Donald Trump will probably not successfully get hundreds of thousands of votes spread across five states, which have already been counted, thrown out. He will not succeed in stealing the election after Joe Biden has already been declared the winner. That does not make what we’re currently seeing from the Trump administration and the GOP any less alarming.
In recent days, the tone of the Republican Party has shifted from apathy about Trump’s clear electoral loss to an indulgence of his fantasy that no, he actually won if you just count all the votes for him and throw away all of the votes for everyone else.
Why they’re doing this depends on who you’re talking about. For Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators, it’s the prospect of a president who’s hugely popular with the GOP base completely blowing up their chance to hold onto their Senate majority in the Georgia runoffs in January. For administration officials like Mike Pompeo and Bill Barr, it’s fear of losing their jobs and their power.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter—the GOP has shown a willingness to circle the wagons to save an extremely unpopular one-term president in an election he clearly lost, in order to avoid a Biden presidency when they have a 6-3 Supreme Court locked down. The conditions of this electoral loss could not be more favorable for the Republican Party, and yet they are still doing this. Even if they ultimately aren’t successful, a precedent has been set that the GOP will refuse to acknowledge the popular democratic will if it’s not the result they wanted.
At the moment, it doesn’t seem like the circumstances are right for Trump and the Republican Party to pull this off. The campaign is losing lawsuits left and right and even the lawsuits they have outstanding aren’t enough to steal the election. He’s trying to get 3,000 absentee votes thrown out in Nevada, but he’s losing by 31,000 votes. He’s trying to get ballots that were received by Pennsylvania after November 3 thrown out, but he’s unlikely to overcome the 45,000-vote deficit he has in the state. The supposed smoking gun in Erie, a claim from a postal worker that the local postmaster was tampering with mail-in ballots that was fed through Project Veritas and the Trump campaign, has apparently completely fallen apart, according to House Democrats.
But that doesn’t mean circumstances won’t change in the next month or two. Yes, Trump could finally be convinced to concede, or more likely he never will and will instead plant the seed that there was voter fraud on a massive scale and that Biden is now an illegitimate president. A massive catastrophe could also happen between now and January, providing a pretext for Trump to try to forcibly stay in power. It’s not like one of his closest allies doesn’t have previous experience trying this.
Even if it doesn’t work, however, the ramifications of this are deeply worrying. If they’re willing to entertain all of this to stop Joe Biden of all people, it’s a strong indication that they would have never acknowledged a Bernie Sanders victory. There’s going to be a full-throated attack on mail-in voting now from Republican state legislators and lawyers, because the election went too smoothly and too many people voted and the results weren’t good enough for the GOP to allow this to ever happen again. Any moderately close election at the state or federal level now is going to be seen as fertile ground for overturning the will of voters. Tens of millions of people will never believe Biden is a legitimate president. A democratic system is only as strong as the willingness of everyone involved to play along, and one side clearly isn’t anymore.
Trump and the GOP have shown a willingness and ability to bend institutions to his will, and our institutions have shown that they are in fact pretty susceptible to a right-wing takeover if someone wanted to try it. Hopefully, it’s just bluster, but the fact that we’re forced to entertain the possibility that it’s not is pretty terrifying in and of itself.