By John Hart
With two critical U.S. Senate elections coming up on January 5, it is long past time for Republicans to deliver a message, en masse, to President Trump: You fought the good fight, but it’s over. Graciously concede to President-elect Joe Biden immediately in order to help us secure your legacy, safeguard the republic and help us win future elections.
If Republicans believe their rhetoric about the stakes in the Georgia races (and they should) every day they delay in delivering this message puts American democracy at greater risk. As of today (Dec. 22), Republicans trail in both races. If they lose both races they lose the Senate.
While the president has failed in court to win his argument that he won “by a lot,” he is succeeding in making three arguments that are damaging to Republican hopes in Georgia. First, he is creating false hope that the presidency, rather than the Senate, will be the last line of defense against the radical left. Second, he is demoralizing Republicans into believing their votes won’t count in a corrupted system. Third, he is energizing progressives who want to create permanent “safeguards” against sore loser presidents.
If Democrats win both Senate seats, they will have a path to fundamentally alter the system of checks and balances carefully crafted by our founders. The Senate as an institution will be gone. Doing away with the legislative filibuster will remove the Senate’s last guard against the tyranny of the majority. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the filibuster wasn’t written into the Constitution and should not be treated as sacrosanct, but he knows full well that protecting minority rights isn’t a part of the Constitution because it is the Constitution.
The whole point of our system is to check power and allow principled pluralism to flourish in the face of overbearing, lurching majorities. This assumption was so ingrained in our founding that the Senate had a de facto 100 vote cloture threshold (everyone had to agree before anything happened) for the first 130 years of our history until it was eliminated by Woodrow Wilson’s backers in 1917.
If Democrats win both Senate races, we may have two Houses that operate as majoritarian bodies. Democrats could create two states – DC and Puerto Rico – in an effort to create four reliable votes in the Senate (DC would be blue but Puerto Rico may not be). They’ll then tee up health care and environmental legislation that will help us catch up to Western European countries Bernie Sanders and AOC believe we’ve fallen behind. They will then lock in these gains by packing the Supreme Court to protect their accomplishments against future backlash elections.
Congressional Republicans, who serve in a separate and equal branch of government, are under no obligation to stand with a defeated president whose claims won’t be treated well by history. Wavering Republicans should employ Occam’s razor – the principle that the simplest explanation, which requires the fewest assumptions, is usually correct – as a way of looking at the election.
There are two theories of the election. The first says that Trump simply lost because voters in states with more than 270 electoral votes preferred Joe Biden.
The second theory, on the other hand, requires many assumptions. This theory holds that President Trump, in his words, actually won in a “landslide” and that his victory was stolen. Trump’s cybersecurity chief who said the election was secure and his attorney general who said there was no widespread fraud are wrong. Moreover, the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia both deserve to go to jail for allowing the election to be stolen in their states. And the judges, including Supreme Court justices, Trump appointed who ruled against his attorneys were also in on the fix.
Yet, the facts point to a very simple explanation. With the exception of Florida, Trump generally did worse in 2020 than he did in 2016 when he barely won. In 2020, his margins of victory were slimmer, and his margins of defeat were greater. This nationwide Trump slide or deterioration of support is a clear and obvious pattern that does not require a conspiracy theory to believe.
Vote tallies in states that were the focus of fraud accusations and states that were not show the same pattern. In Texas, for instance, Trump won by 807,179 votes in 2016 but only 631,221 votes in 2020 – a slide of 175,958 votes or a 20 percent erosion of support. If an objective observer on election night only had access to this result from Texas, they would conclude Trump probably would lose, especially considering his narrow margin of victory in 2016.
The pattern shows up elsewhere. In Virginia, Trump lost by 212,030 votes in 2016 but 451,138 votes in 2020 – a slide of 239,108 votes, which more than doubled his loss tally from 2016. In Minnesota, Trump lost by 44,765 votes in 2016 but 233,012 votes in 2020 – a slide of 188,247, which more than quadrupled his loss tally in 2016.
The blue wall states, which are the focus of fraud claims, show same the pattern of slide, slide, slide, slide, slide, slide. In Pennsylvania, Trump lost by 80,555 votes in 2020 but won by 44,292 votes in 2016 – a slide of 124,847 votes. In Michigan, Trump lost by 154,188 votes in 2020 but won by 10,704 in 2016 – a slide of 164,892 votes. In Wisconsin, Trump lost by 20,682 votes in 2020 after winning by almost the same amount (22,748 votes) in 2016. This flip amounted to a slide of 43,430 votes.
National popular votes results don’t matter to the electoral college, but that result shows the same slide. In 2020, Trump lost the popular vote by 7,052,120 votes compared to 2,868,686 in 2016 – a slide of 4,183,434 votes.
An Occam’s razor analysis suggests this slide occurred because voters simply preferred Joe Biden and were highly motivated to vote Trump out of office. There was no grand conspiracy, and there certainly was not a ghost of Hugo Chavez in the voting machine manipulating the software.
Every day that goes by without Trump conceding is a day the GOP delays the difficult and necessary work of improving and doing better. We expect our Little League players to learn from failure. Is it so cruel to ask the same of our president?
