This brings back memories – a December morning in Paris twenty years ago after staying up all night watching CNN-International in the hotel room. Somewhere in the middle of the night there was Al Gore on the screen, conceding the presidential election to George Bush, and then a long walk in the dead morning rain to a clean, well-lighted place and a chance encounter with a world-weary old man. Our discussion was deep and ironic.
That was positively cinematic. But this is stupid. None of us can go to Paris now. The French won’t let us in. The pandemic is worldwide and getting worse and Americans have cooties. But it doesn’t matter. Donald Trump isn’t Al Gore. Donald Trump is not going to concede defeat for the greater good, to avoid four more years of bitter chaos. Ten days after Election Day and seven days after the networks and news organizations and all the statistical shops called the election for Joe Biden. Donald Trump was rage-tweeting that all of them were wrong. All of it was rigged. He had won. And he could prove it. And he would prove it.
And he couldn’t prove it. He was defiant, a strong man who would never give up, but he seemed a small man whining that this wasn’t fair, and life wasn’t fair, and life should not be that way, because that wasn’t fair. This was most unpleasant. Al Gore had been stiff and wooden and prissy. George W. Bush was a bit of a goofball, and an uninformed goofball at that. But this Trump guy seemed belligerent about what was clearly nonsense and kind of stupid.
Things had changed in twenty years, and not for the better. The Washington Post covered this day that was not Paris long ago:
President Trump’s faltering efforts to challenge the election results suffered twin blows Friday, as Republicans contended with multiple legal setbacks and as the final state projections in the White House race gave President-elect Joe Biden a resounding 306 electoral votes.
In court, Republicans on Friday faced losses in Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, while another major law firm withdrew from its representation of the president.
Meanwhile, Edison Research projected that Biden won in Georgia, while Trump was victorious in North Carolina, the last states to be called in the race.
Together, the latest developments underscore what the president’s advisers have been privately acknowledging throughout the week: that heading off Biden’s victory is essentially impossible. To do so, Trump would have to somehow overturn his rival’s wins in three separate states.
In short, this was over. All the was left was watching this sad show slowly fall apart:
On Twitter, Trump remained defiant about his unfounded claims that results around the country were tainted by massive ballot fraud, even after federal and state government officials issued a joint statement Thursday saying that this year’s election “was the most secure in American history.”
The president countered in a tweet Friday: “This Election was Rigged.”
But he appeared subdued at a late-afternoon news conference to discuss progress in the quest for a vaccine for the coronavirus, and at one point he appeared to nearly slip and make reference to a future Biden administration.
“This administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully the – the, uh – whatever happens in the future – who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell,” he said.
Was that an admission that he understands he has lost? Who knows? Perhaps he was just tired, but this Washington Post item covers all his administration’s efforts in the courts – they were one for nineteen in getting any sort of ruling to look into things in any state. And no ruling would change more than a few votes. Biden would still win. And there was this:
The courtroom losses came as some prominent law firms have backed away from Trump’s legal efforts.
This week, the Phoenix-based law firm Snell & Wilmer withdrew from representing the Republican National Committee in Arizona. With more than 450 lawyers in 15 cities, the firm is one of the largest in the western United States.
Jones Day, a prominent Washington-based firm that has represented the Trump campaign since the 2016 election, put out a statement this week emphasizing that it is not representing the campaign in its post-Election Day challenges.
And two lawyers from Porter Wright Morris & Arthur – a large firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, that had been leading the Trump campaign’s efforts in Pennsylvania – filed a motion late Thursday to withdraw from a federal suit challenging the results, just days after the action was initiated.
“Plaintiffs and Porter Wright have reached a mutual agreement that Plaintiffs will be best served if Porter Wright withdraws,” attorneys Ronald L. Hicks Jr. and Carolyn B. McGee said in their motion.
All of his law firms were bailing on him. No one wanted to argue empty nonsense in front of a federal judge. That was too embarrassing and, as an officer of the court, claiming what was not true to be true can get you disbarred.
This was a bad afternoon for Trump. Ashley Parker saw this:
Friday’s news conference marked Trump’s first public comments after a full week of near-hibernation – and the first faint public hint that he understands his time in the White House is waning. Privately, Trump has matter-of-factly discussed a 2024 presidential run – something that would be unconstitutional were he expecting to serve a second consecutive term right now.
