Republicans play with Trump's fire
Republican politicians are humoring Trump. The base is dead serious.
As President Trump hunts for discrepancies in several states’ vote counts that will put him back in the White House for four more years, it is already apparent that there are discrepancies in the public case his supporters are making.
First, the lawyers arguing on behalf of Trump’s campaign under oath in court are making far more tentative claims about dead voters, banished poll watchers, and other fraudulent practices than those making their case in the court of public opinion, such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Second, and more importantly, Republican elected officials seem to be going through the motions in their defense of the president’s election lawsuits, almost as if they are humoring Trump, while vast swathes of the base are dead serious.
Consider a few items posted on the president’s favorite social media platform. “Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes. That's how Americans' votes decide the result,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted.
“Donald Trump took a stand for us, now it is time we take a stand for Donald Trump!” declared the Twitter account promoting the Million MAGA March, a pro-Trump protest scheduled to happen in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, complete with the #StoptheSteal hashtag. Another pro-Trump influencer posted, “We cannot let the Left STEAL what is rightfully ours.”
Some in the latter camp genuinely believe the election has been, or is about to be, stolen. A close friend from Boston texts daily to predict the coming Trump landslide once the corruption is exposed. Others simply prefer the pugilistic Trump-era approach to politics, fighting for every last vote even if it is futile, to what they regard as Mitt Romney-esque preening about norms in defeat.
Beltway Republicans — some of whom are going to miss Trump a great deal less if the party holds the Senate after the two Georgia runoffs — are mainly trying to avoid the ire of both the president and his base. Their hope is that if they don’t say or do anything that appears to undermine the election lawsuits, they will fizzle out on their own and Trump will have to leave office once he has exhausted his legal options.
This probably is the likeliest outcome. But things have gone wrong when the Republican establishment has tried to manage the base’s passions before. And the whole reason the Trump phenomenon happened in the first place is that the Republican leadership has a crisis of legitimacy with its own voters.
Barry Goldwater could go to the White House at the nadir of the Watergate scandal and tell Richard Nixon it was over. Who could do something like that with Trump? Romney? I think not.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of Republicans doubted the election was free and fair. That could be just their way of registering their disapproval of a process that included pauses in election night counting while Trump was ahead only to see Democratic challenger Joe Biden surge into the lead in several states once the counts resumed, preceded by months of public polling that appear to have understated the president’s support.
These Trump supporters saw Democrats trying to attribute their candidate’s 2016 election to collusion with Russian interference. In 2018, 66 percent of Democrats told Economist/YouGov they believed Russia tampered with the vote totals, a proposition for which there is no real evidence. Some of the same people decrying the presidential recount in Georgia lionize Stacey Abrams as the rightful governor of Georgia.
So the Republican anger is understandable. Whether it can be channeled into anything productive is less clear. The Trump legal team does not appear to have come close to advancing any plausible case for overturning the results in the contested states, aside from possibly excluding some late mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania that don’t appear to be enough to change the outcome.
The GOP lawyers seem to be either themselves humoring Trump, or hoping serious scrutiny of the mail-in ballots will lead to the discovery of an unprecedented amount of spoilage and other irregularities. But whatever big-city chicanery may have occurred, the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen offers the most plausible explanation for Trump’s narrow battleground losses: “suburban vote slippage.”
“This is how we got Trump” has become a cliche. But Republicans raising their voters’ expectations only to dash them and fail to deliver is literally how we got Trump.