Trump testing a democracy’s tenets
GOP stands by as he claims fraud, refuses results of election
WASHINGTON — Winston Churchill was not known for leaving his thoughts unspoken. One of themwas this: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
President Donald Trump, who has professed admiration for, if not deep knowledge of, the British prime minister, is putting Churchill’s observation to one of its greatest tests by refusing to accept the results of an election that delivered victory for Democrat Joe Biden. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, calls this a “dangerous path” for theUnited States.
Trump has forced a dusting off of the arcana of the procedures for the Electoral College, which for almost the entirety of the nation’s history has been a formality and not an instrument to overturn people’s votes.
A sitting American president is, for the first time, trying to con
vince the people that they should not believe the numbers that clearly demonstrate his rival’s win. Rather, Trump is making baseless claims of massive fraud, demanding recounts and calling for audits in an effort to discredit the outcome and, in the process, put democracy itself on trial.
It’s possible that the mercurial president is onetweet away from a change of heart, but so far that is not the case. And the sweeping majority of his fellow Republicans are allowing him to play this out.
With one eye on Trump, Republicans may have the other fixed on Georgia, where they want his energy to help their candidates win two Senate runoffs in January and ensure at minimum that Biden has to deal with divided government. Republicans have seen how Trump batters dissidents, and few have chosen this consequential moment to cross him.
“Republicans are sticking with him out of fear,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management expert who worked in communications in Ronald Reagan’s White House. “Fear has always worked for Trump.
Tantrums have always paid dividends.”
But not everyone in officialdom shares the timidity of GOP lawmakers when it comes to standing up to Trump.
The Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has slapped down rumors about voting malfeasance and joined with state election officials in a statement declaring the election to have been the
“most secure in American history.”
By secure, they meant there was no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes “orwas in anyway compromised.” That was a clear repudiation of Trump’s unfounded accusations.
The U.S. has long promoted the conceit that it is the world’s beacon of democracy. Now, the most essential tool of democracy, the vote, is under attack.
The story of presidential
elections the night of, the day after or even weeks of indecision later has been one of candidates swallowing the bitterness of defeat and smoothing the path for the winner. Presidential transitions have unfolded as if by muscle memory. The peaceful transfer of power has never been in question in living memory until now.
Perhaps the closest the U.S. has come to today’s conflict was the presidential election of 1876, when Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, appeared to win, only to have Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican, ultimately declared the winner after cutting a deal to secure electoral votes in three Southern states in exchange for effectively ending Reconstruction.
In 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon by only about 112,000 votes out of more than 68 million cast, though Kennedy held a decided advantage in the
Electoral College. Nixon felt cheated and considered challenging the outcome but declined, conceding the morning after the election.
Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, won the popular vote by about 540,000 votes out of 100 million cast. But he conceded twice — at first prematurely on election night, then again weeks later when a decision by the Supreme Court handed Florida, and an Electoral College majority, 271-266, to Republican George W. Bush.
Bush had turned to the high court with a legal case based on his claim that voters were denied equal protection because Florida did not have proper standards for recounts.
In2016, TrumpwonWis-consin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,000 votes; Democrat Hillary Clinton called him on election night and publicly conceded the next day. Her advantage in the popular vote of nearly 3 million has animated the grievances of her supporters to this day, but the Electoral College arithmetic was inexorable and not to be challenged.
Obama then welcomed Trump to the White House in a display to the world of the rituals of an American democratic transition.
“Republicans are sticking with him out of fear. Fear has always worked for Trump. Tantrums have always paid dividends.” — Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management expert who worked in communications in Ronald Reagan’s White House.
The Homeland Security Department called the election the “most secure” in U.S. history despite the president’s claim.