Long ago, or what seems long now, in 2016, Republicans wanted a Republican president for a change, and so did a clear minority of the voters who in turn created a clear majority in the Electoral College. Obama had been too popular and too steady and a president without any real scandals – nothing would stick to him. And the economy had slowly but convincingly recovered and Obamacare had slowly but convincingly become a fine idea, and that Osama fellow was dead too. At this rate, the whole country would soon turn into California – not a Republican in sight anywhere. But things looked good for the Republicans. Hillary Clinton was superbly qualified for the presidency, with eight years as first lady and all those years as a senator from New York sitting on all the important committees and then her years as secretary of state. She knew stuff. She knew all the world leaders. And she was a thoroughly unlikeable person. The Benghazi thing hadn’t worked out but they could make her emails a scandal of sorts. More than enough people would believe the worst. More than enough people wanted to believe the worst.
Republicans counted on that. Their minority could, with the quirks of the Electoral College in play, win this. Hillary Clinton did end up winning the popular vote by almost three million votes, but those are the votes that don’t matter much. The Republicans had this thing in the bag. They’d get their Republican president. But no, they got Donald Trump instead, and they’d have to pretend he was a Republican for the next four years.
This was awkward. He didn’t often pretend back. The Republicans got their judges but little else. Trump loved dictators and hated our allies, and he loved trade wars, and spending lots of money that the government didn’t have. And he was a buffoon. There were all the unhinged tweets too. Republicans got used to hiding from reporters who’d ask them about all of this. They could no longer say wait, just wait, he’ll settle into the job. He didn’t settle into the job and he never would, and they hid. And they kept pretending they had their very own Republican president once again.
They didn’t. In the final days of his first and certainly only term he finally turned on them. The Washington Post has that story:
President Trump’s planned trip to Georgia on Saturday to campaign for two Senate candidates in tight runoff races has some anxious Republicans concerned that he could do more harm than good by repeating false claims about the voting system, attacking GOP officials and further inflaming a simmering civil war within the state party.
He has ripped the party apart, creating chaos:
Leading the charge on one side were two lawyers who say they support Trump. At a fiery news conference Wednesday, they urged Republicans to withhold their votes from the Jan. 5 runoffs if leaders do not fight to overturn the November election results in the state, which Trump narrowly lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Republican state legislators, meanwhile, aligning themselves with Trump’s baseless claims, held hearings Thursday in the Georgia Capitol to hear testimony about alleged voting irregularities – echoing similar GOP-orchestrated events in other state capitals in recent days that have sought to undermine public faith in election results.
That’s one side. Elections are stupid. Elections are hopelessly corrupt. Call them off. Call them all off. Let the state legislatures choose the president, and never vote for any Republican who says otherwise, or maybe not:
Other Republicans denounced the claims. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and a senior member of his staff, Gabriel Sterling, blamed Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric for a surge of threats against state and local election officials and even Raffensperger’s wife and grown children. And more than a dozen longtime Georgia Republicans penned a letter urging the party to come together and focus on winning the Senate seats.
“Without every vote cast for President Trump and all our Republican candidates on November 3 also being cast in the U.S. Senate runoffs, the trajectory of our State and Nation will be irreparably altered on January 5th,” said the letter, which was signed by prominent Republicans such as former governor Nathan Deal and former senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
And then there’s the guy who was never a Republican in the first place:
The president, Republican advisers say, is key to persuading his die-hard supporters to vote for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in a lower-turnout special election that will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Republicans hold 50 Senate seats, with Democrats holding 48. But Trump could also do considerable damage, some in the party fear, by pushing some moderate Republicans to stay home or vote for the Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff, who is challenging Perdue, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is up against Loeffler.
