In his first big public appearance after losing the election to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump made only a glancing mention of the coronavirus pandemic that is spiking and taking the lives of record numbers of Americans on a daily basis. There were few masks apparent in the crowd.
The lame-duck president ostensibly was there to make the case for the two Republican candidates in next month’s runoff election, which will determine control of the Senate.
But as is typically the case with Trump, the event was really all about himself. His rant was a live-action version of his Twitter feed, spewing evidence-free claims that the election was stolen.
Of course, it is Trump who is trying to overturn the will of the American electorate. Just hours before he landed in Valdosta, the president made an outrageous appeal to Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp. In a telephone call, Trump asked Kemp to call the legislature into session to override the Georgia election result, in which Biden won the state by about 12,000 votes, and send a Trump-friendly set of 16 electors to the electoral college, which convenes on Dec. 14. He also pressured the governor to force an audit of signatures on mail ballots, which Kemp has no power to do.
Kemp, who certified the election result on Nov. 20, rebuffed the president. “Your governor could stop it very easily if he knew what the hell he was doing,” Trump declared at the rally. “So far we haven’t been able to find the people in Georgia willing to do the right thing.” The president also encouraged Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), a staunch ally who was defeated in his bid for the Senate this year, to challenge Kemp in 2022.
Republicans worry, with good reason, that Trump’s claims undermining the integrity of the electoral system could actually discourage their supporters from bothering to vote in the Georgia runoff.
All of this might seem like the last-gasping final episode of a reality-show presidency that has tanked in the ratings were it not for the complicity of Trump’s party.
When 25 of my colleagues at The Post surveyed the offices of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate late last week, they found only 27 of them acknowledging the reality that Biden won the election. Two members claimed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Trump came out on top. The remaining 220 lawmakers declined to say who won an election that took place more than a month ago and that wasn’t all that close.
What makes all of this more dangerous is the fact that the delusion being fueled by Trump has taken hold among his party’s rank and file. Polls are showing upward of 60 percent of Republicans believe the election was rigged. And that has consequences for our democracy that have the potential to linger long after Trump has left office.
It seems to matter not a whit to them that Trump’s baseless claims of massive election fraud are being thrown out of courts across the country.
Sure, it is possible to find some small reasons for optimism. It may be that, once the Georgia Senate election is over on Jan. 5, leading Republicans will rediscover their spines and acknowledge that Trump lost a fair fight.
And the fact that things finally appear to be moving on Capitol Hill toward an agreement on an overdue and badly needed package of government assistance to combat the economic effects of the covid-19 pandemic could be a sign that, with Trump’s departure on the horizon, something resembling responsible governance might be making a comeback.
Come Jan. 20, it is doubtful that the 45th president will even attend the inauguration of the 46th. If Trump skips it, he would be the first chief executive since the 1860s to do so. There is talk that he might even hold a rally that day, to announce that he will be running again in 2024.
Whether Trump is there in person as Biden is sworn in, his corrosive presence will not disappear any time soon. The damage that he has done — and continues to do — to confidence and trust in this nation’s democratic values is likely to go down as the most significant part of his presidential legacy.