National Post (Latest Edition)

Ted Cruz’s anti-democratic power play

- Kelly Mcparland

The last time a U. S. president used his office to try to subvert the system that elected him, he was forced to resign, while several of the aides and allies who assisted him spent time behind bars.

President Richard Nixon was disgraced by Watergate. His chief of staff, attorney general and domestic affairs adviser were convicted of conspiracy, obstructio­n of justice and perjury and sentenced to between two and eight years behind bars. Legal counsel John Dean copped a plea in return for a reduced sentence.

They were all brought down by taped conversati­ons inside the White House. But those were different days. The presidency has advanced to the point where President Donald Trump can call up an election official in Georgia and spend an hour demanding he invent enough ballots to overturn the election he lost, and think nothing of it. “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculat­ed.”

As with Nixon, it’s all on tape. Republican­s in Nixon’s time were horrified enough by what they heard to tell the president he had to go. Not so with Trump. Instead, a dozen Republican senators led by Ted Cruz, the Calgary-born Texan, are mounting an unpreceden­ted effort to challenge the results when Congress meets Wednesday to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

There’s little chance of Cruz and the others succeeding. Both the House and Senate would have to agree to the challenge, and the Democrat- controlled House isn’t about to help. Which is just as well with the Cruz crowd, since their goal is not to help Trump dismantle democracy, or gain him four more corrupt and chaotic years in the White House. Like so many others, they’re not big admirers: Cruz once called Trump a “pathologic­al liar,” “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen” and “a serial philandere­r.” Not to mention “utterly amoral.”

What they want is his army of followers, those Trumpites who are so fierce in their devotion to the president that they’re willing to risk life and limb on his behalf. If Trump says COVID is no big deal, they believe it, even after he catches the virus himself and has to be hospitaliz­ed. Even as COVID deaths approach 400,000. Even as hundreds of Trump fans die after attending his rallies.

You don’t get blind allegiance like that very often.

The Pope should have followers so willing to believe without question. The Cruz crowd figures that if they can establish themselves as true apostles of Trump, they can divert some of that fanaticism to themselves. It’s no secret that Cruz and some others have their eye on the presidency. Being recognized as the heir apparent to Trump would presumably be a big help in securing the 2024 nomination, if Trump doesn’t decide he wants it for himself.

The swamp Trump vowed to drain four years ago has become so much more infested that the swamp creatures no longer even feel embarrasse­d by their actions. You might have thought Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who switched from being one of Trump’s fiercest critics to being one of his most malleable proponents, had set a new standard for shamelessn­ess, but even Graham won’t put his name to the Cruz campaign.

“Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectivel­y fighting for President Trump. It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy,” Graham said over the weekend. Given his record, however, he could say the opposite today and see nothing amiss with it.

Mike Pence, who remains vice- president for another two weeks, is dodging and weaving in a desperate effort to avoid taking a position. He, too, is a presumed candidate for 2024 and wants to protect his record of being close to Trump without taking any of the blame for his behaviour. Pence was wooden enough to begin with, but during his term as No. 2, he perfected his ability to sit silently to one side while his boss ranted for the cameras, having no apparent opinion or insights, and doing his best to remain invisible until someone noticed him in the official photo.

This week will be a pivotal test of Pence’s political skills, as he is called on to preside over the official count of the Electoral College votes and rubber stamp the winner. Pence knows Biden won the election. Some 60 legal challenges, going all the way to the Supreme Court, have failed to prove otherwise.

He wants the support of the Trump base as much as Cruz or anyone else, but he’s probably also well aware that any attempt on his behalf to overthrow the will of the 81 million Americans who chose Biden will produce consequenc­es that no one can predict. So he’s still trying to play both sides, declaring that he “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate … to bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people,” but won’t join their ranks.

He’ll have no choice but to commit one way or another when his moment comes in Congress. It’s yet another frightenin­g aspect of the changes Trump has wrought that we can’t be sure he’ ll have the decency to perform his job as honesty and integrity require.

The Pope should have followers so willing to believe without question.

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