By Stump Connolly

          Only Donald Trump could make a constitutional crisis out of an eviction notice. When you lose an election by 7 million votes and 74 electors, you’re in territory he once called a landslide. When you claim fraud in 60 different courtrooms, in six different states, and 59 judges, Republicans and Democrats, say your case has no merit, that’s a sign you should start packing. And when the Supreme Court, with three judges you appointed, says you have no standing to appeal, it’s time to steal as much silverware as you can, and skedaddle.

          But Donald Trump doesn’t turn tail and run. He turns tail and blows farts in the face of democracy. If he can’t win, he’s going to cast a stench over the whole election process. He’s going to browbeat every belly-sucking Republican he can into refusing to accept the vote of the Electoral College and let Mike Pence pick the next president. That was the fantasy going around in his head this week. He was going to give them something to remember him by.

No Time for Parties

          The President had it all lined up for his Republican minions in Congress to contest Biden’s victory when they met in joint session to count the Electoral College votes. Normally, this is a routine affair. The envelopes from each state are opened, the votes counted, and the tally is handed to the vice president to announce the winner. But Trump had 12 Senators and 140 House Republicans ready to object because of “irregularities” the President had been touting since Election Night, and legions of faithful MAGA heads he called to Washington to mass outside Congress in protest.

          “Be there,” he tweeted. “Will be wild!”

          He cut short his Mar-a-Lago vacation ­– skipping his famous New Year’s Eve celebration with Vanilla Ice and the Beach Boys – to return to Washington to coordinate the attack. According to his official schedule, he would make no public appearances, but “will make many calls and have many meetings” i.e. he won’t be playing golf.

The Phone Call

          One of them, unfortunately, was a Saturday call to the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger. After six weeks of recounts (three) and endless hours of court suits and hearings, Raffensperger was confident certifying that Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes. But Trump was sure he could persuade him to “recalculate.”

          Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Peter Navarro, a longtime advisor whose “The Art of the Steal” was a cheat sheet of Trump grievances, were on the line, as was Raffensperger’s general counsel, Ryan Germany, and a tape recorder.

          For over an hour, Trump tried to bully, threaten and otherwise cajole Raffensperger into changing the Georgia count. Point by point, Raffensperger refuted him.

          Trump claimed 5,000 dead people voted, Raffensperger said his office found only two instances of this. Trump claimed an election worker ran electronic ballots through a scanner three times to give Biden an extra 18,000 votes. Raffensperger said state investigators talked to the woman and recounted the ballots by hand. The tallies matched. Trump offered a statistical analysis that showed the rejection rate for absentee ballots was impossibly low. “I won Georgia,” he kept repeating, probably by 500,000 votes.

          “Well Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong,” Raffensperger said.

          Finally, an exasperated Trump got to his bottom line. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”

The Tape

          When the call ended, Raffensperger breathed a sigh of relief. He was ready to chalk it up to Trump being Trump. But the President wouldn’t let it go.

          On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted, “I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia. He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters,’ dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”

          “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true,” Raffensperger shot back. “The truth will come out.” And it did.

          Three hours later, the tape of the conversation appeared on the Washington Post website. Trump’s threats in print came dangerously close to vote tampering, but the tone of the tape was more like a mob boss, a menacing, desperate President willing to do anything to preserve his fiefdom.

Clear Warnings

          Sunday afternoon, wiser heads stepped in. From Wisconsin, former House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement castigating his former colleagues.

          “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.”

          Ten former Secretaries of Defense – from Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to James Mattis and the recently fired Mark Esper – signed an op-ed in the Washington Post warning that involving the military in the dispute would cross into “dangerous territory.”

          “Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.

          Adam Kinzinger, the Republican congressman from Illinois, said in the wake of the call, no member of Congress could object to the election results with a “clean conscience.” Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called Trump’s phone call “a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode.”

The Last Hurrah

          But Trump was unfazed. With the attention span of a gnat, he was on to the next stop in his magical mystery victory tour, a campaign rally in Dalton, Georgia, on the eve of the Georgia special election to decide whether Republicans or Democrats would control the Senate during the Biden administration.

          It was a long painful speech, a Greatest Hits album of lines from other speeches. Interspersed with praise for Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were long stretches of specious facts, bald-faced lies and “numbers” from his experts showing how it was impossible for him to lose this election.

          For Trump, it’s all about the numbers. Maybe that’s a holdover from his real estate days. In his mind, he got 12 million more votes in 2020 than last time around. In any other year, Jared Kushner would have won a Pollie as campaign manager of the year for that. But Joe Biden got 15 million more than Hillary Clinton in 2016. Sleepy Joe? Trump couldn’t wrap his head around that.

          On stage, Trump was like an old prizefighter bobbing, jabbing, throwing every punch in his repertoire, until he realized he’s the only one in the ring. He was defiant to the end.

          “We will not bend, we will not yield, we will never give in, we will never give up, we will never back down, we will never, ever surrender, because we are America, and we are from Georgia, and our hearts bleed red, white and blue.”

