Trump’s dangerous delusions about a stolen election represent the most overt attempt in modern history by a President to overthrow the will of the voters. But they have reached the point of no return after the conservative-majority Supreme Court largely crushed what remaining hallucinatory hopes Trump harbored of reversing his defeat.
The Court’s devastating first response to the post-election fray sent a clear signal that the top bench disdains frivolous and long-shot cases already witheringly rejected by lower courts.
The denial of Pennsylvania Republicans’ request to block the certification of their state’s results, for which there were no noted dissents, was a humiliating repudiation of Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding that three justices that he installed on the Court would swing him a disputed election. It also showed that evidence-free conspiracy theories might thrill the President’s base and his media propagandists, but they don’t cut it in court.
“The jig is up. The President of the United States has no other recourse,” said Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor and CNN’s senior legal analyst.
Biden’s spokesman Mike Gwin said: “This election is over. Joe Biden won and he will be sworn in as President in January.”
The Supreme Court weighed in just hours after the President’s latest illusory claims that he won the election, prevailed in swing states and was the victim of a massive, orchestrated operation by Democrats to defraud the electorate.
“Hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration, because you can’t steal hundreds of thousands of votes,” the President said, spooling off multiple lies on Tuesday about the election result.
For the record, there is no doubt who will form the next administration. Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. He pulled five swing states from Trump’s 2016 column. The Trump campaign has failed to produce any evidence of fraud or irregularities that stand up in Court and its cases have been thrown out by multiple and deeply critical judges in a string of states.
The President’s corrosive attempts to erode the legitimacy of US elections — the bedrock of a system based on the consent of the governed — have come as he largely ignores the real threat facing the nation: a pandemic that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans and has been exacerbated by his neglect.
A power play that will go on
But any expectations that reality, fact and evidence will begin to shape the behavior of the President, and supporters who still refuse to admit that Biden won the election, would fly in the face of events of the last four years.
It would also ignore the way that Trump is using his claims of fraud to salve his own ego after he lost the election, to raise money to keep himself in the political spotlight after he leaves office and to destroy Biden’s presidency before it starts.
Just on Tuesday, the most senior Republicans in Congress — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — voted against a resolution naming Biden as President-elect.
The refusal of Washington Republicans to accept the obvious result of the election contrasts with the dutiful courage of many GOP officials in battleground states who have defied extreme pressure from Trump and threats from partisans on their side of the aisle to certify elections Biden won.
A political calculation
Clearly, Trump’s supporters in a party that he transformed in his own populist nationalist image after forging a stunning connection with his party’s base, are acting out of their own political interests. Anyone who wants a future in the GOP can’t get crossways with the President. But their conduct also suggests that much of the Republican Party, the one-time home of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan has simply become a vessel for Trump’s personal crusades. The relentless pursuit of power — rather than principles that once made the GOP the most fertile party of ideas in Washington — are now its organizing principle.
This trend suggests that the constitutional nihilism perfected by the President will still be a strong force in the GOP when he has left the White House — and will complicate Biden’s hopes of unifying a divided nation, which critics in his own party view as naïve.
Stuart Stevens, a former chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said the party had squandered an inherited legacy of respect for democratic values.
“I think this stuff is very hard to undo. It’s that, you know, old cliche. It’s hard to build something and easy to tear it down. They’re burning down faith in democracy,” Stevens told CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday.
“I spent years, decades working for the Republican Party. We had an ideological differences, but right now, I think the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is one is for democracy and one is not for democracy.”
Republicans compete to stand closest to Trump
Ever since the election, and as recently as Tuesday, Republicans showed they have little intention of adapting to a new Washington balance of power in which a Democratic White House expects to be able to work its will.
No Biden officials were invited to Trump’s “vaccine summit” at the White House Tuesday, even though they will be responsible for distributing the vaccinations that will hopefully end the pandemic next year.
The Republican Attorney General of Texas Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to invalidate election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which Biden won on his way to 270 electoral votes.
“The notion a Texas attorney general is going to try to disenfranchise voters from four other states for laws that were in effect on election day is just not meritorious in the least,” Ben Ginsberg, a veteran Republican election lawyer, told CNN on Tuesday.
But the fact Paxton filed the suit, and that Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz offered to argue Trump cases in the Supreme Court, shows the value party members place in currying favor with the President, no matter how fantastical or damaging his false narratives are to US democracy.
Recent days have also seen an armed mob show up outside the house of a senior Democratic official in Michigan involved in running the elections. Another senior official, Gabriel Sterling in Georgia, a Republican who said he voted for Trump, has warned the President to cool tensions before someone gets killed.
None of this will stop Biden from becoming President. But it’s likely to cause serious damage to the next President’s legitimacy and the health of the US governing institutions Trump has repeatedly worked to tarnish.