Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the election
The transition to a Joe Biden administration officially began this week, after President Trump failed in his efforts to overturn election results in six states with empty claims of massive fraud. Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, bowed to weeks of pressure and signed the paperwork greenlighting the transition, a decision that came hours after Michigan certified Biden’s win in the state. Trump, who groundlessly claimed widespread voter fraud in Detroit, had attempted to delay the certification, and met with Michigan’s top GOP lawmakers in an unsuccessful bid to sway them to overturn Biden’s win and appoint Trump electors. Pressure mounted on Trump as more than 160 business leaders, 100 Republican national security experts, and at least three GOP senators urged him to concede, calling his resistance a threat to the economy and national security. But even when Trump tweeted that he’d approved the transition, he made clear he wasn’t conceding. “We will prevail!” he said. Still, a campaign adviser deemed his acceptance of the transfer “as close to a concession as you will probably get.”
The reluctant surrender came after a series of humiliations for Trump’s legal team, which had 36 challenges shot down by state and federal judges. After a bizarre, rambling court appearance by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a federal judge blasted the bid to block Pennsylvania’s vote certification as a “Frankenstein’s monster” of “strained legal arguments.” At a rambling press conference, Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell alleged a vote-rigging plot involving Venezuela and “Communist money,” as rivulets of dark hair dye flowed down a sweating Giuliani’s cheeks. When Powell later charged that Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had been bought off in the alleged scheme, the campaign disavowed any connection to her. Such antics prompted Trump ally Chris Christie to call the legal team “a national embarrassment.” The U.S. is “beginning to look like we’re a banana republic,” said Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Biden announced key Cabinet picks (see pages 7 and 32), and an aide said his team would soon begin meetings with administration officials. High on the priority list were getting the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence, and coordinating with the White House coronavirus task force on mitigating the current surge and plans to distribute vaccines. A Biden transition aide said another goal was to “gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”
What the editorials said
The Giuliani-Powell press conference was a new low in Trump’s “disgraceful gambit” to overturn a lawful election, said NationalReview.com. Between Giuliani’s wild-eyed conspiracy mongering and Powell’s fantasies of “Communist-designed election machinery” reversing a Trump “landslide,” it was “the most outlandish and irresponsible performance” ever by a president’s lawyers. The campaign’s “profoundly undemocratic” strategy of trying to block vote certifications and rally legislatures to override voters’ will was so reckless it would have ignited “a major constitutional crisis” if it hadn’t fizzled.
This time, Trump went beyond “political norm breaking” to “a direct assault on democracy itself,” said The Washington Post. Though the shocking effort “to overturn a free and fair election” failed, Trump persuaded more than half of Republicans that he’d “rightfully won” the election and that Biden stole it. “These people will not just preemptively reject their next president, but also doubt the democracy in which they live.”
What the columnists said
What has happened to my fellow conservatives? asked Matt Lewis in TheDailyBeast.com. A willingness to line up behind the evidence-free ravings of Giuliani and Powell became “a litmus test for sanity within the Republican Party,” and from radio host Mark Levin to Fox’s Lou Dobbs to Sen. Lindsey Graham, many failed it. The dividing line on the Right is no longer between “wingers and RINOs” but between “reality and insanity.”
The clown coup may have failed, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but had Biden’s margin been just a hair smaller, more Republicans would have backed it, and it just “may well have prevailed.” The fraud claim now gives Trump a way to preserve the “Trumpian mythos” that he’s a winner who loses only when he’s “treated very unfairly.” The weeks of chaos also served to “remove all doubt” that “the American experiment would never have survived a second Trump term.”
The Pandora’s box Trump opened won’t easily be closed, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Increasingly a minority party, Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections and have already shown “their willingness to use any means necessary to exercise power,” including Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Trump’s blatantly racist campaign to toss out votes in heavily black cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta came to naught—this time. But far too many Republicans have shown they believe that holding on to power “is more important than preserving America’s democracy.”
Republican elected officials are increasingly concerned Trump will continue to “wreak havoc on the GOP from beyond the White House,” said Alex Isenstadt in Politico.com. Stoking these fears were his recent “savaging” of GOP Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Mike DeWine of Ohio for not supporting his claims he won. Trump’s attacks on the governors could encourage primary challenges to them in 2022—and could be “just the start of what’s in store” if Trump decides to “use his stranglehold on the conservative base to control the party” into the future. He almost certainly will, said Philip Rucker in The Washington Post. Trump has told advisers he aims to “remain an omnipresent force in politics”—perhaps by announcing a 2024 run, which would “freeze the large field” of Republican contenders, from Mike Pompeo to Nikki Haley. He may not succeed, but “Trump is likely to try to dominate Republican politics for years to come.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP (3) ■