If they stay home that gives the Democrats the Senate, to go along with the House and the White House. Trump gives the Democrats that. Maybe he already has:
At rallies for both candidates, Trump receives louder chants than anyone else. Backers often yell, without prompting, “Stop the steal!” – even as other Republican candidates try to focus the crowd…
Repeatedly, the politicians have tried to focus on the Senate, and what Democratic control of the U.S. government could mean, while voters returned to helping Trump.
After a call from Trump’s supporters of “Stop the steal!” during an event in Georgia last month, Perdue replied with more ambiguous language. “Hold the line,” he said. The crowd stuck with “Stop the steal!”
It may be too late, because things got too hot:
At a rally Wednesday in Alpharetta, a few miles north of Atlanta, pro-Trump lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell cast doubt on the legitimacy of any election held with the equipment and rules used on Nov. 3. It was, essentially, a don’t-get-out-and-vote rally. Wood encouraged the crowd of hundreds to protest outside Kemp’s home, demanding a special session on the election, then the governor’s resignation. Wood also told the crowd not to vote for the Senate candidates unless they demand a special session of the Georgia legislature on Dominion Voting Systems, the voting-machine company that Trump and his allies have falsely claimed rigged the election in Georgia and elsewhere.
“As far as I’m concerned, lock him up,” Wood said of Kemp, who certified Biden’s win in Georgia two weeks ago.
Wood paced back and forth onstage, repeatedly calling for Kemp to leave office.
“He’ll never get my vote again,” Wood said. “He’s never going to get your vote again, is he?”
A chorus of “No!” rang out from the crowd.
And then there was the conspiracy woman:
Powell insisted results in Georgia and other states were altered, although the hand audit of all Georgia ballots completed last month disproved that. She suggested an election be conducted entirely with paper ballots “that are signed and have a thumbprint on them,” which would violate Georgia’s constitutional requirement of a secret ballot.
“I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all unless your vote is secure,” Powell said. “There should not be a runoff, certainly not on Dominion machines.”
Yes, the machines were rigged, and she is a bother:
Trump campaign and Republican National Committee officials say the lawyers – Powell and Wood – do not represent them or the president, though Trump at one point said Powell was on his legal team, only to reverse course.
No one is happy:
Lawrence “Lane” Flynn, the chair of the DeKalb County Republican Party, said he has been dealing with issues with the DeKalb County elections board for the past month, mostly concerning the volunteers needed – sometimes on short notice – to help settle questions over ballots.
“You’ve got these lunatics out there, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, just inventing absolute fiction,” Flynn said. “Anytime it goes to court, it gets laughed out. And so, they don’t take it to court – they just have rallies and speeches where they can say whatever they want with no fact checking. And that apparently is what some people want to hear, and so they believe it.”
And then the Big Guy shows up:
The visit Saturday by Trump – who will host a rally in the conservative southern Georgia city of Valdosta – will be a pivotal moment.
Aides say RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and others have talked Trump into making the trip by arguing he would be credited for the Senate wins if he went – and blamed for losses regardless.
The Republicans have nothing to lose now. Not after Wednesday night. Philip Rucker describes that:
Escalating his attack on democracy from within the White House, President Trump on Wednesday distributed an astonishing 46-minute video rant filled with baseless allegations of voter fraud and outright falsehoods in which he declared the nation’s election system “under coordinated assault and siege” and argued that it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost to President-elect Joe Biden.
Standing behind the presidential lectern in the Diplomatic Reception Room and flanked by the flags of his office and of the country whose Constitution he swore an oath to uphold, Trump tried to leverage the power of the presidency to subvert the vote and overturn the election results.
The rambling and bellicose monologue – which Trump said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made” and was delivered direct-to-camera with no audience – underscored his desperation to reverse the outcome of his election loss after a month of failed legal challenges and as some key states already have certified Biden’s victory.
It was the same thing. Elections are stupid. Elections are hopelessly corrupt. Abandon this one:
Trump delivered in person many of the claims he previously has advanced on social media or that his lawyers have brought on his behalf in courts, which have been debunked or summarily dismissed because there is no evidence to support them.
