Of all the vile ways that Republicans have sought to justify President Trump’s effort to overturn his election loss, one of the worst is the ubiquitous claim that Trump is merely pursuing his legal right to contest the results.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is campaigning in one of the two Georgia runoffs, repeated this assertion at a debate on Sunday night. But the circumstances under which Loeffler said this reveal what’s really at the core of this notion in all its corrupt and anti-democratic glory.

What Loeffler really demonstrated is that many elected Republicans are absolutely fine with Trump’s ongoing effort to steal the election through extralegal means.

Republicans aren’t merely refusing to bow to reality, or humoring Trump’s refusal to come to terms with a loss, or any number of euphemisms we keep hearing. Let’s not sugarcoat this: Republicans such as Loeffler tacitly support Trump’s efforts to steal the election outright.

We know this because of the nature of the “recourse” Trump is taking right now: He is urging Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to persuade GOP state legislators to hold a special session to appoint pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, in direct defiance of the state’s popular vote outcome.

To fake-justify this, Trump has employed the lie that the state’s vote count, which has been officially certified and put President-elect Joe Biden ahead by around 12,000 votes, was not legitimate. But again and again, the “evidence” for this has turned out to be utter nonsense.

At the debate, this tactic, and not just Trump’s rhetorical refusal to accept the results, is what Loeffler was asked to comment upon. Reporter Greg Bluestein pressed Loeffler on whether she supports Trump’s demand that Kemp “call a special session to seek to overturn those results.”

“The president has every right to every legal recourse,” Loeffler replied.

At another point, when Loeffler was asked whether Trump was “wrong” to attack Kemp for refusing to facilitate this scheme, she generally sided with Trump and repeated her canned language about him exercising his “legal recourse.”

This is not Trump’s ‘legal recourse’

But this effort is not “legal.” It’s extralegal. Kemp, a Republican, has released a statement clarifying that under state law, the legislature can only “direct an alternative method for choosing presidential electors if the election was not able to be held” on Election Day.

Kemp noted that the legislature already decided back in the 1960s that the electors are chosen by the state’s popular vote and added that under the law, a special session to appoint different electors is “not an option.”

In other words, Trump is calling on the state legislature to go outside of state law to subvert the state’s popular vote and decree him the winner. This is what Loeffler described as an effort by Trump to exercise all “legal recourse.”

More broadly, how many Republican elected officials have openly and explicitly condemned this particular tactic, which Trump and his co-conspirators tried to employ in numerous other states as well?

A few have. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has blasted efforts to get legislatures to go rogue as “unprecedented” and “inconsistent” with democracy. But, while it’s good that a handful of GOP state legislators rebuffed these efforts, what’s distressingly unavoidable is how rare this sort of thing is from elected Republicans.

Yes, it’s possible that if Trump’s efforts to get one or more state legislatures to overturn the results had come closer to succeeding, maybe more Republicans would have objected at that point. But why should we assume this? Until Republicans actually do condemn this tactic en masse, we should instead assume that they would have been fine with it succeeding.

Trump wants to remain in power illegitimately

Much of the debate about Trump’s efforts seems strangely divorced from the unvarnished reality of what it is he’s actually attempting to do. There’s been a loud argument over whether the extended legal losses and all around clownish incompetence of Trump’s team render it absurd to call this an attempt at a “coup.”

But as Zeynep Tufekci points out, the debate over semantics and over the Trump team’s failures must not overshadow the core overriding fact of this current situation, which is that Trump is attempting to invalidate an election in order to stay in power illegitimately:

The technical term for attempting to stay in power illegitimately — such as after losing an election — is self-coup or autocoup — sometimes autogolpe. … The U.S. president is trying to steal the election, and, crucially, his party either tacitly approves or is pretending not to see it.

Indeed, it’s arguably worse than this. In addition to tacitly approving, Loeffler and other Republicans are actively and instrumentally working to exploit the passions Trump has unleashed to their advantage, to mobilize the GOP base in Georgia. They fear the base will be demobilized unless Trump, or at least the opportunity to avenge this fictional injustice done to him, is felt in some sense to be on the ballot.

Loeffler is standing up for Trump’s alleged “right” to overturn the will of her own state’s voters — the same ones she is purportedly seeking to represent in the Senate. She is essentially defending what Trump is doing as a legitimate tactic.

Though the state’s Republican lean makes it more likely than not that a majority of Georgia voters will disagree on this, and may even reward Loeffler’s corrupt support for Trump’s efforts — which itself has all sorts of unsettling future implications — that should be seen as disqualifying.

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