He knows it’s over and Parker thinks that showed:
After pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer announced Monday that it had developed a coronavirus vaccine that was more than 90 percent effective, Trump’s advisers had been urging him to tout the apparent success, which they argued was one of the key achievements of his presidency. But the president was reluctant to do so, angry that Pfizer had waited until after the election to announce the encouraging news – and believing that the drug company and his own Food and Drug Administration had withheld news that could have helped him at the polls.
Friday’s Rose Garden announcement, then, was that delayed victory lap – but Trump displayed almost no joy in what could have been a triumphant moment.
In fact, he seemed a beaten man:
Moncef Slaoui, the scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, the effort to spur development of a vaccine, said he expected to have 20 million doses ready for public distribution by December with “another 25 [million] to 30 million per month on an ongoing basis.”
But while the vaccine progress was encouraging for the nation, it was not necessarily good for Trump personally, or at least not for his 2020 prospects against Biden – the only metric he much cares about these days.
And so, as Trump rolled out pronouncements – that Operation Warp Speed was “unequaled and unrivaled,” and that it was “five times faster than the fastest vaccine development in history” – he did so with the dour, slightly defeated air of a man who knows his time is coming to an end.
And he was bitter:
Typical of Trump, he also used the occasion to settle scores with those he felt had aggrieved him.
He took aim at Pfizer itself, apparently still angry that the company had pointedly distanced itself from Operation Warp Speed when, after its vaccine announcement Monday, the Trump administration tried to claim credit.
“Pfizer said it wasn’t part of Warp Speed, but that turned out to be an unfortunate misrepresentation,” Trump said. “And it was an unfortunate mistake that they made when they said that.”
In fact, Pfizer did not accept federal funds for research into its coronavirus vaccine – but it did reach a deal with the administration to sell at least 100 million doses of its vaccine to the government.
Who cares? Trump cares. And there was this:
At another point, Trump also took aim at New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, who previously said that he did not trust the safety of any vaccine produced under the Trump administration and that he would independently review any drug before distributing it to New Yorkers.
“He doesn’t trust where the vaccine is coming from,” Trump said, referring to Cuomo, with whom he has clashed frequently over the deadly pandemic. “These are coming from the greatest companies anywhere in the world, greatest labs in the world, but he doesn’t trust the fact that it’s this White House, this administration, so we won’t be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so, and that pains me to say that.”
Cuomo, Trump added, “will have to let us know when he’s ready for it; otherwise, we can’t be delivering it to a state that won’t be giving it to its people immediately.”
Then, when the news conference was over, Trump – often combative and eager to spar with the White House press corps – turned and sauntered back inside, ignoring shouted questions.
And poof, like magic, this mean and bitter man, this man of endless grudges, was gone. And then there was this:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit back at President Donald Trump Friday evening after he threatened to withhold a forthcoming Covid-19 vaccine from New Yorkers, calling the president incompetent, delusional and retaliatory.
Incompetent, Delusional and Retaliatory sounds like the name of a law firm in a Monty Python skit, but Cuomo wasn’t laughing:
“The president lost New York state in the election by a huge margin. You have New York prosecutors who are investigating the president for tax fraud,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “This is his issue. It’s his credibility issue. It’s the fear that he politicized the health process of this nation, which is a well-founded fear.”
More than 50 percent of Americans in various polls said they worried about the efficacy of a rushed Covid-19 vaccine under the Trump administration, which Cuomo said has bullied scientists and other public health officials.
“Who’s going to put a needle in their arm if you don’t trust the approval process of the vaccine?” Cuomo said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
New York is one of a handful of states to institute panels to review FDA protocol as vaccines are made public. Once vaccine candidates can be independently verified for safety, Cuomo – along with governors in states such as California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – will “build confidence in people” to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
Cuomo had been clear. No one trusts you, for good reason!
Few do trust Trump, but Republicans are standing by him for now, which puzzles Ezra Klein:
The most alarming aspect of the past week is not Donald Trump’s anti-democratic efforts. He is doing exactly what he has always done, exactly what he said he would do. It’s the speed at which Republican elites have consolidated support around him. Without the Republican Party’s support, Trump is just the loser of an election, ranting ineffectually about theft as a way to rationalize defeat. With the Republican Party’s support, he’s a danger to the country.
