The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As the election wraps up, Trump allies’ efforts to help him undermine the election get more brazen

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), seen in 2019, is leading the House GOP's efforts in support of a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The Republican politicians who refused to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory thus far have never had a clear way out of this.

An option some of them hinted at was to acknowledge Biden’s win when the electoral college certifies it, which is expected Monday.

That may still be the plan for some congressional Republican holdouts. But for many, what we’ve seen is exactly the opposite: As deadlines pass that continue to confirm Biden’s win, President Trump and his GOP allies are ramping up their challenges to election results.

The latest challenge is perhaps the most extreme. On Thursday, more than half of all House Republicans serving signed onto an outlandish Texas lawsuit now at the Supreme Court that asks the court to overturn Biden’s win and essentially hand the election to Trump.

It’s as remarkable an ask as it sounds, and it’s built on baseless claims.

The lawsuit has been labeled by legal experts and some Republican critics as a public relations stunt. But there’s an argument to make that the 126 House Republicans, including their leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), and 18 attorneys general who signed onto this are engaging in more than a public relations stunt.

No longer are they passively allowing Trump to challenge results, by saying something like “every candidate has a right to ask the courts to weigh in.” Now, nearly 65 percent of House Republicans and a sizable chunk of Republican state officials are actively giving Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and steal it a stamp of approval.

Let’s go back to the beginning, after Election Day, to understand how the Republican Party’s willingness to help Trump challenge the results has progressed even as Biden’s win becomes clearer and clearer.

Shortly after media outlets projected Biden’s win, congressional Republican leaders refused to say Biden had won.

They said they’d let court challenges play out, with some telling journalists that Trump just needed time to process his loss.

But it quickly became clear that Trump wasn’t processing it as a loss, and that his team did not have any evidence of voter fraud strong enough for courts to take seriously. Over the past few weeks, they’ve lost numerous cases in seven states.

Some particularly brutal rulings against the Trump team peeled away some Republicans. The Trump campaign’s big legal flameout in late November in federal court in Pennsylvania spurred a top House Republican, three Senate Republicans, two other members of Congress, one governor and two Trump allies to essentially tell the president to accept defeat. “President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring.

Even as Trump’s legal challenges became further unmoored from reality, and lawyers started quietly distancing themselves from the cases, a majority of Republican lawmakers continued to stay silent. A recent Washington Post survey of all congressional Republicans found that 88 percent wouldn’t say who won the election.

In late November, states started certifying their results, a process that starts with precinct-level confirmation of votes and goes all the way up to states’ top election officials and governors to confirm which candidate won their state.

Instead of seeing these official acts as the end game — no longer could some Republicans say it was just “the media” that had determined Biden’s win — Republicans again either remained silent or supported an even brasher attempt by Trump to simply steal the election.

The president started pressuring county and state election board members in Michigan, GOP state lawmakers in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Georgia’s governor, to reject Biden’s win and hold state legislative sessions to give him their states’ electoral votes. (What Trump is proposing is almost certainly illegal.)

Again, a few Republicans called this out. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a critic of Trump’s challenges from the start, described what the president was doing as “undemocratic.”

And now we’re in December. Despite his best efforts to stop it, every state that Trump was trying to contest certified its results for Biden, in time for the legal deadline that says Congress has to treat these results as “conclusive” when it counts states’ results in January. It also made it that much harder for any legal challenges to gain traction.

Trump has two more Hail Mary tosses he’s going to try to use anyway, and he’s been even more successful in enlisting Republican officeholders to help him. A handful of House Republicans are expected to challenge some states’ election results during that January count.

Federal election law says they have to find a senator to join them. Even if they do, their efforts will almost certainly fail, but it will force both chambers to vote on their challenges anyway. And if Trump makes this a litmus loyalty test, as he probably will, we can expect more than just one or two Republicans in Congress to vote to overturn a state’s legal results.

On Monday, the finish line really is here. The electoral college will vote to confirm Biden’s win.

Yet on Tuesday, a top GOP senator, Ron Johnson, will hold a committee hearing on election irregularities, despite there being no evidence of any. (Johnson, of Wisconsin, is also a senator to watch to potentially join House Republicans and force a vote challenging election results.)

And then there’s the Texas lawsuit, which has garnered the most support of anything Trump’s tried so far.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) expressed dismay Friday to The Post’s Mike DeBonis that things are only ramping up as the election process ends, and that a notable number of Republican lawmakers are on board: “I am really surprised and disappointed that — what are we? Three days before everything is to be certified? — that there would be … this effort. … But even more so, I was just really disappointed that this is continuing in this way.”