But no. As the Trump presidency comes to a close, members of the party that has shown itself so incapable and unworthy of governing have one last card to play: They will do everything in their power to poison the American political system for years to come.
They’re doing so by spreading false claims about voter fraud, to convince their own base that the election is right now being stolen from Trump, its rightful winner. This is critical to understand: Republicans know that the majority of Americans are not persuaded by the lies and conspiracy theories they’re tossing around, nor are the courts that one after another are rejecting their preposterous lawsuits.
The target is Republican voters, and the goal is to light a fire of rage that they hope will burn for as long as Joe Biden is president.
And with just a few exceptions, the entire Republican Party and conservative media world are enthusiastically participating in the scam:
- Prominent Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) have insinuated or stated outright that “illegal votes” are being counted across the country. “If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” said Graham.
- In a reversal of long-standing Justice Department policy, Attorney General William P. Barr told prosecutors that they could pursue allegations of “vote tabulation irregularities” while the counting is being completed, a move so blatantly partisan that the official in charge of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch resigned in protest.
- Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has instructed state party leaders and activists to echo Trump’s false claims of voter fraud.
- It has now become standard practice for any Republican who lost their election, no matter how badly, to claim it was because of fraud.
- Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both headed for runoff elections in January, released a joint statement saying the Republican secretary of state has “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections” and demanding he resign. They provided precisely zero specifics or evidence for their claim; the fact that they didn’t win outright was apparently proof enough of fraud.
- Republican attorneys general from 10 states asked the Supreme Court to intervene in Pennsylvania to restrict the number of ballots being counted there.
- Pro-Trump conservative media has relentlessly promoted bogus stories of fraud. Rush Limbaugh flatly stated the new operating principle: “There’s simply no way Joe Biden was legitimately elected president.”
- For hours every night, Fox News viewers are fed the line that the election is being stolen, a claim repeated on lesser outlets such as Breitbart and One America News. As Lou Dobbs declared: “Many are trying to steal this election from President Trump. There is no doubt about it.”
- Facebook is awash in right-wing misinformation and lies about voter fraud, which the platform’s algorithm is pushing in front of untold numbers of people.
- A new poll shows 70 percent of Republicans now believe that the election was not free and fair.
There is a benign — but utterly mistaken — way to think about what Republicans are doing right now on Trump’s behalf.
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” one Republican official told The Post. Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) told CNN that GOP senators are privately saying: “They call me to say, ‘Congratulations, please convey my well wishes to the president-elect, but I can’t say that publicly yet.’”
But this is not merely a temporary bit of playacting to soothe the tender feelings of the toddler in the Oval Office. It will be at the heart of Republican strategy for the next four years.
Just as Republicans used the racist “birther” lie to tell themselves that Barack Obama was not a legitimate president, they will use the lie of a stolen election to say the same about Biden. Conspiracy theories, the belief that liberals cannot legitimately win or govern, and an utter lack of commitment to any democratic principle are not merely features of contemporary conservatism, they are becoming its very essence.
It is not enough for the GOP’s base to be disappointed in the results of the election and determined to do better next time. They must be enraged. For the conservative media, creating and feeding anger is a business model that goes back decades. For Republicans in Congress, one of the key functions the stolen election lie will serve is to rationalize their own misdeeds.
Because if Biden is an illegitimate usurper, then any methods are justified to oppose and hinder him, no matter how morally abhorrent or damaging to the country.
It is almost impossible to overstate how toxic this all is. Republicans are trying to destroy any commitment their voters have to the American system of government. They’re working to convince voters that any election that does not produce a Republican win, not just in 2020 but in the future, is inherently fraudulent and need not be acknowledged or respected.
This is not coming from the fringe, or a few intemperate voices, or just a corrupt president on his way out. It is the project of the entire Republican Party and conservative movement. And it is nothing short of an attack on democracy itself.