Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris won an election that was not all that close, and GOP quislings McConnell, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) know it. They know this is nothing like the cliffhanger of 2000, which hinged on a few hundred votes in a single state. Trump is trying — or pretending to try — to somehow change or nullify hundreds of thousands of votes in at least six states.
In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada, attorneys pressing Trump's "election fraud" lawsuits have basically been laughed out of court. In Georgia and Wisconsin, election officials confidently predict recounts will not erase Biden's five-figure leads. In Arizona, where some news organizations still decline to call the race, the Republican attorney general says he believes Trump — trailing by more than 11,000 votes — is "very, highly unlikely" to triumph there, either.
As Republican eminence grise Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "the president's efforts are unlikely to move a single state from Mr. Biden's column, and certainly they're not enough to change the final outcome." But he made this acknowledgment only after first quoting McConnell's nonsense about Trump being "within his rights" to make specious legal challenges. That's not good enough.
All Republican officials should immediately do what a scant few, such as Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), have done: Congratulate President-elect Biden and wish him well, just as Democrats congratulated Trump in 2016.
Some Republicans have reportedly said privately that they are just giving Trump time to "process" his loss. Do they think he's a child? Is he really so emotionally immature? He has had plenty of setbacks in his life — multiple bankruptcies, two divorces. He knew he was likely to lose this election and had plenty of time to prepare his tender ego for the blow.
More likely, McConnell and the rest are more concerned about the bruised feelings of Trump's millions of voters. Republicans are looking ahead to the Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate. Republicans believe they need Trump's base to prevail — and fear that if they don't indulge his fantasy of having won an election he clearly lost, Trump could be indifferent or even hostile regarding the two crucial Senate contests.
Potential contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 — among them Cruz, Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — have even more reason to avoid crossing Trump and angering his most passionate supporters. That is probably why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an ambitious man, made his dangerous and appalling wisecrack about "a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."
It is wrong to write off such cynicism as "just politics." This is the one moment in the life of our democracy when we pretend politics don't exist, when we act as if the tribal identities "Democrat" and "Republican" are made insignificant by our common identity as Americans. The aftermath of a presidential election is a ritual, a set-piece in which everyone plays an assigned role, and it is vitally important.
The loser congratulates the winner. The winner finds something nice to say about the loser. The president invites the winner and their spouse to the White House for a chat. A transition begins — the handoff not just of power but also of legitimacy.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did all of this, and more, for Trump in 2016. He refuses to do the same for Biden, breaking a tradition that goes back to 1801 when John Adams handed power and legitimacy to his bitter political enemy, Thomas Jefferson.
The symbolism of a graceful concession is more important than the nuts and bolts of the handoff, especially for a president-elect with Biden's vast experience, though especially in this pandemic, the nuts and bolts do matter. The Biblical book of Hebrews defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Trump is petulantly weakening a divided nation's faith in its hoped-for and unseen foundational ideals — and of all the terrible things this awful man has done to our country, this could be the worst.