Far more elected Republicans are still implicitly backing him as he asks courts to throw out thousands of votes and attempts to strong-arm state lawmakers in states such as Michigan to give electors to him.
The Pennsylvania case may be remembered as a turning point for the holdouts. It pushed Republicans away from Trump’s false fraud claims for good reason, said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and host of the legal podcast “Passing Judgment.” The ruling the judge issued Saturday underscored with finality that the Trump campaign does not have evidence of widespread fraud, in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.
“It’s like the legal equivalent of being run over by a forklift, a tractor, a van and then a small SUV just for good measure just to make sure you’re really dead,” she said. “It’s rare to see a legal opinion saying: Absolutely not. Don’t come back in this courtroom.”
Here’s what happened and why it mattered.
The case the Trump campaign brought in Pennsylvania federal court: It was convoluted. Essentially, it argued that there was widespread fraud in Pennsylvania’s heavily Democratic cities by arguing that those areas improperly allowed voters to fix errors on their mailed ballots. At the last minute, the campaign cut a major argument it had been making outside the courtroom, that Trump poll observers had been restricted from watching ballots be tallied in some precincts. (Trump observers were in the rooms.)
None of this amounted to concrete evidence of widespread fraud. But last week, Trump’s campaign asked the federal judge to block certification of all votes cast in Pennsylvania (which Pennsylvania faces a deadline of Monday to do).
“While the bedrock of American elections has been transparency, almost every critical aspect of Pennsylvania’s November 3, 2020 General Election was effectively shrouded in secrecy,” they argued in a complaint.
After other lawyers on Trump’s team distanced themselves from this case, Rudolph W. Giuliani argued it in person last week, at times offering up baseless claims of a “Mafia-like” effort among Democrats to steal the election.
What the judge said: U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann, a Republican, dismissed the case Saturday, throwing it out before the Trump campaign said it had a chance to even get started. And he didn’t just close the door. He slammed it, with a 37-page ruling that at times amounted to accusing the campaign of undermining democracy.
Among the most notable portions of his writing:
- “[The Trump campaign asks] this Court to disenfranchise almost seven million voters. This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated. One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens. That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
- “Plaintiffs’ only remaining claim alleges a violation of equal protection. This claim, like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together from two distinct theories in an attempt to avoid controlling precedent.” (In other words, the judge alleges the Trump campaign tried to sew up baseless accusations in the hopes the judge wouldn’t notice they didn’t have a concrete one.)
- “[Two voters who say their ballots were thrown out] have entirely failed to establish any causal relationship between Secretary [of State Kathy] Boockvar and the cancellation of their votes.”
- “Granting Plaintiffs’ requested relief would necessarily require invalidating the ballots of every person who voted in Pennsylvania. Because this Court has no authority to take away the right to vote of even a single person, let alone millions of citizens, it cannot grant Plaintiffs’ requested relief.”
There was a finality to this: It was one of the Trump campaign’s last legal efforts to overturn results in all legal states, and those efforts were already hobbling. Lawyers left, arguments got dropped at the last minute, and, as Brann writes, the campaign failed to make any legitimate claim that it was Democrats who threw out these two people’s votes, much less that they did so for political purposes.
It was also one of the last major legal pushes from the Trump campaign in any of the states where it is trying to overturn results. “We are seeing all the lawsuits starting to circle the drain,” Levinson said.
It comes as members of Trump campaign’s legal team are so frayed that they’re even disputing who is on it. Sidney Powell was described as part of an “elite strike-force team” for Trump, then last week offered up a wild claim that Venezuelan communists somehow played a role in hacking voting machines. A Trump campaign official then said she was “too crazy, even for the president.”
The Trump campaign did file an appeal to a federal circuit court, hoping to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, but legal experts see this as an extremely weak case, especially after the drudging this judge gave it.
What some Republicans said around the time of this ruling: Since Friday, and into the weekend, a top House Republican, three Senate Republicans, two other members of Congress, one governor and two Trump allies have essentially told the president to accept defeat.
Here’s Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring, in a statement after the case was dismissed: “With today’s decision by Judge Matthew Brann, a longtime conservative Republican whom I know to be a fair and unbiased jurist, to dismiss the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.”
“There has to be an end” to this, said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump ally, urging the president to let Joe Biden have his transition.
“Now, we are beginning to look like we’re a banana republic,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). “It’s time for them to stop the nonsense. It just gets more bizarre every single day, and, frankly, I’m embarrassed that more people in the party aren’t speaking up.”
“If the president cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is in the House GOP leadership, said in a statement.
“The conduct of the president’s legal team has been a national embarrassment,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally. “… Elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t.”
“The outcome is very certain today,” said Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, a Trump loyalist, “and the country should move on.”
Trump’s overt pressure on state lawmakers also appears to be weighing heavily on some Republicans: On Friday, Trump invited the top two Republican state legislators in Michigan to the White House with the hopes of asking them to step in and change state law to appoint electors to him. (Doing so is probably illegal.)
Trump has reportedly been considering this strategy for weeks, but taking such a step to overturn results led two Republican senators to speak up. “A pressure campaign on state legislators to influence the electoral outcome is not only unprecedented but inconsistent with our democratic process,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to compile the evidence and mount legal challenges in our courts,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Friday as Trump met with the GOP legislators. “The wrong way is to attempt to pressure state election officials. That undermines the public’s faith in our election results without evidence and court rulings to support the allegations.”
It’s hard to imagine what else would need to happen to prompt other Republicans to speak up. “This is kind of the last moment of: In case you were wondering who puts party over country, go ahead and look at who hasn’t congratulated Biden yet,” Levinson said.