The Signal: A civil war is now percolating within the Republican Party.
The Electoral College has met and confirmed Joe Biden’s victory, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has finally agreed to call Biden the president-elect, Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Biden on his victory… and yet, stateside, the Trump cultists continue to scheme and foment ever-more-fantastical assaults on democracy.
On Monday, when the Electoral College met, Stephen Miller went on Fox News to say the Trump campaign would somehow submit “an alternate slate of electors” and fight to overturn the election results all the way up to January 20.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted, “This Fake Election can no longer stand.” As if, simply by saying so, he somehow had the power to make his wish come true. Later that day, he retweeted claims that he, Donald J. Trump, had won the election in a landslide and Biden was simply “pretending” to have won.
This would all be nothing more than the pathetic delusions of a beaten, broken man increasingly divorced from reality, if it weren’t for the fact that so many senior Republicans are willing to play this madman’s game. That they are playing his game is, however, a seriously dangerous phenomenon.
On Wednesday, conservative House Republicans denounced what they called a “surrender caucus”within their party that had the temerity to accept the results of a democratic election.
Trump also angrily denounced McConnell for acknowledging Biden’s win, tweeting, “Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!” No matter that Biden’s more than 81 million votes was a record that roundly eclipsed Trump’s own performance; in the Trumpian universe, his vote count must, by definition, be the biggest and the best ever recorded.
Trump’s ire isn’t just directed at GOP senators who have now urged him to accept defeat. He’s lashing out at pretty much everyone who didn’t bend the law to meet his political desires. He’s firing or forcing the resignation of anyone who is standing in his way—from Bill Barr on down. Early this week, Trump retweeted a call for the imprisonment of Georgia’s governor and secretary of state—presumably for the high crime of not altering their state’s election tallies to spin a Trump win out of the straw of defeat.
Talking of Georgia, beleaguered GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler pointedly refused to rule out challenging the Electoral College results when Congress meets to confirm Biden’s win on January 6, one day after her runoff election in Georgia.
Not to be outdone in the crazy sweepstakes, Sidney Powell, the Trump campaign’s recently departed attorney, retweeted a racist diatribe against McConnell’s Taiwanese American wife.
It’s tempting to dismiss all of this as simply the Noisy, irrational coda to a brutal election season. But it’s more complex than that. Trump is desperately fighting for his personal survival, but McConnell has abandoned him; ergo, Trump must now turn his rhetorical guns against the Senate leader. For his part, McConnell has clearly concluded that it’s in his political interest to cut his losses now and endure Trump’s rants and his supporters’ threats for the next few weeks, in order to maintain his political power into the Biden presidency.
Given Trump’s despotic ambitions, and his clear intent to maintain an iron grip on the GOP and its base in the coming years, and given the moral black hole so many GOP elected officials have managed to sink themselves into over the past four years, it’s hard to see how this confrontation doesn’t end up tearing the party apart.
I had hoped Trump’s candidacy in 2016 would perform that vital role—that it would break a rotten party wide open for all to see the vacuum at its core. It didn’t happen then. In these final weeks of 2020 and of Trump’s rancid regime, it seems to be happening now.