Precisely no one thinks this is going to work; in some states it’s explicitly illegal, and in others the Republican legislators are too afraid of a backlash to do it. But what you haven’t heard is any Republicans actually speaking the truth: that the very idea is a profound insult to democracy itself.
They may dismiss it as far-fetched, but they won’t admit that the leader of their party, whom they’ve indulged and lauded and cowered before for the last four years, is in a real way an enemy of everything America stands for.
The party that fetishizes the Framers and whose members are fond of brandishing tiny copies of the Constitution from their breast pockets has proved for all time that its commitment to the American system is nonexistent.
Even now, when Trump is defeated and increasingly pathetic, they can’t muster the strength to stand up for democracy. A senator saying, “Perhaps it’s time to allow the Biden transition team to talk to officials in the federal government, just in case” is what passes for courage and principle in the GOP.
It isn’t hard to understand what Trump himself gets out of his refusal to submit to the will of the voters. We all know — Republicans as well as anyone — that he is an emotional infant. Nothing terrifies him more than being known as a loser. So just as he claims that his many failed business ventures were actually brilliant financial maneuvers, he will insist to his dying day that he was the real winner of this election.
The only ones actually persuaded are the deranged members of the Republican base. Fed a steady diet of lies and conspiracy theories, they are more convinced than ever that democracy is a sham and the only legitimate outcome is when their side wins.
The Republican leaders who will remain after Trump mopes back to Mar-a-Lago no doubt see utility in maintaining the myth of the stolen election, even if they themselves know it’s false. It’s the most obvious way to keep their base enraged, which increases the likelihood that in 2022 they’ll be able to retake full control of Congress. There’s a good chance it will work: A new president’s first midterm election has usually been a huge success for the opposition party.
On the other hand, if Republicans are successful in winning one or both seats in the runoff Senate elections in Georgia, they’ll deprive themselves of a key fuel source for the anger they need to keep alive. Only if Democrats take control of the Senate will there be any meaningful legislation in the next two years, including the drawn-out, attention-grabbing fights Republicans can organize around. If, for example, President-elect Joe Biden were to attempt his ambitious health-care reform, which includes a public option, Republicans would be able (with the near-infinite resources of the health-care industry behind them) to mount a campaign of fear and lies, as they did when the Affordable Care Act was being debated.
But if Republicans win either Georgia race and retain control of the chamber, there will be no such battles. Biden’s efforts on health care will consist of administrative decisions and agency rulemaking, none of which will grab the public’s attention.
Without any defining legislative conflicts, the first couple of years of the Biden presidency could be relatively quiet, especially compared to the madness of the past four years. It’s even possible, if not likely, that if the coronavirus vaccines turn out to be as effective as their manufacturers claim, we could see strong economic growth in 2021 and 2022 as people return enthusiastically to their pre-pandemic lives.
Which could make it considerably harder for Republicans to stoke the fires of resentment and anger. But that is where Trump’s delegitimizing of the election can help them: As far as the Republican Party is now concerned, the very fact of Democrats winning an election and then moving to implement the agenda the electorate voted for is a fraud, a crime, an atrocity, something that should inspire their voters to paroxysms of rage.
That is what Republicans see as they watch this president pouring out his daily deluge of lying tweets and consider how best to find advantage in the destruction he will leave behind. Trump may be waging war on democracy itself, but if that keeps the base riled up, it’s fine with them.