The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s Fredo Corleone act is embarrassing and dangerous. But the end is near.

President Trump walks to the Oval Office while arriving back at the White House on Dec. 31, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

"So what are we going to do here folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break."

No, that wasn't Fredo Corleone begging for a favor. It was President Trump, whining at Georgia officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, on Saturday in a vain, clumsy, ridiculous — and maybe even illegal — attempt to make the vote tallies change the state's election result to favor him instead of President-elect Joe Biden. Trump's flailing endgame is pathetic and maybe even dangerous. And while the rest of us must remain alert, we should calm ourselves with the knowledge that, no matter how much Trump pleads otherwise, the national disaster that is his presidency has an end date.

You probably know all the details by now: Raffensperger, a Republican, recorded the call after having reportedly dodged 18 previous attempts by Trump to reach him. Post reporter Amy Gardner obtained the recording. Legendary news anchor Dan Rather, who covered Watergate, summed up the contents perfectly on Twitter: "The audio of Trump with the Georgia secretary of state. Wow. It's like telling the Nixon tapes to 'hold my beer.' "

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)

Rather isn't exaggerating. Georgia's votes have been counted not once, not twice, but three times; Biden won the state, Trump lost it. But the president of the United States, which likes to think of itself as the world's greatest democracy, wants state officials to break the law and overturn the voters' decision.

"So look," Trump says at another point during the hour-long phone call. "All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes." As Trump notes repeatedly, he lost the state by 11,779 votes. What he wants Raffensperger to do is announce "that you've recalculated" and somehow uncovered just enough fictitious Trump votes to reverse the outcome.

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I urge everyone to listen to as much of the conversation as they can stand, to better understand the nadir to which Trump has brought us. Trump wheedles and cajoles. He bullies, at one point threatening Raffensperger and his aides that they are committing "a criminal offense" by accurately counting the votes. He delivers long, rambling soliloquies full of disproved conspiracy theories about thousands of "dead people" voting (didn't happen), supposed late-night shenanigans with the vote count (investigated and dismissed), and shadowy executives who somehow "moved the inner parts of the [voting] machines and replaced them with other parts" (utterly delusional).

Which would be more alarming? That Trump knows this is all nonsense and is just throwing random stuff against the wall, hoping that enough of it sticks to allow him to steal those 11,780 votes? Or that the most powerful man in the world, the keeper of the nuclear codes, is so divorced from reality that he actually believes this insanity?

I have to conclude that both propositions are true. Trump's sales technique is not to convince but to overwhelm. And while he has practical, self-interested reasons for trying to cling to power — notably, four more years of effective immunity from any threat of criminal prosecution — on some level, he seems unable to deal with the reality of being an impeached, one-term president who was defeated despite the fact that other Republicans, overall, did quite well. In other words: a loser.

What is Trump's plan for the finale of his presidency? At this point, we should know him well enough to assume that there isn't one. Trump's method has always been to try to "win" the day, the news cycle, the half-hour.

If Republicans keep the crucial Senate seats in Georgia, Trump will claim to have carried them across the finish line; if they lose, he will claim Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Raffensperger and other Republicans were insufficiently loyal to Dear Leader Trump. On Wednesday, when true believers descend on Washington to proclaim his "victory" and ambitious GOP members of Congress mount a futile challenge to the electoral college tally, Trump will bask in the adulation — and Biden will receive 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232.

Then what? Lots of Gotterdammerung-style screaming and sulking, no doubt, as the mantle of power slips from his shoulders to Biden's. But we cannot discount the possibility that he will lash out in more concrete ways. It is good that all 10 living former defense secretaries signed a Post op-ed warning against involving the military in any election dispute — but scary that such a piece had to be written.

It's awful to feel captive to this spectacle and to know that the best thing we can do in response feels a lot like nothing. Stay home and stay safe, stay vigilant and strong for a couple more weeks, everyone. Then exhale.

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