Trump is using his considerable sway with the Republican base to coerce congressional Republicans into nursing his wounded pride and conscripting them into his 2024 campaign. Republicans should be very cautious about going along with this even if they are rationalizing it as momentary and convenient lip service. Conformity is not courage. Trump has won over Republicans, for now, but not the country. According to Fox News, 68 percent of Republicans believe the election was stolen but only 36 percent of all voters share that belief.
Republicans, therefore, have to make a decision. Do they want to be a party that appeals to a majority of a minority, or do they want to win a majority? Trump’s argument is a strategy for losing, not winning.
Democrats also have to make a choice. They can gleefully watch Republican infighting, or they can enable Joe Biden to fulfill his pledge to be an American president who listens to all people. Election fraud is a more serious problem than Democrats want to admit but not nearly serious enough to have affected the outcome in 2020. Biden can lance the boil by working in good faith with Republicans who want to modernize our elections and make them more transparent and credible.
Democrats also have to acknowledge that Trump’s fantastical post-election claims did not emerge in a vacuum. We are facing cultural challenges much deeper than politics or partisanship. Trump’s conspiracy theories were planted in soil prepared by postmodern progressive academics who have taught a generation that every side is entitled to its own truth. Moral relativism has bled into empirical relativism and created a culture of tribes that feel entitled to their own truth, their own news, and their own cheerleaders.
This culture allows Trump to sell “stop the steal” as the defining fight of our time when Trump is actually the one who is sabotaging conservatives and abandoning the battlefield. Trump’s demand that Republicans direct all of their resources toward saving him leaves every other area undefended.
While Trump is fixated on browbeating congressional Republicans into participating in protest theater, he is letting the left prepare for sweeping government action on health care, new spending, and climate. Trump is also downplaying the recent Russian cyberattack his own Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, found rightfully alarming. Trump is the one who has given up. He is putting a self-interested politically expedient fight over tougher fights that require work, creativity and persuasion to win, and he is undermining genuine calls for election reform with his baseless claims.
It’s time for Republicans to remind Trump that he is no longer an outsider. Trump is not anti-establishment. He is the establishment. He is an incumbent President of the United States of America. Trump is behaving like the worst kind of RINO – a Rebel in Name Only who beats his chest but avoids the hard work of defending liberty, even in the face of foreign aggression.
Trump’s recent tweet to McConnell that it’s “too soon to give up” is the modern equivalent of General Lee telling General Pickett at Gettysburg, “Just one more charge, boys! This time will be different. Onward!”
As history records, when Lee later asked Pickett to rally his division for defense, Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.”
If Trump’s fight logic lorded over history, Washington should have invaded London by sea instead of retreating to Valley Forge, Churchill should have dropped paratroopers on Berlin instead of waging the Battle of Britain, MacArthur should have invaded mainland Japan instead of islands like Iwo Jima, and Reagan should have nuked Moscow instead of developing his Star Wars missile defense system.
In the modern pop culture vernacular, Trump is the protagonist in Blazing Saddles who took himself hostage and begged the other side not to shoot. In a classical, more literary sense, he is Sisyphus who is condemned to push a boulder uphill forever, or Danaids who is condemned to fill up a bathtub or cistern with a hole in the bottom. In this miserable eternity Trump will be forever haranguing McConnell to “Keep fighting! Just one more push of that boulder, just one more bucket of water, Mitch. Don’t give up on me now!” Republicans are under no obligation to join Trump in his despairing political afterlife.
Republican voters rightfully want a fighter but there will be other fighters who will be better and smarter than Trump. Yet, conservatives should lower our expectations for presidents and raise our expectations for legislators. I worked for a real fighter, the late Senator, Representative and, most of all, “Dr.” Tom Coburn, who subverted the establishment and won. Coburn was a modern-day Cincinnatus, a citizen-legislator and rebel with a cause who won with hard work, facts, smart strategy and grace. Coburn was too modest to ever run for president. While Coburn wanted Trump to succeed, he thought our president had a “personality disorder” and described Trump’s communication style as “idiotic.”
Republicans can do better than Trump in 2024. Those who argue that Trump is singularly and uniquely qualified to win elections, and that the nomination is his by default, ignore an obvious fact. That theory was just tested a few weeks ago. And Trump lost. Not “by a lot” but by a clear amount.
Republicans who genuinely believe they have legalistic grounds to contest the election have to ask themselves what they see as their endgame. Is it insurrection and civil war? Perhaps, again, we should practice what we teach our Little Leaguers – to learn from a loss even when we feel like the umpire missed some calls. The 2020 election wasn’t perfect but whining and attempting to overturn the result is a much more dangerous precedent, by many orders of magnitude, than election flaws that fell well short of widespread fraud.
President Trump did the news media an enormous favor by calling out their abuse of their agenda-setting power with his “Fake News” critique. But the antidote to fake news is not fake hope. The antidote is truth – the quaint notion that there is an order to things, an objective reality and verifiable facts politicians can’t change. If the Republican Party figures that out, it just may set itself, and our country, free.