WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats have concerns about President Donald Trump fighting to overturn the presidential election, but one thing they’re not worried about is that he could actually pull it off.
“We have confidence that this is all fireworks. Very loud, distracting fireworks, but fireworks,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. “Joe Biden is going to be the next president, and there’s nothing that Trump can do about that.”
Politicians and the media alike have struggled with how to handle the contradiction of Trump’s actions. On one hand, there is the dramatic spectacle of a sitting US president alleging widespread voter fraud and vowing to reverse the results of the election. On the other, Trump’s legal efforts so far pose no realistic threat of that happening. His campaign has provided no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud. Their legal filings, when they’re not being thrown out of court, often center on issues of how closely their poll watchers were able to scrutinize ballots, not throwing out the tens of thousands of votes that would be necessary to swing the election.
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Trump’s actions are being described by many on the left as an attempted coup, and it may look one on the surface. But they also fit in with Trump’s long history of making bold pronouncements that never materialize.
Democrats are largely treating Trump’s legal challenges as a farce, rather than a threat. Several senators compared it to a temper tantrum. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called it “a fantasy in his head.” Sen. Cory Booker said Trump wasn’t living up to the behavior expected of little league baseball teams.
“I’m not worried. Donald Trump will leave the White House. It’s just a matter of time,” said Booker. “He’s going to press his legal claims and press his recount claims. We all know what the result will be.”
This is not to say that Democrats don’t have plenty of other worries. Several told BuzzFeed News Thursday that they are concerned about what Trump will do over the next two months, and how his actions will erode people’s faith in future elections.
Sen. Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said they weighed the option of contesting that election. Clinton won the popular vote, but narrow losses in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin cost her the electoral college. Kaine said they discussed all their options, including appealing the results.
“You had some people encouraging Hillary to do that. She didn’t know everything on the day after the election but she knew that foreign actors had been involved. She knew that because the intel community had publicly said that. She knew that Trump had stood on the stage and asked for help,” said Kaine.
Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton in those three key states turned out to be less than 80,000 votes. Though the results were tight, Kaine said Clinton looked at the margin of victory and realized there was no realistic chance that a recount would change who won. “She’s a patriot,” said Kaine. “Donald Trump is not being a patriot. His tender ego can’t stand it.”
Biden currently holds a 291,000-vote lead across the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia.
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Democrats also expressed exasperation at their Republican colleagues for not doing more to push back against Trump’s claims that the election was stolen. Republicans have argued that Trump has a legal right to contest the election results in court and should be given the chance to present whatever evidence of fraud he has. Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of Republican leadership, on Wednesday, questioned whether Biden had won at all.
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, who just won reelection in Michigan, said he views Trump’s lawsuits in his state as clearly frivolous. He said he expects them to go nowhere, but to still cause long-term damage.
“I think it’s dangerous, the fact that you try to delegitimize an election without any evidence,” said Peters. “Democracy is based on trust. When you erode trust, you erode a democracy.”
Democrats are conflicted about the long-term impact of Trump’s actions. Some think it could lay the groundwork for future presidential contenders to refuse to concede.
But Murphy said Trump is a unique character, and people shouldn’t assume future politicians will try to mirror his actions. He also said Trump’s allegations of fraud likely aren’t winning over anyone who hasn’t already been following the president for the past four years.
“It may be that Trump has done maximum damage to democracy,” he said. “It’s not clear how much more damage he can do."