Mondays can be cruel. What just happened? The weekend comes into sharp focus in the cold morning light. Oh yeah, that happened. Damn. And this last weekend it had been that nasty-whining-bullying absurd but dangerous Trump phone call on Saturday, leaked to the public on Sunday, that seemed like the end of American democracy and the start of the darkest of times.
That was sinking in Monday. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy saw this:
If there were any doubt remaining that Donald Trump still represents a dire threat to American democracy, the events of this weekend dispelled it. As a new Congress gathers to confirm that the voters chose Joe Biden to be the next President, a proceeding that should be a mere formality, Trump is desperately trying to overturn the result and stay in office. Even more disturbing, large numbers of elected Republicans are joining in this unprecedented effort to reject the popular will. If the Republic gets through the next two weeks without a catastrophe, we must surely take steps to protect ourselves against the next would-be authoritarian, which could well be Trump himself in 2024.
That’s dire stuff, but perhaps warranted:
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported the contents of a lengthy phone call that took place on Saturday between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. Raffensperger is one of the honorable Republicans at the state and local level who have stood up against the President’s efforts to bully them into calling the election for the loser: him. The conversation was a long one – it lasted almost an hour – but the transcript shows that this wasn’t the Trump of the campaign trail or the White House press room, endlessly going off on tangents. Throughout the conversation, he remained focused on his counterfactual narrative – that he carried Georgia easily—and a specific set of demands for Raffensperger.
“So look, all I want to do is this,” the President said at one point. “I just want to find eleven thousand seven hundred and eighty votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”
His proof of that was rumor and speculation and theories about what had “really” happened, all of which had been shot down in courts in all the “swing” states over and over and over. Cassidy found this absurd:
Since the election, some commentators have downplayed Trump’s refusal to accept the result, saying that he was merely exercising the inviolate American right to sue. But this wasn’t Rudy Giuliani standing outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, in a Philadelphia strip mall. It was the President of the United States speaking from the Oval Office and leaning on a local election official, with the backing of his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who was also on the call, and a number of other Trump lawyers, including Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the corporate law firm Foley & Lardner.
“The entire call is astonishing,” Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general at the Justice Department, commented on Twitter, after the Post report was published. “The bullying, the threats, the insults, the credulous embrace of discredited conspiracy theories. Like a crime boss, Trump occasionally says that all he wants is the truth. But he doesn’t – he wants the win.”
But everyone around him will lose:
Even if Trump is safely ushered out of office on January 20th, the consequences of his behavior over the past few weeks will be long-lasting, particularly for the Republican Party.
Surely, the main motivation of some of the Republicans who have aligned themselves with Trump – Pence, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley – is to bolster their own Presidential hopes in the post-Trump era. However, in giving credence to the President’s baseless claims that he is being cheated out of office, these prominent Republicans are just making it even more likely that, at least as far as the G.O.P. is concerned, there won’t be a post-Trump future but, instead, another lengthy period in which he and his grievance continue to dominate all else.
That would be the coming age sneering and whining, which is also the present age:
This is the fate of a Party that has embraced a populist personality cult – Trumpism – which has recently outed itself as what Steve Schmidt, the campaign strategist who advised John McCain in 2008, called over the weekend “an American autocratic movement with Fascistic markers.”
Using plainer English, Stuart Stevens, another Never Trump Republican strategist, who advised Mitt Romney in 2012, summed things up on Twitter: “The bottom line is that the @GOP has become a threat to democracy. I spent decades helping elect members of the party and it’s painful to admit. But it’s a clear and present danger and should be treated as such.”
This is primarily Trump’s work, but it’s not just Trump’s work. Not by a long shot.
Someone like Trump was inevitable. The party was headed where he would thrive. But things go out of hand. He got bigger than the party. The Washington Post team of Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey cover his war for control of the Republican Party:
President Trump is effectively sabotaging the Republican Party on his way out of office, obsessed with overturning his election loss and nursing pangs of betrayal from allies whom he had expected to bend the instruments of democracy to his will.
Trump has created a divide in his party as fundamental and impassioned as any during his four years as president, with lawmakers forced to choose between certifying the results of an election decided by their constituents or appeasing the president in an all-but-certain-to-fail crusade to keep him in power by subverting the vote.
As Republican lawmakers took sides ahead of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress to certify the electoral college results, some on Monday voiced rare criticism of Trump for his attempt to pressure Georgia elections officials to change vote totals there during a Saturday phone call…
It’s too late. It’s his party now. Unless it isn’t his party quite yet:
Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, said the call was “deeply troubling” and urged all Americans to listen to the hour-long conversation, while Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) condemned it as “a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode.” Even one of Trump’s most loyal defenders, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), said it was “not a helpful call.”
