The slow-motion aftershocks of the collapse of Trump’s effort to steal the election, and the national psychodrama that has attended it, amount to an extended declaration that he will never willingly send any such signal. Trump will leave, but he will never once tell his supporters that in removing him, the system is functioning lawfully, that its verdict is a legitimate one.
All this comes to mind in light of this remarkable new report by Politico’s Tim Alberta, which documents the extensive efforts by Trump and his allies to co-opt Michigan Republicans into his scheme to steal the election, as well as their willing acquiescence.
The upshot of Alberta’s report is simple. The Michigan Republicans who happened to be in a position to facilitate Trump’s nefarious effort faced a stark choice: Either stand up for the rule of law and the legitimacy of our election, or stand with Trump and try to help him overturn it.
In the end, the scheme was thwarted when an obscure member of the state’s canvassing board upheld his legal obligation to certify Michigan’s votes. And, to be clear, even if he hadn’t, the courts would have forced certification, and Trump trailed in too many other states for these machinations to make any difference.
But what’s so unsettling is how much pressure was brought to bear on key GOP players to subvert their own state’s lawful processes on Trump’s behalf, how they experienced that pressure, how key institutions behaved, and how some reacted in response to all of it.
The bombshell moment came when Republicans understood Trump would lose in Michigan once all the votes were counted and that he was demanding the invalidation of tens of thousand of votes — most cast by African Americans — on false grounds of fraud:
Two realities became inescapable to Michigan’s GOP elite. First, there was zero evidence to substantiate widespread voter fraud. Second, they could not afford to admit it publicly.
The core truth of the matter was this:
The president was not accepting defeat. That meant no Republican with career ambitions could accept it, either.
This led Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel to validate lies about the election and publicly shame a Republican election official for failing to declare lawful votes illegitimate — while privately admitting allegations of fraud were bogus.
Why? Because failing to fight for Trump might complicate her ability to hold her plum party perch.
The need to show loyalty to Trump also led the two top state GOP legislative leaders to visit the White House even as Trump’s team pressured them to appoint rogue electors in defiance of the popular vote. Instead of declining as a show of support for the legitimacy of the voting, they crafted a cover story for the visit and brought along lawyers for self protection — meaning they knew Trump had dragged them onto thin legal ice.
Why go, then? Because they believed “spurning Trump could torpedo their careers in the GOP,” as Alberta reports.
It is hard to come away from this report without a clear sense that in slightly different circumstances, things could have gone far worse. What will happen in a much closer future election that comes down to one state, in which the voting is tight enough to make it easier for local officials to fake-justify not certifying it or to fake-justify the sending of separate electors?
It’s not clear how such a scenario would end. But those who have seriously gamed these permutations out have concluded that a major constitutional and systemic breakdown would be a plausible outcome.
As Jamelle Bouie details, the Republican Party’s “embrace of minoritarian rules and institutions predates Trump,” but in this case, the sheer explicitness and monstrous scale of the corruption that was attempted points toward a “new normal.”
The Michigan tale underscores the point. For many Republicans, an extraordinarily corrupt and anti-democratic strategy — denying certification of voting on grounds that thousands of African American votes were illegitimate, and sending rogue electors in defiance of the people’s will — has become something career-minded Republicans must treat as a legitimate tool of political competition. A squeamish unwillingness to deploy this strategy risked being seen as betrayal.
Indeed, when that obscure Michigan canvassing official agreed to certify the vote, he didn’t merely assert that he was being asked to exercise powers he didn’t have — a step which apparently required great bravery — he also had to plead for understanding on this point.
It may be that once Trump recedes into private life, he will morph into an increasingly buffoonish and diminished figure, whose ranting about the election will be akin to a cartoon soundtrack playing in the next room, exercising little to no influence on Republicans. It’s also possible that we don’t need a Nixon moment from Trump: The collapse of this strategy may itself persuade future Republicans that it’s a non-starter.
But if Trump were to explicitly tell his supporters that the verdict the system has rendered is legitimate, it might inspire a bit more confidence that something like this is less likely to be attempted again.
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