As President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election grow increasingly desperate and deranged, more and more Republicans are lining up behind him.
Trump has faced a nearly unbroken string of decisive legal defeats, losing more than 50 cases, and experts widely agree he will fail in his efforts to reverse the election. And yet, the number of Republicans willing to flout the will of the voters in favor of showing fealty to a president who will be out of office in a month is actually growing.
Republican pandering to Trump’s denialism started with support for relatively conventional measures like audits and recounts. It has now reached the point of more than 120 federal elected officials fighting to allow states on the other side of the country to overturn the votes of their own constituents. Even as state officials report threats of violence for certifying verified election results, Republicans are throwing their weight behind Trump’s increasingly extreme and utterly fabricated theories about the election, and the country, being “stolen.”
After dozens of court losses, Trump’s latest move was an extraordinary legal gambit by Republican-controlled states to overturn the election results of other states. The longshot lawsuit led by Texas and backed by 16 other Republican attorneys general — this does not include court filings from states that don’t actually exist — sought to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, all states won by Joe Biden.
One hundred twenty-six House Republicans, a majority of the conference, signed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, including the top two Republicans in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
Remarkably, 17 Republicans who signed the brief represent districts in the states being sued, essentially siding with Trump and the state of Texas over their own constituents — and their own election victories.
It went nowhere. Friday evening the Supreme Court rejected the Texas lawsuit. This last-ditch effort came after Republicans in states that Biden won had already tried but failed to block his victory.
Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West responded to the loss by putting out a statement suggesting that Trump-supporting states should consider seceding from the union to form their own country.
But the Texas suit reveals that underneath the surface there are deep divisions in the party about Trump’s increasingly delusional crusade. While few Republicans in the Senate will dare state publicly that Trump lost, not a single one joined the Texas lawsuit. Even normally steadfast Trump allies are expressing amazement at the lengths the president is going to.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn called the lawsuit extraordinary and unprecedented. “States handle their own election laws and voting and you can make claims of constitutionality in that state,” he said. ”But I've never seen something like this.”
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who has largely supported Trump’s agenda but voted to impeach him, went further. “It’s just simply madness,” he said. “The idea of supplanting the vote of the people with partisan legislators is so completely out of our national character that it's simply mad.”
The concept of one state overturning the election results in another is unheard of in American democracy. It was widely expected to fail — which may be why so many Republicans signed onto the effort. It represents a way of currying favor with Trump’s base without having to worry about the gambit actually succeeding. “I just don’t know why a state like Texas, which never wants anybody telling them what to do, now wants to tell a bunch of other states how to run their elections. I doubt the Supreme Court will take it up,” Senate Whip John Thune told the Hill.
Calls for the Republican party to stand up to Trump and defend democracy are also rising. On the floor of the Senate Friday, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy accused many of his colleagues of holding loyalty to Donald Trump over their country and displaying a willingness to toss aside democracy if it gets in the way of Trump staying in power.
“Democracies are really fragile things. Ours only continues because we make choices so that it can remain,” said Murphy. “Right now, the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of this country is underway. Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump for a second term no matter the outcome of the election are engaged in a treachery against their nation. You cannot at the same time love America and hate democracy.”
Murphy closed his speech by saying Trump will not succeed in stealing this election, but if so many people are willing to back a president attempting to overthrow an election he lost decisively, it lays the groundwork for a losing candidate to successfully overturn the next election, or the election after that. “If that happens, the American experiment is done. It’s over,” he said.
There is still a faction of Trump’s party that is not actively going along with his delusions. Senate Republicans have unanimously declined — so far — an attempt by Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks to challenge the Electoral College when it goes to Congress for an official count in early January.
A handful are becoming increasingly vocal. “Every American who cares about the rule of law should take comfort that the Supreme Court — including all three of President Trump’s picks — closed the book on this nonsense,” Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement celebrating the Supreme Court throwing out the Texas lawsuit.
For weeks now, many high-profile Republicans have done their best not to get involved in Trump’s baseless allegations that widespread fraud took place — specifically the states that he narrowly lost, and only for his race, not down-ballot races that other Republicans won. They supported Trump’s right to exhaust his legal options, without commenting on the substance of his legal challenges.
But as Trump’s fight drags on, they are under increasing pressure to join his crusade. Trump’s enablers are fervently whipping his supporters into a revolutionary — and potentially violent — zeal. Earlier this week the Arizona Republican Party’s official Twitter account encouraged supporters to literally give their lives in the fight to overturn the election. “Live for nothing, or die for something,” read one tweet quoting the 2008 movie Rambo.
The message is being heard loud and clear. “I don’t want the military to put these people down. I want to do it with the bois,” reads one comment on TheDonald.win, a pro-Trump message board, referring to shooting Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors, one of countless such messages calling for or eagerly anticipating violence. “We are the military now,” reads another.
State officials who defend election results have reported receiving threats of violence. Michigan’s secretary of state said dozens of armed protesters showed up outside her home. In Arizona, video shows protesters gathered outside of the secretary of state’s home chanting “we are watching you.” Pennsylvania Senate Republican leader Kim Ward told the New York Times “I’d get my house bombed tonight” if she refused to back Trump’s efforts to overturn the state results.
Trump has not explicitly called for violence but has at every turn called for America’s institutions — Congress, state legislatures, the courts, anyone — to overturn the clear results of the election. “We will soon be learning about the word ‘courage’, and saving our Country,” he tweeted this week in line with his usual tone. “I received hundreds of thousands of legal votes more, in all of the Swing States, than did my opponent. ALL Data taken after the vote says that it was impossible for me to lose, unless FIXED!”
In fact, Trump lost Pennsylvania by about 88,000 votes, Michigan by 154,000 votes, Georgia by 12,000 votes, and Wisconsin by 21,000 votes. Trump’s legal team has not been able to prove a single instance of fraud in any state. Recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin reaffirmed Biden’s victories.
Trump has been quick to turn his supporters against any elected Republican who stands up to him. Most of his vocal critics in Congress like Reps. Charlie Dent, Mark Sanford, and Justin Amash, and Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have by now all either left the party, chosen to retire, or lost primary challenges. Trump is currently openly advocating for Georgia’s Republican governor — once of the president’s top allies — to be voted out of office in retaliation for defending the integrity of his state’s election results.
To Republicans in office, Trump’s threats are anything but coded. The Washington Post surveyed all 249 Republicans in Congress and just 25 acknowledged that Biden is the president-elect. Trump tweeted the story saying “Please send me a list of the 25 RINOS” an anagram for “Republicans in name only.”
While House members have to face voters every two years, Senate Republicans have much more job security due to their six-year terms. But the balance of power in the Senate depends on them winning at least one of the two Georgia runoff elections to be held in January. So they are now caught in the balancing act of deferring to Trump denigrating the electoral system as a corrupt sham, while also encouraging voters to enthusiastically show up and vote in that same system.
Meanwhile, Trump is running out of time. Tuesday marked the “safe harbor” date, the deadline for states to certify their results and force Congress to accept them. All 50 states have certified their election results. On Monday, the Electoral College casts its official vote. On Jan. 6, Congress will count those votes and certify a winner.
Trump’s team has still not proven in court that a single vote was fraudulently cast in any state in the country. Despite all this, pro-Trump corners of the internet took the Supreme Court rejection of the Texas lawsuit as a minor setback that will inevitably be overcome.
“This is the greatest adventure of our lives. This is far, far from over,” one Trump fan tweeted. “You’re going to love how this turns out.”