How Alarmed Should We Be?

A Scary Thought Experiment

Sulking in the White House, the president refuses to concede, and continues to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the election he just lost. Leading Republicans are following his lead, with the senate majority leader explicitly endorsing his challenge to the results. Only a handful of GOP officials have acknowledged the results of the election or congratulated the president elect.

It seems to be working. A new poll shows that “70 percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair, a stark rise from the 35 percent of GOP voters who held similar beliefs before the election.”

Even as President-elect Biden sought to focus attention on the looming disaster of the coronavirus’s deadly third wave, Trump (1) fired his Secretary of Defense, and (2) got his compliant Attorney General to authorize an investigation of “specific allegations” of voter fraud.

Mr. Barr’s authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.

On Monday, Trump ordered “senior government leaders to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action.”

Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 71 days to go until the Inauguration.

So where are we?

What Republicans think they are doing versus what they are really doing.

I suspect that the vast majority of elected Republicans know that Trump has lost. By delaying admitting that, they imagine they are simply buying themselves time, creating some space for Trump to come to terms with his defeat. They are hoping that the inevitable court rulings provide them cover to acknowledge Joe Biden’s win.

In reality, though, they are feeding the narrative that American democracy is no longer legitimate. This is not just about Joe Biden. The long-term implications will be a corrosive undermining of faith in the American system.

This is the final, but perhaps the greatest of Trump’s violation of norms, shattering centuries of bipartisan understanding of the necessity of maintaining faith in our democratic system and the peaceful transfer of power.

In case you think this is an overstatement, the reality is that tens of millions of Americans now will believe that the next president is illegitimate because the election was stolen.

Then, of course, there is the bottomless cynicism of Mitch McConnell:

And then here is this sort of dumb-fuqqery from my home state of Wisconsin, where a GOP representative is suggesting that the legislature ignore the actual election and having electors vote for Trump.

“If an investigation shows these actions affected the outcome of the election, we need to either declare this past election null and void and hold a new election or require our Electoral College Delegates to correct the injustice with their votes,” he said in a statement.

Spoiler alert: This won’t happen.

How alarmed should we be?

Bill Kristol is worried. Make sure you read him in today’s Bulwark.

Maybe the GOP is just humoring our petulant president, he writes. Maybe the firing of Mark Esper was just for spite. Maybe the DOJ probe is just for show. But maybe not.

Are we 100 percent certain this doesn’t soften the ground enough so that what seems almost unthinkable now becomes thinkable? Are we 100 percent certain the state legislature in, say, Georgia, won’t start considering things that now seem outside the realm of the possible? And if the unthinkable actually happens in Georgia, are we certain that it could not then happen in Wisconsin? And Pennsylvania?

And are we 100 percent certain that the firing of Defense Secretary Esper is just a matter of spite?

As Kristol notes: “A little alarmism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Complacency in the defense of democracy is no virtue.”

An alarming thought experiment.

Let’s start with the caveat that I am not predicting this, nor do I think it is likely.

But I want to float this hypothetical: Let’s imagine that in the absence of Mark Esper, the president actually deploys active military troops into key cities to seize the ballots after unfounded accusations of fraud.

Here’s the thought experiment: what would the Republican Party do?

Which Republicans would push back? Would Republicans resist the use of armed force to influence the results of an election?

Are you sure? Who? Mitch McConnell? Ted Cruz? Lindsey Graham? Ron Johnson? Kevin McCarthy? Nikki Haley?

Bonus question: If this happened, would Trump’s approval rating go up or down among Republicans?

The DOJ probe. The Ugly, the Bad, and the Maybe Not So Bad.

Let’s start with the Ugly: “Mr. Barr’s memo allows U.S. attorneys to bypass that career prosecutor and take their requests to his office for approval, effectively weakening a key safeguard that prevents political interference in an election by the party in power.”

The Bad: “Mr. Barr’s directive ignored the Justice Department’s longstanding policies intended to keep law enforcement from affecting the outcome of an election. And it followed a move weeks before the election in which the department lifted a prohibition on voter fraud investigations before an election.”

