PRESIDENT TRUMP has dropped the pretense of respecting democracy. Having lost the election, and a string of attempts to challenge vote counts, he demanded on Wednesday that state officials simply refuse to certify the results. The end game, according to Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, is to enable Republican state lawmakers in a swing state such as Michigan to award their state’s electoral college delegates to Mr. Trump despite President-elect Joe Biden’s unassailable vote margins.

The Post’s Robert Costa reports that Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, is also talking up what would amount to a coup. He knows that his desultory lawsuits will not succeed, but calculates that if enough states are prevented from certifying their votes by legal deadlines, the election could be thrown into Congress, which might hand the presidency to Mr. Trump — again, against the will of the voters.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump demonstrated Tuesday that he will retaliate against those who fail to read from his corrupt script by firing Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security election security boss who publicly refuted the president’s unfounded allegations that voting systems were manipulated.

This is beyond political norm-breaking. This is a direct assault on democracy itself. That an American president would even contemplate scheming to overturn a free and fair election is astonishing. That he is actively trying to do so should shock Americans to the core.

Instead, the president’s lies about widespread fraud have persuaded half of Republicans to believe that Mr. Trump “rightfully won” the election, according to a Reuters poll released Wednesday. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York reports that a substantial number of House Republicans think — without a shred of evidence — that Democrats somehow hacked the election. Mr. Biden will enter office with a massive chunk of the country believing he, in fact, stole the election, when it is Mr. Trump who is trying to do just that. These people will not just preemptively reject their next president, but also doubt the democracy in which they live.

Indeed, Mr. Trump may be setting a new precedent for how one wins elections in the United States: First, hold a vote; next, see whether you can bully enough state and local officials into manipulating the vote-counting and certification process on your behalf. The strategy could prove more viable in a closer election. Whether it works then will depend on whether public officials from the lowliest county clerk to the most senior U.S. senator allow previously pro forma matters of election administration to become partisan weapons.

The public officials responsible for administering elections have mostly done their duty, this time. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has run a careful, transparent count, rejecting baseless claims of widespread irregularities, even while Mr. Trump and both Georgia senators savagely attacked him. Republican state lawmakers in Michigan and Pennsylvania have rejected calls to overturn the popular votes in their states. But GOP senators have mostly stuck with Mr. Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has defended the president’s refusal to concede. Worse, Mr. Raffensperger says that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) pressured him to trash legitimate votes.

Mr. Trump’s coup might not work this time. But he, Mr. Graham, Mr. McConnell and far too many others may be softening the ground for the next failed candidate who has no scruples about torching American democracy.

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