Trump signaled he had little patience for defections by members of what he dubbed the “Surrender Caucus.” After Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) announced that he was not joining the band of GOP lawmakers objecting to the electoral college results, Trump attacked Cotton on Twitter and warned that voters would “NEVER FORGET!”
So this is war:
The president is trying to mobilize a show of strength that could intimidate lawmakers who certify the result, exhorting his supporters to travel to Washington for mass protests Wednesday. He is planning to speak to the crowd on the Ellipse around midday Wednesday, two officials familiar with the planning said.
Most of that crowd will be heavily armed. That should intimidate everyone. He’ll fight too, somehow:
Trump in recent days has blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for having “NO FIGHT,” publicly recruited a primary challenger to the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune (S.D.), and called on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to resign.
Trump is, as he sees it, taking over America:
Thirteen senators and more than 100 House members are planning to object to the electoral college results in Wednesday’s proceedings, but Trump is befuddled as to why many more Republicans are not falling in line with him, advisers said.
Fueling the president’s indignation is his belief that he is the true victor because that is what the advisers in his ear continue to tell him, according to one of Trump’s closest advisers, who like some others interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
“He incontrovertibly thinks he won – and he thinks he won big – and the people around him don’t disabuse him of that because they don’t want to get crosswise, and because they told him he was going to win, so they can have it both ways,” this adviser said. “It’s not about his inability to move on. It’s about his inability to even diagnose what happened.”
Trump is seeing smoke and mirrors, and then he headed for Georgia:
After days of watching Trump toss hand grenades at fellow Republicans, party officials said they were deeply concerned he might veer off script and continue his destructive antics onstage Monday night in Georgia, at a rally on the eve of runoff elections that will decide which party controls the Senate.
Aides had encouraged the president to deliver a simple message to Georgia voters that they must turn out to protect his legacy. But Trump had something else in mind. The first words out of his mouth at the rally in Dalton were: “There’s no way we lost Georgia. That was a rigged election.”
Trump went on to bash Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, claim they were not real Republicans, and promise to campaign against both men when they stand for reelection in 2022.
There was next to nothing about the two senate races. The party may lose the Senate. That wasn’t his concern:
The president also falsely said he had won reelection “in a landslide” and suggested that he expects Vice President Pence to make it so when he fulfills his constitutional duty to preside over Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, even though the vice president does not have the power to overturn the results.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump told the applauding Georgia crowd. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
He was deep in his alternative universe and on a roll while others were not:
Georgia’s voting systems manager, Gabriel Sterling, refuted Trump’s voter fraud claims point by point at a news conference Monday in Atlanta. “This is all easily, provably false, yet the president persists,” Sterling said. “We have claim after claim after claim, with zero proof. Zero.”
But, for Trump, that was never the point:
Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to lose Georgia in three decades – a fact he cannot fathom and a historical distinction he loathes, according to people familiar with his thinking. Trump campaign officials were so convinced they’d win in Georgia that they rejected calls to direct more money and staffing to the state, a former senior campaign official said.
“Honestly, I think that he cannot handle being the sitting Republican president that lost Georgia,” said a GOP official in frequent touch with the White House.
And that leads to this sort of thing:
Several Republicans in Georgia said they’re not sure Trump really wants Loeffler or Perdue to win because if they do, it undermines his central complaint that the state’s elections are rigged. It would also pour salt in the wound of his defeat in the state, something he has struggled to understand, stating repeatedly on the weekend call with Raffensperger that it’s simply not possible for him to have lost there.
Yes, it’s that alternative-universe thing:
Reversing the Georgia result would not be enough for Trump to retain the presidency.
“Let’s say you get Raffensperger to commit fraud and get you the 11,000 votes — what does that even get you?” said the Republican official in frequent touch with the White House. “You still need three other states. I don’t understand what the ‘win’ is here. There’s no strategy.”
In private conversations with advisers and associates, Trump has been fixated on a handful of states and ticking through various ways he says he was robbed in each of them, according to one adviser who spoke to the president about the issue last week.
“Most everyone doesn’t want to talk to him about it anymore,” this adviser said.
He’s become a bore, and those who have signed on to object the electoral college vote may have become fools:
Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman and a Trump critic, warned of the long-term peril for those who object.
“They are sealing themselves inside the very tomb that Donald Trump built for them,” Steele said. “When they commit this act on Wednesday, where do they go from there? These people are wholly owned subsidiaries of Trump Inc. They are functionaries like the men and women who manage his properties and mop his bathrooms and clean his hotels.”
It seems that things do look a bit different on Monday morning:
At least two more GOP senators said Monday that they would vote to affirm the electoral college results, joining Pat Toomey and others. In a lengthy statement, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is up for reelection in 2022, said he would vote to affirm the duly chosen electors from any contested state. He said that he “cannot support allowing Congress to thwart the will of the voters.”
And Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said it would be a “grave step” for lawmakers to reject votes that were certified by the states. “I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” she said. “Recognizing the individual chosen by the American people to be our president is in keeping with this oath.”
Trump sought Monday to try to scare Republican lawmakers from breaking with him on certification. He tweeted, “The ‘Surrender Caucus’ within the Republican Party will go down in infamy as weak and ineffective ‘guardians’ of our Nation, who were willing to accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!”
No, Biden won and Trump seemed like a pathetic old man at that point, but wait! It was Monday overseas too. Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’ chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, based in Brussels, covers Monday over there:
President Trump’s extraordinary, wheedling telephone call to state officials in Georgia seeking to overturn the election results there has shaken many Europeans – not so much for what it reveals about Mr. Trump himself, but for what it may portend for the health of American democracy.
With just 16 days left in his presidency, Mr. Trump’s capacity to shock the world with his epic self-centeredness and disregard for democratic and ethical norms is vanishing. The president has revealed himself many times before this latest episode, when he badgered and threatened Georgia officials to “find” him the votes needed to flip the state.
But if Mr. Trump has not moved on, the world has. Foreign leaders are looking forward, even as many of them worry that the Trump effect will last for years, damaging trust in American predictability and reliability.
They know that when and if Trump is gone, they have a bigger worry:
“A lot of people will just roll their eyes and wait for the clock to run down,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, the British research institution. “But by far the most troubling thing is the number of Republicans who are willing to go along with him, and what it’s doing to the Republican Party, playing out in real time.”
With Mr. Trump continuing to have such a hold over the party and winning more than 74 million votes in November, Ms. Vinjamuri said, “It shows us that it will be incredibly difficult to govern the country in the next year or so.”
If so many Americans feel that the election was fraudulent, “it looks like America can’t even secure the most fundamental norms of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, when losers have to accept that they lost,” she said.
But wait, there’s more:
To distant observers, the corrosive effects of Mr. Trump’s presidency are not isolated to Mr. Trump himself but extend far beyond the president – to the deep coterie of enablers around him, in the White House and his party, and even to an American public where significant numbers themselves believe that their democracy has been compromised and cannot be trusted. The dangers that entail for foreign allies are manifold and will not be easily dispelled even with a new president. But they are raising special concerns before Mr. Trump exits.
And there’s this:
Thomas Wright, an Irish-born expert on America at the Brookings Institution, said that “People are worried for real that Trump will come back.” The months since the election have shown people “just how bad a second term would have been – the guardrails off, a completely personalized government and giving voice to his authoritarian tendencies,” he said.
“Now the rest of the world understands that Trump could actually make a comeback in 2024, so that is a shadow that he will cast over American politics,” Mr. Wright said.
World leaders “all know that Trump is sort of crazy, but it’s the extremity of his actions, the lengths to which he has gone, that he got 74 million votes and is not retiring but will be a force for the Republicans” that is disconcerting, he added. “People knew what Trump is like, but the importance is the shadow of the future.”
And there’s this too:
Also troubling to many is the letter that the last 10 living secretaries of defense all signed urging the nation – and the military – to accept that the election is over and “the time for questioning the results has passed.”
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former French and United Nations diplomat who is president of the International Crisis Group, asked on Twitter: “Should we be reassured on U.S. democracy when 10 former defense secretaries warn against use of the military to dispute election results, or terrified that they believe taking a public stance has become necessary?”
That’s easy. Be terrified. Or relax:
Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group, a research institution, said that “President Trump’s desperate efforts to interfere with the election results and subvert America’s democracy are now almost universally regarded in Westminster as a pitiful last howl at the moon.”
More optimistically, she said: “What is clear is that the tremendous impact that Trump’s administration has had on America’s standing in the world is coming to an end. There are high hopes for Biden to restore America’s moral mission, and the focus in Britain is entirely on looking forward, identifying areas of alignment and common interest with the new Biden administration.”
But was he just howling at the moon?
Jonathan Chait adds this:
Trump has not secured the cooperation of the entire Republican elite. The final stage of his effort to cancel the election has been so clumsy that he has driven away many of the conservatives who have defended him until now.
And while it is nice that so many Republicans have finally decided to hop off the Trump train just before it crashes, they don’t seem to have learned any important lessons from the experience.
Trump has spent his entire presidency battering away at democratic norms. He has been previewing his intention to deny the legitimacy of the election since before the 2016 election, which he relentlessly dismissed as rigged. He has been hinting at his intention to stay in office beyond his constitutionally allotted term since at least 2019, when he began saying “the people” would “demand” that he stay in office “longer” than eight years.
To support Trump’s reelection was always to endorse an attack on democracy. The chief divide between the party was between those Republicans who denied Trump’s clearly signaled intent to attack the democratic system, and those who reveled in it.
Let that sink in. Mondays can be cruel.