have all acknowledged that Biden won the election. Eleven House Republicans have joined them. They could end any suspense “- there isn’t any really, but they could bring more finality to it “- by releasing a statement making the following points:
They could add that while Trump has the right to contest the results in the courts, he has a responsibility as president to stop short of pressing frivolous cases and of amplifying false rumours and conspiracy theories. Well over two weeks after the election, Trump and his team have produced nothing even close to the kind of evidence that would bring any of the results into question, let alone flip the outcome in three or four states that would be needed to change the final result.
Look: The most likely outcome is still that Trump’s efforts will fizzle out, and that the appointment of electors and the counting of their votes will become the purely ceremonial event that it always has been. But Trump has now gone from legitimately contesting the election to illegitimately attempting to steal it, and in the process he’s undermining confidence in democracy. People are threatening election officials trying to do their jobs, and Trump is putting pressure on Republican elected officials to join him.
A few Republican senators issuing a clear statement now could make it clear that all of it is even more pointless than it currently appears. That would be good for the Republican Party, and good for the nation.
Jonathan Bernstein is a columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas