The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans need to decide whether they believe in democracy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) takes his seat before a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/AP)
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A series of events played out on Tuesday that suggests the Republican Party no longer takes democracy seriously:

  • President-elect Joe Biden inched past 79 million votes, nearly 6 million more than President Trump. Biden’s vote share rose to almost 51 percent (higher than the popular vote percentages won by Ronald Reagan in 1980, George W. Bush in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1996).
  • Trump’s singular win among all his frivolous lawsuits was reversed in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.
  • Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris was warmly congratulated on the Senate floor by Republicans who publicly refuse to acknowledge Trump lost:
  • Then, CNN reported: “A staffer for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday that he participated in a controversial phone call with Sen. Lindsey Graham and said he heard Graham ask if state officials could throw out ballots.” The election official, Gabriel Sterling, told CNN, “What I heard was basically discussions about absentee ballots and if a potentially . . . if there was a percentage of signatures that weren’t really, truly matching, is there some point we could get to, we could say somebody went to a courtroom could say well, let’s throw (out) all these ballots because we have no way of knowing because the ballots are separated.” That’s pretty much what Raffensperger said had happened, as he recounted on “CBS This Morning”:
“When Senator Graham called, I just assumed that he was calling about the two runoffs for the senators, so I called him back,” Raffensperger said. “During our discussion, he asked if ballots could be matched back to the envelope — the absentee ballots could be matched back to the envelope. I explained our process, after it went through two sets of signature match, at that point they were separated. But then Senator Graham implied for us to audit the envelopes and then throw out the ballots for counties who have the highest frequency error of signatures. I tried to help explain that because we did signature match, you couldn’t tie the signatures back anymore to those ballots.”

We also learned that Graham called officials in two other states, Nevada and Arizona, though we do not know the content of those calls. There is even more reason now to conduct an investigation, preserve evidence and get witnesses under oath. While this is going on, Graham has no business chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Graham knows Harris and her running mate won. (Unlike Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, he clearly believes there is something to congratulate her for.) Graham, nevertheless, feels compelled to play along with Trump, mislead the public about Trump’s defeat and, according to witnesses, nose around other states to interfere in ballot counting. At the very least, he has created the appearance of gross impropriety and politicized the election process.

This is a senator who is so lost in the miasma of Trump worship that he is willing to kick honesty and respect for elections to the side of the road. While we have no evidence that other lawmakers have gone to the lengths Graham allegedly has, his mind-set is now the rule, not the exception in his party. The vast majority of the Senate is “humoring” Trump and undermining their own base’s faith in elections (a poor strategy, I would think, when trying to turn people out for the Senate runoff races in Georgia). Most Republicans are also silent on the Trump administration’s refusal to let a transition begin, in violation of law that was enacted, in part, to prevent national security bobbles. (We have yet to see whether Trump’s abrupt drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that would have provoked howls had President Barack Obama done it, elicits any rebuke from self-proclaimed hawks.)

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Even if Republicans care only about power and nothing about democracy, their assault on elections and contempt for voters’ intelligence may come back to haunt them. Republicans need at least one Georgia Senate seat to stay in the majority. They sure do not want Republicans throwing up their hands in frustration and deciding only suckers vote. Any 2024 aspirants need Trump to fade away, not to be the guy waving the bloody shirt bellowing for his troops to reclaim his “stolen” office. Even if they don’t care one whit for democracy, the rule of law, truth and the Constitution, they need to do a better job of faking it.

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