The Maybe Not So Bad: “He made clear in a carefully worded memo that prosecutors had the authority to investigate, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”

Our Amanda Carpenter doesn’t think much will come of it:

Just in time for the runoffs — a GOP civil war in Georgia.

Georgia’s two U.S. senators called on the state’s top elections official, a fellow Republican, to resign Monday in a shocking attempt to appease President Donald Trump and his supporters ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs for likely control of the U.S. Senate. …

Hours earlier, a state elections official held a press conference at the Capitol focused on debunking several conspiracy theories alleging missing or mishandled ballots. Raffensperger said he would continue to ensure that the election is fair.

“My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes — and no illegal votes — are counted properly and accurately,” Raffensperger said. “As secretary of state, that is my duty, and I will continue to do my duty. As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Sens. Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”

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Quick Hits

1. Donald Trump’s Last (?) Big Lie

Aaron L. Friedberg and Gabriel Schoenfeld in today’s Bulwark:

The president’s allegations are profoundly dangerous and could serve to destabilize our entire system of government. The ability to transfer power peacefully is a singular achievement of our political order. Its success depends on the confidence that people have in the fairness of the electoral system. With millions of Trump’s followers believing his charges, that confidence has been placed in jeopardy, setting the stage for truly dangerous confrontations in the short term and potentially shattering much of the nation’s faith in our system of government over the longer term.

Cheap Shots

The Right Continues to Lose Its Mind:

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Deep Thoughts

We get mail:

I really enjoyed today’s show, especially the discussion about whether any Trump voters will “move on.” I think JVL and Sarah were both right in a way.

I have been thinking a lot about that this week, being in a state filled with reluctant Trump voters. I swear, a third of our population is like Sarah’s focus groups. Just look at the number of 2016 McMullin voters in Utah (20+% of the electorate) who voted for Trump. McMullin>Biden voters like me turned out to be a small minority ☹.

Although I disagree with them on a lot of things, a lot of these people are my friends and family. They are not MAGAheads, they are otherwise reasonable, intelligent, moral people who want what they think is best for America. They generally don’t think much about politics or news in general, but when they do, they usually watch Fox (they used to trust CNN, but “it is just as mean to Trump now as those Lincoln people”). When I ask about their thought process, I hear:

  • They are convinced that no matter how bad Trump is, THE DEMOCRATS are far more evil and scary. They are Godless baby-killers and European/Canadian style Socialism=Communism and that is the biggest existential threat America faces (yes, there are still distant echoes of John Birch out there). The person who happens to be at the top of the ticket is of secondary importance; at best, he’s a normal politician.

  • They understand that COVID-19 is a problem, but they are just soooo tired of it. By now, they know a lot of people who have tested positive but were asymptomatic, maybe a couple who got moderately sick, but likely don’t know anyone who has died of it. It has become a risk they can live with it if that means being able to live a semi-normal life. Those 200 and whatever thousand they don’t know were probably already unhealthy. Maybe if they just don’t think about it, it won’t bother them.

  • All those theories about Hunter Biden and QAnon and masks making you sick and Joe’s mental state and voter fraud are false. Probably. Although they heard that………

This was all Trump’s closing argument, and it resonated with a lot of people who otherwise think he’s personally awful. An existential threat to democracy? That’s not even possible, right? When I’ve tried to convince them otherwise, I generally can’t get any further than both-sidesism (“did you see that first debate? Everyone was yelling—they’re both awful”). That said, they will say that their allegiance is to Conservatism first, and Trump second. I believe there is a glimmer of hope for this population, if not that they will actually see the light, then that things will return to normal, and that is based on FoxNews.

If Fox moves on (to complaining about all the terrible things that *President-elect* Biden is doing), then my friends and family will too. They won’t be happy, but they won’t be protesting in the streets. They can go back to ignoring politics for another 3½ years.

Thanks again for all you do,