Trump claimed in Wednesday’s video, again without evidence, that “corrupt forces” had stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. He claimed the fraud was “massive” and “on a scale never seen before.” He called on the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” which he suggested entailed terminating hundreds of thousands of votes so that “I very easily win in all states.”
Let his new Supreme Court decide this, because it’s an impossible mess:
Although Trump last week authorized his administration to cooperate with Biden’s transition, he still has refused to concede. With Wednesday’s remarks, the president intensified his protest of the results and threatened to disrupt the nation’s long history of a peaceful transfer of power.
“This election was rigged. Everybody knows it,” Trump said…
Trump also claimed that Dominion Voting Systems, which manufactures voting machines used in many states, was “very suspect” and that many voters who pressed the button for “Trump” had their votes counted for Biden. There is no evidence that votes were in any way compromised, and Dominion has said there is no merit to Trump’s claims.
And that was that:
Trump’s video Wednesday represented his most comprehensive remarks yet about the election and came after he has spent the month since the election largely hidden from public view, save for a handful of official appearances and a call-in appearance on Fox News Channel.
Any hope that the president might be slowly coming to grips with his loss and accepting the fact that Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20 was dashed by his combative and emphatic tone, which amounted to a call to arms to his supporters.
But this wasn’t a call to arms to Republicans. He’s not one of them. They turned on him.
This is odd, and Philip Bump sees this:
Since polls closed Nov. 3, Trump’s public response to his loss has been one of exasperation, the spoiled child suddenly told that he can’t do something he wants to do. Some part of this is political, an effort to lash out at President-elect Joe Biden and to impose an emotional cost on Democrats broadly. But there’s obviously something deeper and more psychological at play, a darker shadow of refusal and frustration and fury that can’t as easily be countered with simple rationality.
For all of the reporting about how Trump understands that he lost the race and is discussing a potential run in 2024, the speech released Wednesday did not convey any calculated assessment of the situation.
In fact, there wasn’t anything new here:
It was a pastiche of so much that we’ve heard so often. It presented no coherent case for the existence of fraud, instead substituting a volume of accusations for an abundance of proof. Having hundreds of people make unfounded allegations isn’t proof of wrongdoing, as any review of those sheaves of affidavits collected by Trump’s campaign from various supporters makes clear. Having one person make hundreds of unfounded allegations isn’t proof either – but Trump’s goal isn’t proving each point. It’s getting Americans to accept maybe just one or two, so that they’re receptive to his broader point: Something Must Be Done.
Sure, but that something isn’t clear:
At first it was to block the counting of ballots that were showing he lost key states such as Pennsylvania. Then it was to block the certification of votes in states such as Michigan. Then it was to try to get state legislatures to appoint new, Trump-friendly electors to the electoral college. Then it was to get a case to the Supreme Court where something magical would slice through the Gordian knot tied by American voters.
But now there’s even more to this:
His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his former attorney have endorsed the idea that Trump should somehow try to step outside the boundaries of the Constitution to force some sort of re-vote supervised by the military: an overt coup to supplant Trump’s lazier attempt. Trump didn’t endorse that idea in his speech, but given what he’s already endorsed, we shouldn’t assume the thought hasn’t crossed his mind.
And that’s real trouble:
The essential question of the moment is how far Trump wants to go. Was this his way of sulking? Was the speech a lengthy vent, an airing of grievances without peer in American history? Or was it a sign Trump will continue to want to push the understood boundaries of what our electoral system allows?
The second most important question is whether his enthusiastic base of supporters will recognize the difference between those two motivations.
But now his own government is turning against him:
The official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Justice Department has been banned from the building after trying to pressure staffers to give up sensitive information about election fraud and other matters she could relay to the White House, three people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press.
Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, was quietly installed at the Justice Department as a White House liaison a few months ago. She was told within the last two weeks to vacate the building after top Justice officials learned of her efforts to collect insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud, the people said.
