As the year winds down, the courts have slammed the door in the face of election deniers one more time. Kari Lake, heir apparent to Trumpism’s refusal to accept ballot box defeats, sued Maricopa County in a Hail Mary effort to overturn the gubernatorial election result in Arizona. She argued that printer malfunctions and other Election Day problems added up to a deliberate effort to cheat her of victory and resulted in more than enough votes’ not being counted to materially alter the outcome.
Earlier this week, the judge in the two-day trial ruled against Lake, and ordered her to pay more than $33,000 in fees associated with her calling of so-called “expert” witnesses to challenge the vote count. Lake vowed to appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court, but, like Trump’s challenges to the outcome of the 2020 election, the onetime Fox News anchor’s arguments are flimsy at best, and dishonest and antidemocratic at worst. It is, perhaps, tempting fate to assume that she cannot win on appeal, but given the paucity of evidence to support her cause, the likelihood of the courts reversing her election loss seems on a par with the likelihood of Trump suddenly developing a case of humility.
Historians will likely look at 2022 as the year that American democracy came closer to imploding than at any other point since the Civil War. Trump’s relentless attempts at sabotage, backed by a shockingly large part of the GOP, represented an enormous stress test of basic American institutions. Had a few tens of thousands of voters in each of a few key states not rebelled against the MAGA movement and its imposition of extremist candidates—who pledged to use their offices to provide a glide path to Trump’s efforts to secure power once again—states like Arizona would have become epicenters of a new American autocracy. Had Lake been elected governor, instead of losing by 17,000 votes, and had candidates such as Mark Finchem been elected as secretaries of state, the next chapters in America’s political story would have been dark indeed.
Instead, the election deniers were handed a drubbing, and Trump now looks decidedly like yesterday’s grifter. His money-raising efforts—most recently his absurd sale of NFT Trump-superhero cards—are more and more outrageous, and his legal woes are accumulating at a faster rate than snow during a Buffalo blizzard.
On a daily basis, Trump’s balloon, inflated by his own hot air, is falling rapidly back to earth. Take, for example, his NFT cards, 45,000 of which were sold to gullible MAGA enthusiasts at $99 a pop. They lost more than 70 percent of their value in one week.
Trump is even being challenged for the title of Fabulist of the Year from within his own party. Sure, his tax returns suggest a penchant for playing fast and loose with key parts of his biography (like the “being a billionaire” part), but at least he’s not incoming Representative George Santos, who apparently created an entire fictive persona out of whole cloth and successfully sold it to Long Island voters. Educational qualifications that he didn’t have. Jobs he’d never occupied. A Jewish heritage that wasn’t his. Money he didn’t possess. A real estate mini-empire that was nothing more than a figment of his imagination.
In a sane world, Santos, the perfect incarnation of the Trumpian “it’s true if I say it’s so” ethos, wouldn’t be seated in Congress come January. In a Kevin McCarthy world, the one in which Marjorie Taylor Greene was promised pretty much everything including the kitchen sink in exchange for her support for his leadership bid, Santos will probably be invited in for a lengthy one-on-one with the member of Congress from Bakersfield; at the end of this meeting he’ll pledge to support McCarthy’s bid for House speaker in return for McCarthy’s promise to circle the wagons to protect Santos from ethics investigations and possible expulsion from the chamber. Just one more Faustian bargain by a GOP leadership now void of any animating principle other than that of power for the sake of power.
There are, however, signs that even many within the GOP have finally had enough of the circus unleashed by Trump. In the final days of this Congress, legislators voted to overhaul the 1887 Electoral Count Act, explicitly codifying the ceremonial role of the vice president in certifying the Electoral College vote, and raising the bar for the number of senators or representatives needed to challenge a state’s electors. The reform was marketed by senators from both parties as a way to firewall the system against a repeat of January 6. Few senators are rushing to Trump’s defense these days, as he rants against the courts and law enforcement, dines with Nazis, flirts with QAnon, and urges a suspension of constitutional governance so that he can be reinstalled in power. Few rushed to support Kari Lake as she tried to apply a battering ram to Arizona’s democratic infrastructure. Few shed public tears for the defeat of Herschel Walker, Blake Masters, and other Trump-wannabes.
Increasingly, Donald Trump and his merry pranksters are seen as irrelevances, as hindrances, as losers. As a result, it’s more than likely that 2023 will be the year the MAGA fever finally breaks.