Four years of bitter chaos is a danger to the country. Claiming elections are bullshit is a danger to the country:
Some Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, have wholeheartedly endorsed Trump’s claims. On Monday, the South Carolina senator said that Trump should not concede the election and that “Republicans win because of our ideas and we lose elections because [Democrats] cheat.” Others – including Vice President Mike Pence and Sens. Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley – have signaled solidarity with the president, while not quite endorsing his conspiracy theories. The message is clear: When faced with the choice of loyalty to Trump and the legitimacy of the democratic process, Republicans are more than willing to throw democracy under the bus.
Klein asks Anne Applebaum about what’s going on here. She might know. She’s a senior fellow of international affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her new book is Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism and she sees this:
Lindsey Graham is particularly difficult to explain when you look at his background. If you were to look at him as a type, you would imagine him to be the most loyal American patriot and admirer of the Constitution. He has a very strong affiliation to the military. He got through college on a military scholarship. His parents died when he was young, so he had a hard-knock story and was saved by the American military. And he’s said that many times. If you were to imagine a type of person who would never betray American ideals, it would be Lindsey Graham.
But this is where you have to get into questions of personality and personal weakness. Graham is clearly someone who needs to be around a leader. For many, many years, he was John McCain’s sidekick. And in those years, he was a McCain Republican. I saw him at conferences in Europe where he talked about America’s role in the world, America promoting democracy. And then when McCain died, he seemed to need another role and he attached himself to Trump.
And that’s where this all went sour:
He appears to like the role of a power broker. When he runs into journalists in Washington, he likes recounting how he was just on the phone with the president. So, the feeling of being close to power, of being next to someone important, this seems like a role that he is psychologically attached to playing. It’s a recognizable personality type.
It’s a recognizable Republican, but Jennifer Rubin sees something less esoteric:
Guessing when President Trump would turn presidential, and when Republicans would stand up to him, started as exercises in wishful thinking and soon became the stuff of sarcastic memes. At some point during the Trump presidency – the impeachment, perhaps – even the most optimistic observers would have to confess neither was going to happen.
Now we are told Republicans are “humoring” Trump so he can process his loss – or maybe to keep him from sabotaging the Republican candidates in the Senate runoffs in Georgia. Then again, maybe the Republicans play along out of fear of the MAGA crowd’s fury. Not to worry, we are told. Soon it will be settled, and Republicans will move on. The fond hope for Republicans to return to Earth 1 and find their spines would be funny if not so tragic for democracy.
Does anyone imagine Trump will ever accept that he lost fair and square? Of course not, and, therefore, the Republican Party will be forced to agree for the foreseeable future.
But that’s what they have to do:
What options do Republicans have?
First, the band of reality-based Republicans (easily identified as the people who admit Biden won) could decide they’ve had enough. (More than one reader has suggested that if a group of three or four refuses to caucus with either side, they’d hold the balance of power and run the Senate.) The party at that point might splinter or suffer ongoing convulsions as the two sides (one pro-reality and pro-democracy, the other anti-both) fight it out.
Second, Republicans’ bad behavior might bring on more losses in 2022 as voters decide divided government with a delusional, obstructionist party is worse than one-party government. Then, perhaps, the self-correction might take place.
However, I think a third scenario is most likely: Republicans will by and large insist Trump was robbed, use that to rationalize complete obstruction of the Biden administration, and limp along as they incite their base through one feigned outrage and fake scandal after another.
So, forget personality analysis. This is just fear, and just a way to make a living, but Michelle Goldberg sees this:
It’s hard to tell whether Donald Trump is attempting a coup or throwing a tantrum.
Crying voter fraud, his administration has refused to begin a presidential transition despite his decisive electoral defeat. Some Republicans have floated the idea of getting legislatures in states that Joe Biden won to disregard vote totals and instead appoint pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College. The president has decapitated the Pentagon, putting fanatical loyalists in some of its highest ranks. Anthony Tata, who called Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and tweeted a lurid fantasy about the execution of the former CIA director John Brennan, is now the Pentagon’s policy chief. This is all supremely alarming.