Stirrup is accused of approaching staffers in the department demanding they give her information about investigations, including election fraud matters, the people said.
She was collecting what she could for the president’s conspiracy files and Bill Barr tossed her out of the building. He’s had enough of this nonsense:
Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr told the AP that U.S. attorneys and the FBI had looked into allegations of election irregularities and found no evidence of widespread voting fraud that would change the outcome of the election.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” he said on Tuesday.
Trump shot back at Barr on Thursday, saying the Justice Department “hasn’t looked very hard” and calling it a disappointment. But he stopped short of implying Barr’s future as attorney general could be cut short.
“Ask me that in a number of weeks from now,” Trump said when asked if he still has confidence in Barr.
So, who is left on Trump’s side now, at his side? He’s clearly not a Republican, or not much of one, and not much of a power if his attorney general bans his people from the building.
Maybe he’s just crazy. The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser considers that:
On Wednesday, more than three thousand Americans died because of the coronavirus, the nation’s deadliest day yet during the pandemic. The same day, the President of the United States chose to release, on social media, a forty-six-minute videotaped address from the White House…
The President said he knew full well that he would be “demeaned and disparaged” for continuing to speak out, especially now that even some of his advisers have “disappeared” or, as he claimed, been bullied into silence. But he would do so anyway.
That’s paranoia, or this:
Donald Trump in defeat, it turns out, is even more whiny, dishonest, and self-absorbed than he was before his decisive loss to Biden a month ago. In the speech, delivered to an empty room and released straight to Facebook, for reasons that remain unclear, Trump repeated many of the election conspiracy theories, lies, and laments which he has been sending forth for weeks on Twitter and via emissaries like Rudy Giuliani. The only news was that these baseless claims – the only impact of which will be to further undermine public confidence in the U.S. government – were coming directly from the President, as he stood at a lectern bearing the Presidential seal.
So there’s no more pretending. He’s not a Republican and never was, and he’s hardly even a president now, and maybe he is crazy:
One of Trump’s biggest obsessions is with a voting-machine company known as Dominion. Trump and his lawyers claim that Dominion, although it is owned by a New York-based private-equity firm, was somehow in league with the deceased dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, in a fantastical plot to steal the Presidency. In his speech, Trump explained that “we have a company that’s very suspect,” and that “with a turn of a dial, with a change of a chip,” his votes could disappear on its systems, which are so confusing that “nobody understands” how they work, “including in many cases the people that run them.”
Trump elaborated that the company had given many donations to Democrats, that its “glitches” were numerous, and it was only “the tip of the iceberg” of wrongdoing. He even suggested that the Dominion machines were secretly controlled from overseas. How? Who knows? Here’s his quote in full: “And, frankly, when you look at who’s running the company, who’s in charge, who owns it, which we don’t know – where are the votes counted, which we think are counted in foreign countries, not in the United States.”
What? This is a problem:
There are only two possible conclusions from listening to this folly: either the President actually believes what he is saying, in which case he is crazy, or he does not, in which case he is engaged in the most cynical attack on American democracy ever to come from the White House. Is Trump “increasingly detached from reality,” as even the dispassionate, strictly nonpartisan Associated Press put it, in recounting the speech? Or is that conclusion, harsh as it is, giving Trump the benefit of the doubt by implying that he is just misguided or uninformed? There is another explanation, after all, for this reckless speech: What if, in fact, the President is not delusional but is the purposeful, malevolent creator of an alternate reality, knowingly spewing disinformation, discord, and division?
Either way, this is trouble:
This is far, far beyond the craziness of the past four years. Is this the kind of speech from their leader that Americans should just ignore?
Yes, it’s time to stop pretending. This man is not a Republican and never was, and he’s hardly even a president now, and he’s dangerous. And he will remain dangerous for years and years. No more pretending. He broke the country.