Remember: Nothing should surprise you anymore.
With that in mind, the number of Republican senators poised to challenge Joe Biden’s Electoral College win grew to 12 on Saturday. So, essentially a quarter of Senate GOPers are disputing the election result.
When Josh Hawley announced he’d lodge an objection, lending support to what was previously seen as a farcical bid by dozens of House members to overturn the election, no one was particularly taken aback. But on Saturday, there was a palpable sense of consternation when Ted Cruz, along with 10 other GOP senators, released a statement declaring their intent to join Hawley.
Those senators are: Marsha Blackburn, Mike Braun, Steve Daines, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, and senators-elects Bill Hagerty, Cynthia Lummis, Roger Marshall, and, naturally, Tommy Tuberville.
Lankford, Johnson, and Kennedy will stand for reelection in 2022. You’d be obtuse not to note that it was just Friday when Trump threatened to support South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem in a prospective primary challenge to John Thune, who previous told the media that efforts to overturn the election in the Senate were doomed.
That threat looks to have had its desired effect, although one imagines the plan for this was already in motion prior to Trump’s Friday tweets, which came as the Senate overrode his veto of the defense bill.
When Hawley announced his plans, one immediate concern for the GOP was that everyone would be forced onto the record either in favor of upholding the democratic will of voters or else the autocratic will of Trump. As The New York Times noted, “taking such a vote would put Republican senators in a position many have labored to avoid so as not to alienate their base – going on the record to either endorse or dismiss Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him.”
Now, Hawley’s maneuver looks strategic and coordinated with the White House.
In the simplest possible terms: Any Republican who voted to certify Biden’s election would open themselves up to a primary challenge — or worse. At the same time, it would give Trump a list of targets to berate, thereby raising the specter that those lawmakers would risk years of torment both from Trump and from his base.
“Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections,” the group of senators said Saturday. “By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.”
To say that’s a disputable claim is to grossly understate the case. Trump has filed some 60 lawsuits in an attempt to overturn the election results. He’s been rebuffed at every juncture, including by a Supreme Court featuring three of his own nominees.
The group of senators seems unconcerned with that. “Ideally, the courts would have heard evidence and resolved these claims of serious election fraud,” they said. “Twice, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to do so; twice, the Court declined.”
That’s correct. And, contrary to the president’s allegations, the court had good reasons to decline. It’s worth emphasizing that at no point has anyone presented compelling, credible evidence to support the contention that the election result is “fraudulent.”
Prior to departing the Justice Department, William Barr specifically and explicitly said that there was no evidence that widespread voter fraud had occurred, and especially not on a scale that would hand Trump the election.
“We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr flatly told the AP, on December 1.
That interview was widely seen as a parting shot from a man who, despite his penchant for bending the law and arguably putting himself in legal jeopardy to expand the scope of the presidency, had run out of patience with Trump’s increasingly brazen tactics.
Cruz and his 11 compatriots demanded a commission be established to audit the results of the election. In the absence of that, they’ll object to certification of Biden’s victory. Specifically, Cruz and co. threatened “to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified,’ unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.”
Mitch McConnell doesn’t support this, for what it’s worth, which is apparently not much. Trump has clearly chipped away at McConnell’s capacity to herd cats.
Just to be clear, these Republicans, as well as those in the House who are mounting a parallel effort to subvert the election, are attempting to disenfranchise 81 million voters. It’s just that simple.
One thing I’ve tried to emphasize to readers over the course of Trump’s presidency is that past a certain threshold, it’s impossible to argue that he doesn’t harbor aspirations to autocratic rule. Autocratic rule isn’t typically a good thing — it’s rightfully described as anathema to western values.
That said, not every historical instance of autocratic governance was (or is) an unmitigated disaster. Modern China isn’t an unmitigated disaster, and neither is Putin’s Russia. Yes, there are people (lots of them, in fact) in China and Russia for whom autocratic governance is a human tragedy. And that’s… well, tragic. But autocracy isn’t always synonymous with North Korea, or with totalitarian hell more generally.
So, it is possible to support Trump while simultaneously acknowledging that doing so amounts to endorsing the end of democratic governance in the United States. I wouldn’t recommend taking that position, but my point is simply that this is no longer a debate: What’s happening isn’t democracy. It’s autocracy in the making. If you’re truly assessing the situation dispassionately, you’re compelled to admit that. If you want to embrace it, that’s your decision, but that’s the decision you’re making — you’re advocating for autocratic rule.
Just days ago, for example, a sitting US congressman sued the vice president in an attempt to force Mike Pence to literally throw out Joe Biden’s electors and declare Trump president. The suit was dismissed, but there is no sense in which that’s consistent with democracy. It’s the opposite of democracy. If the current vice president can unilaterally decide to toss out the opposing candidate’s electors, there’s no reason why any incumbent would ever lose. And the moment the country adopted such a “system” would be the moment the party in power would stay in power forever. (Because after every election, the vice president would presumably just toss out enough electors to reelect his or her party’s candidate.)
Republican Ben Sasse released a letter this week in an (ultimately futile) attempt to reason both with his party and with the public. For those who missed it, here are the key passages:
The president and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking — first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress — to overturn the results of a presidential election. They have unsuccessfully called on judges and are now calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes. If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence. But the president doesn’t and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote.
Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.
That it’s come to this is a testament to how fragile the country’s system of governance actually was — and still is.
For all the credit they get, the Founders seemingly failed to account for the fact that the very type of scenario they sought to preempt via binding rules and a system of checks and balances so labyrinthine that it often leads to governmental paralysis, would likely also be a scenario in which the executive simply ignored those rules and declared the checks and balances null and void.
That’s the fundamental problem with trying to preempt autocracy by establishing a democratic scaffolding. That doesn’t work because autocrats aren’t responsive to democratic governance.
There’s still no chance that the results of the 2020 election will be overturned. In order to sustain an objection, Republicans would need a simple majority in both chambers, an outcome that’s not forthcoming barring something truly outlandish.
But, coming full circle, nothing should surprise you anymore.