And yet it has all fallen apart.
Again and again, Trump and his allies have filed suit to stop the counting of ballots, or throw out ballots, or otherwise keep Joe Biden from being declared the winner. Again and again, their preposterous arguments have been almost laughed out of court, even by Republican-appointed judges.
Here are the latest developments:
- In Michigan, a state judge threw out a Republican suit attempting to stop the certification of the state for Biden, saying the plaintiff’s charges of voter fraud were “not credible.”
- Another Republican lawsuit in Michigan seeks to have all the votes in three heavily Democratic counties thrown out, which would hand the state to Trump. Biden leads Trump in Michigan by nearly 150,000 votes.
- In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign claims in a lawsuit that because its observers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh couldn’t stand close enough to “meaningfully observe” the counting of votes, 600,000 votes should be invalidated, a claim as absurd as the other ones the campaign is making. The law firm that had been representing Trump in the case withdrew its participation, apparently out of sheer embarrassment.
- In another case in Pennsylvania, a federal appeals court rejected a Republican attempt to throw out mail ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrived later that week. Biden leads in the state by just under 60,000 votes.
- In Arizona, the Trump campaign dropped its lawsuit, unable to come up with any grounds on which the results should be reversed. Biden leads there by 11,000 votes.
These cases are so weak that it appears the Supreme Court will be spared the need to intercede on Trump’s behalf, surely to the relief of the justices. Not that the court’s six conservatives didn’t want to see Trump win, but they were no doubt uncomfortable with the idea of handing him a victory in the way he wanted.
That’s because while Trump was hoping for something like a repeat of 2000 — when the entire election hinged on a few hundred disputed votes in Florida — the problem he faces now is that he’s so far behind that his lawyers can’t come up with any good reason the results in any state should be reversed to give him the state’s electoral votes, let alone in the multiple states he’d need to flip to prevail.
Which means it would take a partisan intervention so extraordinary, so unjustified, so appalling to any notion of democracy that if the Supreme Court actually gave Trump what he wanted, it could cause a constitutional crisis unprecedented in American history.
Not only that, while Trump is loudly and repeatedly alleging fraud, when his lawyers actually get before courts, they’ve been unable to provide any evidence of fraud at all. They can’t even claim to have found fraud most of the time.
Instead, they’ve been telling judges that there’s some irregularity here or some unanswered questions there, but they assume that election officials are acting in good faith. It’s almost reached the level of farce.
So while any or all of these cases can be appealed as far as Trump and others are willing to take them, they stand virtually no chance of winning. To any sane observer, they’re nothing more than the increasingly desperate whining of a sore loser.
But of course, this is not a nation full of sane observers, particularly when they’re being fed conspiracy theories by the president, the conservative media and Republican politicians who see an advantage in playing to the party’s unhinged base.
Which is why, despite the steady stream of legal setbacks, Trump’s efforts to have the election reversed are still incredibly damaging. It’s now standard practice for any Republican anywhere to claim that if they lost, it can only be because Democrats stole the election. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said earlier this week, “We win because of our ideas, we lose elections because they cheat us.”
This is now the central Republican narrative of this election: not that a majority of voters had simply had enough of Trump — who knows, maybe it was the quarter-million Americans dead from covid-19 because of his malignant mismanagement — but that it was a theft, the election stolen from its rightful and righteous winner.
That noxious idea will poison our politics for years to come. It’s just one of the ways we’ll be living with Trump’s legacy long after he’s gone.