The Signal, this first week of the new year? The efforts of Trump and his merry band of seditionists to overturn the will of the people and install Trump as America’s first dictator have hit overdrive in the days leading up to Congress’s vote to certify the Electoral College results.
This weekend, Trump placed a call, extraordinary even by his debased standards, to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, demanding that he “find” just enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the Peach State, and threatening both Raffensperger and his attorney with unspecified consequences if they didn’t do so.
So unnerved was someone on that call—presumably someone on the Georgia end of the line—that an audio recording was promptly leaked to The Washington Post. It’s pure shakedown politics, the sort of extortion a mobster would subject a businessman to as part of a protection racket.
Over the course of an hour, the most powerful man on earth can be heard demanding that Raffensperger commit the crime of “finding” a precise number of votes to get Trump past the finish line and beyond Biden’s vote total; recycling every debunked conspiracy theory under the sun about the November 3 vote; threatening public officials if they don’t ensure a Trump victory; talking about the “respect” Raffensperger would acquire if he agreed to participate in the president’s grubby scheme; and, more broadly, intimating how Trump will prime the GOP base to turn on Georgia’s Republicans in Tuesday’s runoff Senate races—the same races he declared over the holiday weekend to be “illegal and invalid”—if the Republican apparatchiks in charge of the state don’t work a miracle and belatedly declare Trump the victor.
It’s part shakedown and part lunatic raving, but it’s also simply pathetic. Trump can be heard wheedling and begging and bargaining. If there are five stages to grief, Trump, in defeat, is immersed in all of the first four simultaneously. It’s increasingly looking like he’ll never reach stage five, acceptance.
It’s also foul and dangerous stuff. If Trump were simply a crazy old guy talking to himself on the street, which he now sounds like, that would be one thing. But he’s taking a frighteningly large part of the Republican Party with him down this desperado road in the final days of his gargoyle presidency.
Some related developments from the New Year’s period: After the courts threw out Representative Louie Gohmert’s far-fetched lawsuit to force Mike Pence, in his ceremonial role of presiding over the congressional vote count, to ignore the electors from swing states, Gohmert apparently endorsed street violence as the next step in the campaign to keep Trump as president. Since Trump himself has for weeks been calling on his followers to come to D.C. for “wild” protests aimed at disrupting the congressional vote on January 6, the Texas congressman’s deeply irresponsible statement was the equivalent of spraying accelerant on an already raging fire.
Others have been quick to add their own version of that accelerant. As many as two-thirds of GOP House members are likely to vote against confirming Biden as president and, if they do, it will be with the full support of minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
A dozen GOP senators, led by Missouri’s Josh Hawley and including such luminaries of the brutalist right as Ted Cruz and James Lankford, have also promised to vote against the Electoral College result. As the debate proceeds on January 6 and into January 7, that number is likely to grow.
Mike Pence himself has let it be known that he supports these seditionist efforts to undo the results of a democratic presidential election—although the wording of the statement released by his office on Saturday suggested this was more window-dressing than an actual willingness to subvert the congressional voting process.
Meanwhile, Trump’s advisers—the claque of wing nuts, conspiracists, and true believers who now represent his final inner circle—have been doing all in their power to burn everything down on their way out the door.
Trump’s firebrand lawyer Lin Wood has started suggesting that Chief Justice John Roberts—whose Supreme Court has shunned every Trumpian effort to get the justices to do his political dirty work—is a bloodthirsty pedophile who may or may not have been involved in bumping off Justice Antonin Scalia. And trade adviser Peter Navarro has begun calling for Mike Pence to wave a wand and postpone Inauguration Day.
From the get-go, Trump has besmirched every institution and political figure he has interacted with. He has demanded humiliating loyalty rituals as the price of entry into his orbit, and he has replaced fealty to Constitution and country with fealty to Trump and Trump’s family. We are now at the absurd end point of this process. A president who lost an election by 7 million votes and was hammered in the Electoral College is, in a frenzied, cringe-worthy effort to cling to power, resorting to the dirty tricks, propaganda, and threats used by authoritarian rulers throughout history. He has ginned himself up into a fury as the sycophants and crooks around him whisper sweet nothings about invoking martial law and the Insurrection Act into the Great Leader’s ears.
The good news is that Trump seems to have shot his bolt. He has enough juice left to create mayhem but not enough to actually coerce people like Raffensperger into carrying out illegal acts to subvert the election. Trump’s cult-like following among Republicans is large enough to split the GOP and demonstrate just how antidemocratic a large part of that party—and the country—has become. But he no longer has enough pull to convince the entire party to jump over the cliff he’s led them to.
Trump has tried for two months to kick a putsch into high gear. A horrifying number of Republicans have decided to throw their lot in with him. That they will fail doesn’t make their actions any less treasonous. Nor does it make their party any less culpable. Trump has pushed American democracy right up to its breaking point. When he leaves office in two weeks, he must, for the sake of that democracy, be held to legal account for these actions.