The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion An alarmingly large cadre of co-conspirators is helping Trump’s assault on democracy

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaks at a campaign event in Cumming, Ga., on Saturday. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Donald Trump began his presidency trying to obstruct justice. He’s ending it trying to obstruct democracy, and with an alarmingly large cadre of co-conspirators.

Some of this attempted obstruction is being conducted, as is so often the case with Trump, in plain sight; Trump’s anti-democratic conduct is so flagrant and so repeated that we become inured to how abnormal and unacceptable it is. Thus he has claimed massive fraud without basis, unleashed a barrage of litigation lacking the facts and the law to back him up, and riled up his believers to subscribe to the mass delusion that the election was stolen from him.

Behind the scenes, things are even worse, with the craziest of Trump’s crazy advisers pushing the president to pursue unimaginable possibilities such as declaring martial law or invoking the Insurrection Act to unleash the military to quell violence that he himself has sought to stir up.

In a phone call on Jan. 2, President Donald Trump insisted he won the state and threatened vague legal consequences. Here are excerpts from the call. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

That the 10 living former secretaries of defense felt compelled to come together in an op-ed decrying any use of the military in an effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power underscores the peril of the moment. These aren’t just Democratic appointees — they are conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and the two secretaries Trump ousted for being insufficiently compliant, James Mattis and Mark ­Esper.

And now, thanks to The Post’s Amy Gardner, we have a chilling glimpse of Trump’s delusional private arm-twisting in his frenzy to cling to power. Gardner obtained a recording of Trump’s phone call Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, urging, cajoling and ultimately threatening Raffensperger to reconsider his repeated conclusion that Joe Biden won the state.

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“We won the election, and it’s not fair to take it away from us like this,” Trump told Raffensperger. “And I think you have to say that you’re going to reexamine it, and you can reexamine it, but reexamine it with people that want to find answers, not people who don’t want to find answers.” Answers to Trump’s liking, that is.

Georgia has counted its votes three times, once by hand, but Trump told Raffensperger, “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.” He warned that Raffensperger and his chief lawyer were running “a big risk” of criminal liability by failing to find voter fraud.

The man who sparked a special counsel investigation by urging the FBI director to “go easy” on his fired national security adviser, the man who triggered his own impeachment by soliciting a foreign leader to help him dig up dirt on Biden — this man will never learn.

Really, why should he? There are never any real consequences.

Which brings us to Trump’s co-conspirators.

Vice President Pence, who is constitutionally obligated to preside over the joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s electoral college victory. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, issued a statement Saturday night saying that Pence “welcomes” congressional efforts “to raise objections and bring forward evidence” at the session. But Congress is just supposed to look at the legitimacy of the electors, not investigate underlying issues of fraud, which haven’t been presented anyway.

And the dozen or more Republican senators, incumbent and incoming, who are turning what should be a ceremonial event into a constitutional circus. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, defending his move to object to the certification, could summon only Pennsylvania’s use of mail-in ballots when the state’s constitution “has required all votes to be cast in person, with narrowly defined exceptions.” The state legislature passed a law allowing no-excuse mail-in voting. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, without getting into the merits, threw out a challenge to the law.

“These are very serious irregularities, on a very large scale, in a presidential election,” Hawley intoned. This man calls himself a “constitutional lawyer” and a conservative? In our federal system, what happens in Pennsylvania is up to Pennsylvania. The legislature acted. The court rejected a challenge. The state certified Biden’s win. Hawley proffered not a scintilla of evidence of fraud. What is he arguing — that the votes of more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians should now be invalidated?

Not to be outdone — or outmaneuvered in the 2024 presidential sweepstakes — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, joined by 10 colleagues, is pressing for a commission to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election results, again, with no evidence to justify such a last-minute step.

Instead, Cruz, like Hawley, uses the very voter fears that Trump so carefully nurtured and his allies have stoked to justify the need for extraordinary intervention. Speaking to Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo, Cruz cited “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” — allegations that emanate from Trump and his allies — that he said have “produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country.” This is the arsonist calling the fire department to put out the blaze that he kindled.

“I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that,” Cruz lectured. “We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the democratic system.”

Oh please. No one has done more over the past months to undermine the integrity of the democratic system than Trump and his enablers. And if Cruz is actually worried about the integrity of the democratic system, he might start with the president.

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Read more:

All 10 living former defense secretaries: Involving the military in election disputes would cross into dangerous territory

Jennifer Rubin: It’s impeachable. It’s likely illegal. It’s a coup.

Edward B. Foley: Cruz disrupting the electoral college count won’t change anything. It can still hurt democracy.

Colbert I. King: Fourteen days that will test our democracy

Michael Gerson: Josh Hawley’s heedless ambition is a threat to the republic

The Post’s View: The U.S. needs a democracy overhaul. Here’s what Biden’s first step should be.