This has been a tumultuous week, to say the least. But if there was one silver lining — even before Joe Biden's apparent or imminent victory — it was the blessed 36 hours in which we didn't have to hear Donald Trump's voice. After his obnoxious declaration of victory at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, he stuck to primal tweeting until Thursday evening when he emerged to make the worst speech of his career. He disconsolately rattled off a fantasy laundry list of voting irregularities and declared, "If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us." Reading haltingly from a script, he rambled about media conspiracies and lied about vote-rigging, saying, "Ultimately, I have a feeling judges are going to have to rule" which he has always believed was his failsafe. It set a new standard for awful, which is really saying something.
Once again, a majority of Americans were no doubt horrified, embarrassed and frightened that their so-called president was declaring the American system that elected him to be corrupt because he is now on track to lose.
If you wondered where Trump was getting all these alleged horror stories, you need look no further than his favorite news network. It's on Fox News that the conspiracy theories and propaganda have been disseminated to the faithful who were already primed to believe that a Biden presidency cannot be legitimate because Trump told them so. He is continuing to tell them so, and there's a good chance that a large number of Americans will never accept the legitimacy of this election based upon Trump's outrageous lies to cover for his failure. Here's a little taste of what they're seeing:
After watching Trump's atrocious speech, I thought perhaps the Republican establishment might take a breath and do one of those "Goldwater walks" to the White House to tell Trump it was time to hang up the gloves. It really was that bad. As usual, that was a vain hope. There have been a few half-hearted remonstrations from former GOP officials and commentators. Beyond Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a longtime Trump critic, and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who's been lukewarm toward Trump all along, hardly any prominent Republicans have spoken out.
Trump's adult sons have taken their angry demands to social media, urging elected Republicans to step up in defense of their father, and saying they would "remember" who failed. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri stepped up to announce that he was very concerned about the "confusion" and would introduce "election integrity" legislation. Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas also jumped in to back Trump, without being entirely specific about his claims.
But it was Lindsey Graham, the newly re-elected senator from South Carolina, who outdid himself, going on Fox News and slobbering all over the camera, apparently vying for the dubious honor of most obsequious Trump bootlicker of the week:
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a likely 2024 candidate, also got in on the action:
This "observer" hysteria was resolved earlier. But apparently they've decided this is the magic bullet that, in some unknown fashion, may require a do-over of the whole election. Or, if Sean Hannity has his way, maybe just have Trump declared president for life.
You'll notice that with the exception of Haley, all the Republican luminaries rushing to Trump's defense are members of the U.S. Senate. You have to wonder why they would feel so strongly about fighting for a Trump victory that has clearly slipped away. Sure, they might feel that Trump will continue to have influence in the party for a while, but Cruz and Hawley have four more years in their terms, while Cotton and Graham just got re-elected. It's possible they are all made men in the Trump cult, but I doubt it. All of them have big ambitions, and it's difficult to believe they actually believe it will be good for them to perpetuate Trump's struggle to overturn this election result on the basis of phony allegations made up to soothe his shattered ego.
Aside from reflexively responding to the call of the Trump scions, they may have a compelling reason. They may not care much about Donald Trump getting another term, but they care deeply about keeping their Senate majority. They need him to keep stirring up the base in advance of a likely double cage match in Georgia come January. There are almost certain to be two Senate runoff elections there that could yet tip the balance of the Senate to the Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made no comment about Trump's antics on Thursday evening. And he's been quite cagey about Trump in recent weeks, saying he hasn't been to the White House recently because of its lax COVID protocols and even gently chiding the president for his election night speech, saying that all the votes should be counted. But I would imagine he'll walk over hot coals to help Trump now if it means keeping his majority. Power is the air Mitch breathes.
Democrats had better get some sleep this weekend and then get ready for round two. The disappointment of all those defeats in Senate races hasn't really sunk in with all the anxiety surrounding the presidential race. But it's a huge problem. If McConnell remains in charge of the Senate, we can kiss the Democratic agenda good-bye. He is a ruthless opposition leader who is already giving notice that he plans to veto any Biden cabinet choice that doesn't please him. There will be no liberal judges, and if another Supreme Court justice dies or retires, that seat could well stay empty indefinitely. He will enable Graham and other Senate committee chairs to run endless investigations into Biden and his family, regardless of the merits.
And of course, any hopes of the legislation required to clean up this mess and actually improve the lives of the American people will be dashed. In fairness, we should note that even if Democrats had won the majority, there's no guarantee the Senate could pass any progressive legislation, thanks to both the filibuster rule and the presence of conservative Democrats who become very powerful veto points of their own. Nonetheless, it's necessary to have a majority simply to set the legislative agenda and with these domineering Republicans running the Senate we are looking at gridlock. Again.
I don't know if the Democrats can gain those two Senate seats in Georgia. But you can bet that Mitch McConnell will do everything he can to prevent it. If that means helping Donald Trump turn this country inside out over the next couple of months so that his people stay active and engaged, he will do it. And so will his troops. If the last four years have shown us anything, it's that any niggling concerns Republicans might have about destroying our democracy are easily disregarded, when it's a question of maintaining their own power.