Just hours after the polls closed, Trump falsely claimed that he had won battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan — and with them the election. On Thursday, already far behind in the electoral college, he doubled down: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Trump’s definition of an “illegal vote,” it is clear, is one that is cast against him. This is the kind of thing you expect to hear from Robert Mugabe, Alexander Lukashenko or Nicolás Maduro — not from the leader of a constitutional republic. No president in our history has mounted such a blatant assault on our democracy.
Trump has, predictably, been joined in his fulminations against the election by his usual MAGA minions. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich demands that federal agents arrest election workers, and former White House aide Sebastian Gorka fulminates that U.S. marshals “need to break down the doors of those polling stations and stop the crimes being committed.”
But, mercifully, that is not happening. More significant than what is being said is what is not being said — or done. So far Attorney General William P. Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf — the men in control of what, in other countries, are known as the “power ministries” — have not publicly said one word to support Trump’s baseless accusations of fraud and have not made any public moves to save Trump from defeat. Trump might fire some or all of them (a purge is said to be in the works), but it’s doubtful their successors will come to his rescue either.
Nor have the courts intervened despite all of the judges that Trump has appointed. Unable to mobilize a high-powered legal team as George W. Bush did in 2000, Trump is relying on the usual low-wattage loyalists: Rudolph W. Giuliani, Richard Grenell, Pam Bondi, Corey Lewandowski. Their arguments play well on Fox “News” — but, so far, not so well in court. Trump’s Supreme Court appointees are not exactly rushing to sacrifice their reputations on Trump’s altar.
Many of us have spent the past few years decrying the tendency of Trump supporters to live in a world of alternative facts. But ultimately reality bites. The fact that Trump and his cultists cannot point to a single actual case of fraud — much less enough fraud to overturn an election that he is on track to lose by a significant margin — makes it impossible for them to effectively challenge the results. Their theory — that Democrats perpetrated a massive fraud in the presidential race but neglected to fix the results of House or Senate races — is laughably absurd.
This helps to explain why the Republican Party is not enthusiastically rallying to Trump’s side. So far, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is one of the few GOP leaders shameless enough to claim that Trump has already won. Donald Trump Jr. had to berate 2024 potential GOP hopefuls for not coming to Trump’s defense — which produced dutiful tweets from the likes of Nikki Haley and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) outrageously suggested that Trump deserves an election do-over. But not even Vice President Pence echoed Trump’s claims of a stolen election. His carefully worded tweet said: “I Stand With President @realDonaldTrump. We must count every LEGAL vote.”
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who is close to Trump, actually denounced his baseless accusations — as did the few elected Republicans with any integrity. Others, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), retreated to bromides about counting all of the legal votes. (Who can disagree?) In the cruelest cut of all, the New York Post, which only a few weeks ago had been hyping the pseudo-scandal of Hunter Biden’s laptop, dismissed Trump’s Thursday meltdown with a withering headline: “Downcast Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address.”
The Fox “News” evening hosts may stick with Trump to the bitter end, but it’s pretty clear that Rupert Murdoch — who would not even force Fox’s news division to rescind its call of Arizona for Biden — is not going down with the SS Trumptanic. Neither are Republican leaders. They were happy to use Trump to get what they wanted — judges, tax cuts — and they were (and are) too afraid of his rabid base to challenge him. But having survived the election, they don’t have much use for him anymore. They are probably just as happy not to be asked in the future to respond to his witless tweets.
Harry Truman supposedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Trump doesn’t have a dog — or a prayer.