November 20, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump pits GOP against patriotism
Mitt Romney knows that's a fight the party cannot win.
I think some Republicans are beginning to sweat. Not like Rudy Giuliani sweltered during yesterday’s loony presser. (Whether it was spray-on hair dye or mascara running down his cheeks seems to be subject to debate.) But perspiration always starts slow. The more the president denies defeat, the more some Republicans will sweat bullets.
To be clear, I have no doubt, had Joe Biden’s margin of victory been narrower, that the Republicans would have stood by while Donald Trump successfully stole the election. He has followed a predictable plan: claim voter fraud, litigate outcomes in court, and, now, get Republican state electors to declare him His Holiness, the God-Emperor of the United States. All of this will fail, but failing isn’t the point. The Republicans have demonstrated a dangerous tolerance for sedition. (That’s to be expected, I suppose, given GOP Senators acquitted Trump of treason, freeing him to commit it again.)
If most Americans start seeing the Republicans through the lens of betrayal, if they start seeing the party as a separatist movement (that’s what it is), even the milquetoastiest of Democrats, like Joe Manchin, will be forced to go to the wall.
You could say, as Edward Foley did in the Post, that democracy dies when “the losing party won’t accept defeat.” You could also say, with more accuracy and more urgency, that the losing party is killing something it no longer controls. The Republicans now have a taste for coup d’etat. Every serious citizen is right to expect them to try again.
They must first get through this period, which will probably determine which future road the Republicans take. If Trump gets out of the way, they can move forward with preparations to sandbag Biden with their reputations for love of country and loyalty to the republic intact. If the president doesn’t get out of the way, however, those preparations could, and should, unfold under a cloud of suspicion. Most people still don’t fully appreciate the depths of Trump’s sedition or the GOP’s complicity in it. The more he stays put, though, the more the press corps is going to raise public awareness.
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
Each day sees word-choice getting more forceful and strident. The Post: “Trump uses power of presidency to try to overturn the election and stay in office.” Here’s the AP’s tweeted nut graf: “President Donald Trump is trying to turn America’s free and fair election into a muddled mess of misinformation, specious legal claims and baseless attacks on the underpinnings of the nation’s democracy.” These are going to hurt.
Stuart Stevens, a former GOP strategist, said: “If pressuring state legislators to throw out an election and appoint loyal electors isn’t a high crime, what is? Does the Constitution mean nothing?” Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein said: “Trump has now gone from legitimately contesting the election to illegitimately attempting to steal it, and in the process he’s undermining confidence in democracy. People are threatening election officials trying to do their jobs, and Trump is putting pressure on Republican elected officials to join his unconstitutional scheming.” Larry Sabato, a nonpartisan pollster, said: “Yep, it’s #sedition. Let’s hope the Secret Service and military leaders have a serious, detailed plan to remove all trespassers from the White House at noon on January 20.” (Fact: The Pentagon has made clear there is no plan to get involved.)
Importantly, the above are not marginal. Indeed, these are white men whose privilege, influence and status would probably insulate them from any fascist takeover. Yet here they are, rightly screaming from the ramparts. It’s not hard to imagine the press corps amplifying screams like theirs. The last thing the GOP wants is for them to be so loud they play in Peoria. If most Americans start seeing the Republicans through the lens of betrayal, if they start seeing the party as a separatist movement (that’s what it is), even the milquetoastiest of Democrats, like Joe Manchin, will be forced to go to the wall.
Then there are “moderates” like Mitt Romney. The Utah senator and former GOP presidential nominee understands his fellow Republicans are playing with fire. If the Republicans don’t hustle the president out the door, and soon, he’s going to enmesh the party in a fight with patriotism itself—a fight that Romney knows it cannot win. Bear in mind, he tacitly compared Trump to Richard Nixon in last night’s statement:
Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election. It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting President.
If Trump were more of a team player, he’d recognize he’s put the Republicans in a good place. Millions of Americans already doubt Biden won. The Republican Senate, therefore, can proceed with sabotaging his administration under the guise of God and country but also in the spirit of exacting revenge for a former president done wrong.
But Trump isn’t a team player. He’s demanding state lawmakers humiliate themselves in his name, and so far, they are obliging. He’s reaching for loonier and loonier conspiracy theories, anything to prevent leaving office. The Republicans meanwhile remain idle. If they allow Trump to pit the party against patriotism, watch out.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.