It’s only natural that President Trump was going to contest the election results. The question is just how far Mr. Trump takes things. And, even more importantly, for how long will House and Senate Republicans continue to tacitly support the President’s challenges.
Few other writers give us better insight into politics than William Shakespeare. It’s easy to pluck lines and observations from the Bard’s more famous political plays: Julius Caesar. Hamlet. Macbeth. Richard III.
Casual Shakespeare observers ignore his play “Coriolanus.” But the work named after a Roman leader lends particular insight into where we find American politics between the 2020 election and inauguration day.
Consider the President disputing the election results. Should we have anticipated anything else?
“Why did you wish me milder? would you have me False to my Nature?” is an interrogative posed by the title character Coriolanus to a Roman senator in Act III, Scene 2.
In other words, should we have anticipated President Trump to respond differently to the election outcome? He telegraphed this move. As Shakespeare writes, it was doubtful Mr. Trump would be “False” to his “Nature.”
Many Republican senators fell in lockstep with the President’s resistance to accept the election results, concede and congratulate President-elect Biden. They also cast doubt on their favorite foil: “the media.”
“Y’all don’t pick the President,” hectored Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., when he encountered a gaggle of reporters in a Congressional hallway last week. “The President’s picked by certified votes after litigation.”
Graham went on to suggest that President Trump would have won “if the vaccine information had come out a week before, “questioned voting practices in Philadelphia and again upbraided media organizations for what he characterized as “bull#&%$ polls.”
“(South Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Jaime Harrison) raised $2 million off bull#&%$ polls,” groused Graham.
“The Constitution gives no role in this process to wealthy media corporations,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joining the chorus antagonizing the press. “The projections and commentary of the press do not get veto power over the legal rights of any citizen, including the President.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., took things a step further.
“Virtually every predictor of what was going to happen in the elections was wrong,” said Blunt. “The President wasn’t defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all.”
It may seem like it was a close election. Yes. The states still need to certify their results and settle on electors. But Vice President-elect Biden is leading President Trump by 5 million votes, the third-highest percentage for any presidential challenger. The country witnessed closer presidential contests in 1960, 1968, 1976 and 2000.
Still, many Republicans resisted giving Biden any quarter.
Reporters asked Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., if Biden should be congratulated. Johnson’s probed Biden’s son Hunter and the swirl of allegations regarding Ukraine and a mysterious laptop.
“No. There’s nothing to congratulate him about,” quipped Johnson.
Republicans may continue to carp about votes and alleged yet unproven fraud. The President’s legal appeals have met mostly brick walls in courtroom after courtroom. But this effort stokes the pro-Trump base – especially as Republicans hope to keep GOPers engaged ahead of the two Georgia Senate runoffs set for January 5.
But political power eventually mutates.
“There still is this attachment to Trump and a willingness to follow the leader,” said Rutgers University historian David Greenberg. “But the closer Trump gets to the exit, the closer we get to January 20, the more that is going to wane.”
That doesn’t mean that “Trumpism” or support for the president’s causes disappears. But reality does set in. And there could be repercussions for Republicans if this turns into a charade which doesn’t mesh with the facts.
“There’s enormous political risks,” said Boston University Professor Thomas Whalen. “Especially since one of the Republicans elected to Congress is embracing the QAnon theories of conspiracy which have been thoroughly discredited and they seem really out there.”
That’s a reference to Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Greene introduced herself to House colleagues at the freshman orientation last week by launching into an anti-mask tirade and questioning Congressional medical officials.
Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert, R-Co., has also associated with the QAnon movement.
Still, Republicans are willing to bide their time until the numbers come in.
“I think we ought to quit all of the handwringing and not act like this is extraordinary,” said McConnell, still toeing the line.
But what’s different for sure is the vitriol. Other presidential candidates have raised varying degrees of questions about electoral results – ranging from President Richard Nixon to former Vice President Al Gore. The difference is that President Trump goes to 11 when he does it.
“Trump has more volume. He’s louder about his unwillingness to accept the results. He’s also, in his rhetoric, much more defiant,” said Greenberg. “Trump’s track record does make a lot of people understandably fear he’s capable of going beyond where other presidents have gone.”
That’s what makes Democrats and some Republicans lose sleep when it comes to President Trump. But we knew some of this all along. This was the question raised in Coriolanus and whether people truly suspected the President would be “False” to his “Nature.”
But Congressional Republicans are playing both sides of the street right now. They are trying to avoid alienating the very voters who helped them make marked advances in the House and likely maintain control of the Senate. They are grappling with competing realities. First, the possibility that many Republicans or Trump supporters will never accept that their candidate lost. And two, the fact that President-elect Biden is going to head to the White House on January 20.
So Republicans tend to the embers. Keep the fire burning. And, simultaneously try to energize the base to get voters to the polls for the dual Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5.
President Trump may not have been able to save himself against Biden this fall. But Mr. Trump’s presence on the ticket proved to be a life preserver to House and Senate Republicans. So GOPers are using the President for their own means. Using President Trump to buoy Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., in their runoffs January 5 against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
That is part of what’s going on.
But House and Senate Republicans know their districts. They know their states. They felt Democrats tried to delegitimize President Trump for four years. Some didn’t recognize his election. Asserted that Mr. Trump was an “illegitimate President.” The House impeached Mr. Trump. There were alleged abuses from Crossfire Hurricane.
In short, Republicans are in no rush to recognize President-elect Biden.
They believe it’s good politics to hold out.
At least for a bit.
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