December 2020Campaigns

The State of Stealing the Election

As the Socialist goes to press, Trump’s effort to annul the clear will of the voters and somehow machinate to remain in office are going badly. His two-pronged strategy—litigation and political pressure—to remain in the White House is sputtering on all cylinders.

When his efforts in the courts to throw out unfavorable votes based on unproven claims of fraud fell on deaf ears, his litigatory strategy stood in tatters. His rush to get Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court—so, Trump wasn’t shy to say, that she could rule in his favor on any election dispute that made it there—seemed for naught. The elite law firms his campaign hired to press his case resigned, leaving the unhinged and over-their-head trio of Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell to carry on (and Powell was soon ousted as being too bonkers even for a Trump-Giuliani circus). Giuliani held two press conferences, one in the parking lot of a Philadelphia landscaping company (proximate to a sex shop and a crematorium) and another in which his hair dye melted onto his face—both seeming fit metaphors for a dissolving Trump coup effort.

The political side of Trump’s gambit at one time seemed to have more legs, especially when the elections board of Michigan's Wayne County—which includes Detroit—deadlocked on whether to certify the election results to the state board, with the two Republicans voting no while the two Democrats voted yea. Outraged citizens took to the mike to bombard the GOP members over their effort to disenfranchise millions of voters, largely people of color. The spooked Republicans backtracked and reached a compromise with the Democrats to allow the tally to be certified after all. The agreement, not surprisingly, provoked the wrath of Trump and his allies, and the GOP duo later tried to take back their vote to certify, but it was too late. Trump then hosted a pair of key Michigan Republican state legislators at the White House, an event of corrupt audacity that would shock in normal times. But despite Trump’s strong-arming these two supposed allies in helping him steal the state’s vote, the pair issued statements afterward throwing water on the notion. In the end, Michigan certified Biden’s victory there.

Others among Trump’s political allies joined the battle, most notably Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who decreed himself to be voting-integrity czar. Graham called election officials around the country in an outrageous but futile effort to browbeat them into bending the results in Trump’s favor. His ugliest moment was a call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican who nevertheless insisted that his state’s vote, which Biden won narrowly, was honest and fair. Raffensperger endured not only bile from Graham and others but also death threats from Trumpists who insisted he declare their hero the winner, the numbers be damned, as well as demands from Georgia’s two Republican senators—both Trump lap dogs—that he resign for no reason other than that he was doing his job. Raffensperger stared them all down and declared Biden the state’s winner following a recount.

Two key processes are about to play out: further states’ certification of their vote results and the December 14 vote of the Electoral College—pro-forma rituals in most years that became of heightened significance in 2020. Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania already have certified Biden’s win, with the other swing states’ processes to be complete by the time this issue appears. Once certifications take place, a key lever in any political tampering is gone.

The Electoral College’s vote, according to the Constitution, is the “real official” vote for President and there is no constitutional way to overturn it, although Trump might try. But ahead of that, Trump and his team have tried to induce Republican-controlled legislatures in the swing states to throw out the popular votes and select their own electors—Trump electors. Such pressure, however, so far has not been effective in any states. Many state-level Republicans, such as Raffensperger, fortunately regard defending the integrity of their states’ elections over their partisan affiliation.

Perhaps the most significant step indicating Trump knows that he has lost was his November 23 move to allow the General Services Administration to provide the incoming Biden administration with resources needed for his transition. Not a concession, but close.

Trump clearly had higher hopes for his post-election machinations. He had spent four years installing right-wing judges—including three on the Supreme Court—and cultivating a fanatic voter base to pressure Republican-elected officials at all levels to do his bidding or else be primaried. He could be sure, of course, that any judicial or political nullification of the clear results of the election would bring massive protests to the streets that he would need to suppress—which is why it is puzzling that the media didn’t draw a connection to the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Trump was angry with Esper for defying his order to use active-duty military against the Lafayette Park demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Now he has pliant acting leadership at DOD. But it looks now as if there will be no call to deploy the troops.

A lot of things could happen in the next days and weeks, but it appears a successful Trump coup will not be one of them. But even failing all else, Trump has weaponized his sizable voter base into an ongoing movement to question the validity of any election won by Democrats. This is not a one-off; it will infect our elections for the foreseeable future. This could very well result in future votes at some level being decided by courts rather than the ballot box. And Trump has left at least a partial road map for a future incumbent president seeking to remain in office despite being defeated. If Trump and his backers had been more competent, they might have pulled it off.

Worst of all, a defeated Trump will be eligible to run again in 2024. So be prepared for anything.

See more in categoryReturn to Issue