Mitch McConnell never acted as if Barack Obama were a legitimate president. More than a decade later, the Senate majority leader has decided to the best use of Republican resources is to humor Donald Trump's delusion that he won an election he clearly lost. McConnell's desperate play appears to be a grift meant to fire up Republican voters ahead of a pair of critical Senate runoff races in Georgia. But what if that plan backfires? Trump's attacks on America's electoral system could just as easily depress GOP turnout.
Joe Biden is on track to win 306 Electoral College votes, the same number Trump received when he was elected four years ago. As Salon's Roger Sollenberger has reported, none of the half-dozen or so lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign in states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia since Election Day have presented any evidence of systemic irregularities, or any information that could even hypothetically reverse Trump's electoral defeat. So while our tax dollars are at work defending against meritless lawsuits by an outgoing president, the Republican civil war has suddenly reignited with a new round of finger-pointing and recrimination.
McConnell took to the Senate floor on Monday to argue that "President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options." While several reports suggest that McConnell's anti-democratic strategy is meant to appease Trump and fire up his base, there is already evidence that points to a real risk of depressing Republican voters.
Trump's campaign has seized on news that fewer than 400 ballots had not been scanned over the weekend in Atlanta to stir up cries of voter fraud. In reaction, Georgia's two Republican senators, both facing Jan. 5 runoffs against Democratic challengers, have demanded the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican. Raffensperger has dared to deny allegations of voter fraud and pointed out some simple arithmetic: Biden leads by 11,595 votes in Georgia, and that's highly unlikely to change in Trump's favor with a recount. Georgia's voter suppression tactics already mean that elections are heavily rigged in Republicans' favor, so the Democratic turnout this year is all the more notable.
"There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems," Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue said in the statement, which did not list a single example of any such problems. "The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections." All reports and indications suggest, however, that the Georgia election was clean and clear, with no major irregularities.
Republicans are essentially calling the voters of Georgia cheaters and their fellow Republicans corrupt in pathetic attempts to align themselves with a president who refuses to accept their own votes. McConnell and the majority of the Republican Party are egging Trump on at the expense of their own voters. They are at once getting Republican voters' hopes up for some miracle — and also convincing them their votes don't count. Deflating the GOP base while riling up the Democratic base with Trump's refusal to concede seems an ill-conceived strategy going into a crucial runoff race.
Trump's showing last Tuesday shows that many of his voters only come out to support him, not the GOP as a whole. While plenty of loyal Republicans will still come out in Georgia with control of the Senate on the line, I suspect a good number won't bother now that the president GOP voters adore has said that America's elections are rigged. Democrats, meanwhile, sense an unusual opportunity to turn out even more voters, including those who may not have voted on Nov. 3 because they assumed Georgia would remain red no matter what — and now they have an opportunity to reshape power in Washington.
Take, for instance, the message from former Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who posted a video to social media where she appealed to God to "SMASH the clay jar of deceit in America. SMASH the clay jar of delusion in the United States of America. SMASH the delusion, Father, that Joe Biden is our president. He is not." Extremist rhetoric like that is likely why 70% of Republicans now say they don't believe the 2020 election was free and fair, compared to the 35% who held similar beliefs before the election.
On the other side of the coin, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, easily the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has done multiple Fox News interviews to calm the fears of moderate voters who are reluctant to see Democrats control that body, promising to block any progressive agenda presented by Biden. As usual, Democrats and Republicans are simply not playing the same game.
Trump, meanwhile, is simply playing aggrieved and trying to fleece the rubes one more time while he still holds office, telling his worshipers that the system is out to get him. It's a distinctly odd thing for the president of the United States to say, but he continues to schedule rallies and raise funds — same grift, different day. All this will work just about as well as his "big, beautiful wall" on the Mexican border, his long-promised replacement for the Affordable Care Act and all the promises to throw agents of the "deep state" in prison. But even if Republicans lose in the short term, they're setting the stage for new restrictions on voting in states they control by pointing to Trump's false claims of fraud. Much the same thing happened after 2016, paving the way for the new voting rules that helped create the confusion of 2020.