Just as the GOP dead-enders in Congress were about to take the world stage to pretend that the 2020 presidential election was fixed and that Donald Trump had actually won, the real world intruded. Georgia held its twin Senate runoff elections Tuesday, and it looks like Trump and the Republicans lost again.
More alleged cheating? More supposed dead people voting? More Dominion voting fraud? More Venezuela? More Trump “RIGGED!!!!! Tweets? Or just two more typical, democratically run, close elections with, in this case, Democrats poised to sweep?
One of the sillier arguments you hear from time to time in political circles is whether America is a democracy or a republic when, of course, it’s actually both — a democratic republic.
And on Wednesday in Congress, the argument takes a huge step backward as the Sedition Caucus attempts, however futilely, to turn America into a banana republic. But the Senate election results — added to the fact that Joe Biden actually won the presidential election — will play the part of banana peel in a not-so-dramatic session of Congress that will likely more resemble vaudeville than actual political theater.
So, what’s next? Let’s hope, for one, that at some point Mitt Romney stands up to repeat his statement about his fellow Republicans, just so the whole world can hear it: “Has ambition,” he said, “so eclipsed principle?”
Oh, it has. And worse. These Trump enablers — or as George Will calls them, the Constitution’s most dangerous domestic terrorists — include Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and two of Colorado’s three U.S. House members, Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn. Boebert and Lamborn are expected to be joined by as many as 140 fellow travelers in the House in challenging the results of the election, although many presumably will not be carrying Glocks. Stunningly, Ken Buck will not join them. And Cory Gardner, of course, has already met his fate.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure Trump will eventually leave the White House on his own. But the last 10 secretaries of defense, including Dick “Big Time” Cheney, are sufficiently worried that they penned a joint statement saying, “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.” In other words, it’s a warning to Trump and to the Trump-appointed hacks at the Pentagon that we don’t do coups in America.
But, assuming as I do that Joe Biden does become president on Jan. 20, those who have enabled Trump aren’t going anywhere. But if Jon Ossoff beats GOP incumbent Sen. David Perdue, as it now seems likely, those anti-constitutional domestic terrorists would now be part of the GOP Senate minority.
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Trump has a name for those Republicans who won’t join in his defense — the Surrender Caucus — and he warns of primary battles to come. And so, as we await what should be a pro-forma day in Congress, we will see, instead, another assault on small-d democratic norms, the kind of which we haven’t seen since the shameful election of 1876. Trump’s aides presumably spent much of Tuesday explaining to Trump why Mike Pence, who will be presiding over the Senate, can’t overturn the election Wednesday by fiat, or by any other way. At his Monday rally in Georgia, Trump kidded that if his good friend Pence didn’t come through, he wouldn’t like him as much anymore.
It might have been a joke. And yet on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that Pence had the power “to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” He doesn’t, of course. So, not a joke. I don’t know if this is another Trump lie or possibly a Trump delusion, but does it really matter?
It isn’t as if steps have not been taken. Trump has already been voted out. You could look it up. He has already been impeached. He has been investigated to a fare-thee-well. There have already been a steady stream of damning tell-all books, although more are surely on the way. And as if that weren’t enough, the Trump administration corruption has been revealed, in all its mob-family ignominy, with guilty verdicts of so many who worked for him, only for them to be pardoned.
Is the answer to all this corruption a Truth Commission on Trump’s four years, which may not have any more impact than the damning Mueller report? Historian Jill Lepore makes a compelling case for why there shouldn’t be one. Leave it, she says, to historians and journalists.
Should Trump face a long series of criminal and civil charges, federal and state and local, from which he has been protected while in office? I doubt Joe Biden wants federal charges made against Trump. But even if Trump pardons himself — which may or may not be constitutional — he can only issue pardons for federal crimes. He has no control over what, say, the state of New York decides to do. Neither, for that matter, does Biden.
Look, after the leaked audio of Trump’s find-me-12,000-votes phone call with Georgia’s Republican attorney general, Brad Raffensperger, the president should be impeached again. But what would be the point? As Max Boot pointed out, it’s one of three leaked conversations that have helped define Trump’s presidency, along with the Access Hollywood tape and the transcript of the perfect phone call attempting to shake down Ukraine’s president. You’d think — or maybe not — that the Raffensperger phone call would give senators pause. Apparently, it won’t, any more than the Ukraine call led to Trump’s removal.
And so we’ll witness one of the final desperate acts of his presidency — don’t kid yourself that this is the last one; he’ll go after state legislatures next — Wednesday when the Sedition Caucus officially promotes Trump’s wild-eyed fever dream of a rigged election and calls for an absurd 10-day audit of disputed states.
One of the leaders is, of course, Cruz, who dependably leaves his principles at the palace gates. Forget for a moment that Trump once accused Cruz’s father of being in on the JFK assassination or that Trump called his wife ugly and just go back to January 2016 when Cruz beat Trump in the Iowa caucuses. That was when Trump tweeted that Cruz stole the election and that there should be a do-over. Cruz replied at the time: “What Donald does when he loses is he blames everybody else. It’s never Donald’s fault.”
Meaning, it was ever thus.
How dangerous is the Senate Sedition Caucus? That depends on whether, post runoff elections, Republicans can still make their case with a straight face. Josh Hawley got out there first, so Cruz, who like Hawley, has his eyes on 2024, went bigger, bringing a dozen or so Republicans with him. They’ll say they’re not there to overturn the election but to answer the fears of the millions who believe the election was rigged. They believe, of course, because Trump and enablers keep telling them it has been rigged.
But it’s more than that. It is, without risk of exaggeration, an assault on free elections, an assault that wouldn’t simply be a matter of pandering to the cult of the Orange One, but one setting a precedent that could be used again by a more clever president, with both houses of Congress in compliance, with a lasting assault from a new generation of domestic terrorists.
What we know now is that Trump told us as he opened his rally in Georgia Monday, “There’s no way we lost Georgia, there is no way. This was such a rigged election …I’ve had two elections. I won both of them. It’s amazing. And I actually did much better on the second one.”
Maybe he believes that. Maybe he doesn’t. But millions of Americans do. But I wonder, after the runoffs, after one Democratic win and one probable win, if the fiction can possibly hold. That’s the real shattering of norms. That’s the real, lasting danger. And after Tuesday night, all elected officials who support this fiction must be even more acutely aware of how history will judge them.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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