But it’s not that alarming:
Trump has been sending out frantic fund-raising requests to “defend the election,” but as The New York Times reports, most of the money is actually going to a PAC, Save America, that “will be used to underwrite Mr. Trump’s post-presidential activities.” Axios reports that Trump is considering starting a digital media company to undermine Fox News, which he now regards as disloyal.
These moves suggest that while Trump may be willing to torch American democracy to salve his wounded ego, at least part of him is getting ready to leave office.
That would mean no coup, because he really did win this thing:
When he finally does leave, some political observers and Republican professionals assume he’ll remain a political kingmaker, and will be a favorite for the party’s nomination in 2024. The Times reported, “Allies imagined other Republicans making a pilgrimage to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida seeking his blessing.” Senator Marco Rubio told The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey, “If he runs in 2024, he’ll certainly be the front-runner, and then he’ll probably be the nominee.”
Goldberg doubts that:
Once Trump is no longer president, he is likely to be consumed by lawsuits and criminal investigations. Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt will come due. Lobbyists and foreign dignitaries won’t have much of a reason to patronize Mar-a-Lago or his Washington hotel. Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch could complete the transition from Trump’s enabler to his enemy. And, after four years of cartoonish self-abasement, Republicans with presidential aspirations will have an incentive to help take him down…
It’s too much to expect any sudden exposure of Trump. There will be no cathartic moment when everyone realizes that the emperor was always naked. But the question isn’t whether Trump’s support will evaporate. It’s whether it will erode, especially once he loses the ability to make Republican dreams come true.
And this has happened before:
As Republican House majority leader, Tom DeLay was frequently described as the most powerful man in Congress. Then, in 2005, he was indicted on a charge of campaign money laundering. Though his 2010 conviction was eventually overturned on appeal, the last time he had any significant public profile was when he appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009.
Sarah Palin, too, was once a Republican icon; in many ways she presaged Trump. “Win or Lose, Many See Palin as Future of Party,” said a New York Times headline just before the 2008 election. It quoted the right-wing activist Brent Bozell: “Conservatives have been looking for leadership, and she has proved that she can electrify the grass roots like few people have in the last 20 years.”
But since resigning as Alaska’s governor in 2009, Palin has lost her luster. Once a likely presidential prospect, she recently made headlines for wearing a pink and purple bear costume on the Fox reality show “The Masked Singer.”
And then there’s Donald Trump:
Trump is in for years of scandals and humiliations. We will doubtlessly find out more about official misdeeds he tried to keep secret as president. Republicans who hope to succeed him will have reason to start painting him as a loser instead of a savior. He’ll have to devote much of his energy to trying to stay out of prison.
After all that, could he be back in 2024? Of course. Trump is, if nothing else, relentless. But this election was just the latest reminder that he is far from invincible. When he is no longer in office, there will be many more.
He’ll be gone. Fine, but Republicans will still be here. Ezra Klein adds this:
Imagine that, four years ago, Donald Trump lost the presidential election by 2.9 million votes, but there was no Electoral College to weight the results in his favor. In January 2017, Hillary Clinton was inaugurated as president, and the Trumpist faction of the GOP was blamed for blowing an election Republicans could have won. The GOP would have been locked out of presidential power for three straight terms, after winning the crucial popular vote only once since 1988. It might have lost the Supreme Court, too.
And so, Republicans would likely have done what Democrats did in 1992, after they lost three straight presidential elections: reform their agenda and their messaging, and try to build a broader coalition, one capable of winning power by winning votes. This is the way democracy disciplines political parties: Parties want to win, and to do so, they need to listen to the public. But that’s only true for one of our political parties.
Kevin Drum adds this:
This is what we lost in 2016: a chance for the Republican Party to finally face up to its problems and start moving back toward the center. It generally takes at least three consecutive losses before a party is willing to do that, and the GOP win in 2016 reset that clock back to zero. Then 2020 reset it again. At this point, there’s little chance of Republican Party reform happening any time this decade.
And thus, Trump will be back, even more incompetent, delusional and retaliatory. Ah, but there was that rainy December day in Paris twenty years ago, when the world was a better place. That’s something to hold onto.