An Umbrella of Fraud

          I’ve been scratching my head for weeks trying to figure out what makes Trump loyalists think they have to step in to overturn a presidential election. The President unburdened all his grievances on Twitter under the umbrella of vote fraud. But no matter how often he posted, even in all caps, saying it doesn’t make it so. His legal team botched its case in every courtroom they have appeared. (For a case-by-case review, see this excellent Washington Post article.) His devotees on Fox News – the Sean Hannitys, Tucker Carlsons and Lou Dobbs of the world ­­– filled the airwaves with so-called evidence of election “irregularities.” White House shills appeared on air as experts to explain them.

          Fox bundled all these “irregularities” together into a Chyron ribbon – “Massive Voter Fraud” – that lingered on screen from day-part to day-part as if it were an accepted fact.

          One rump Republican after another went on Fox to announce they felt compelled to challenge the Electoral College because their constituents were concerned about massive voter fraud, but those concerns were based on what they were seeing on Fox. So Trump and Fox created an endless loop of disinformation that left no room for one critical detail. Trump lost, big time.

A Conspiracy, Not a Fraud

         When proof of election fraud failed to materialize, the Trump loyalists turned to a new theory of the case propounded by Mark Levin, a rising star on the right. Levin has a radio show carried on 300 stations and a Sunday night talk show on Fox. He appears frequently on Hannity as a legal expert whose opinions are written on stone tablets handed down by God.

          His contention is that Democrats, in their drive to encourage more voter participation,  bypassed state legislatures in battleground states to “systematically and strategically” shift the ground under election procedures.

          “The Democrat Party, its surrogates, and eventually the Biden campaign instituted an unprecedented legal and lobbying campaign, mostly under the radar, to undermine our Constitution, the Republican state legislatures, and the Trump re-election campaign, in favor of Biden.” In other words, they tried to win.

          So President Trump really wasn’t the victim of vote fraud, he was the victim of a conspiracy. The Democrats didn’t so much break the election rules as change them. They registered more Democrats than Republicans. They promoted mail-in voting (Trump did not) to overcome voter fears of going to the polls during the Coronavirus pandemic. In Milwaukee, they put ballot drop boxes in inner city neighbors for senior citizens who had difficulty getting to the polls. In Georgia, they reversed Republican efforts in past elections to limit polling sites or restrict hours in Black neighborhoods. In Pennsylvania, they won a court order allowing ballots postmarked by election day to be counted up to three days later.

Outwitted and Outplayed

          In the words of Trump’s favorite producer Mark Burnett, the Democrats outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted the Republicans. Now he wanted a do-over because he couldn’t find the Immunity Idol.

          There’s no way to pin a 7 million vote discrepancy on a lost ballot box here, or a faulty machine there, or not enough poll watchers in Philadelphia. The votes that beat Trump were everywhere, a lot of them from people who nobody ever thought to ask.

          After four tumultuous years with President Trump, Republicans and Democrats were motivated to step forward to voice their opinion, and doing it was easier than ever. Trump’s numbers were up. Biden’s were up. You really want to know why Trump lost? Because turnout in 2020 was 66.3 percent, versus 60 percent in 2016, in a country that is growing more diverse every day. And enough of them were so fed up with the president they got together and voted him out of office.

          “If this outcome is allowed to stand without a fight, it will become extremely difficult for Republicans to win nationwide elections (something the ten or so GOP senators who wish to run for president should keep in mind),” Levin said, getting to the nub of the issue. “The Democrat Party’s goal is to turn the nation’s electoral system into the one-party rule. They are playing for keeps and destroying our constitutional system, for which they have little regard. (Republicans) must make it clear to the Democrats that we, the people, who believe in this Republic, will not roll over!”

We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore

          Congress convened to count the Electoral College votes under a bleak, chilly sky. A mile away on the Ellipse across from the White House, Trump was addressing a “Save America” rally. His speech was a 75-minute brain dump of all the nonsense swirling around in his head. (“Trump is speaking now. He is lying about the election. It’s not worth tweeting,” noted Daniel Dale, the CNN fact checker.)

          “We’re not going to take it anymore,” Trump shouted. “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue — I love Pennsylvania Avenue — and we’re going to the Capitol, and we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try to give them the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.”

          Mo Brooks, the Alabama congressman who started the whole brouhaha, picked up where Trump left off. “Today is a day for choosing, and tomorrow is a day for fighting,” he said. “Today is the day America’s patriots to start taking names and kicking ass. Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

          “Fight for Trump,” the crowd roared.

          Then Brooks quoted from Revolutionary War hero Tom Paine. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

May You Live in Interesting Times

         As Brooks’ speech wound down, thousands of MAGA heads were streaming down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. They clashed with police, broke down a succession of protective barriers and stormed the Capitol steps. Scores of them made it inside, breaking windows, vandalizing offices and halting sessions in both the House and Senate. They roamed the halls, posed for selfies in the Rotunda, hung a Trump flag on the balcony, and occupied the Senate floor. Capitol police stood with guns drawn in the House chamber to keep them at bay. Legislators were forced to hide in undisclosed locations. The mahogany cases that held the Electoral College votes were whisked away to a safe location.

          President Trump, meanwhile, left the rally and immediately went back to the White House where he continued to tweet about Mike Pence betraying him by following the Constitution. For two hours, he said nothing about the violence in the Capitol.

          There’s more to be written about this insurrection, probably a lot more, and I may have a few thoughts myself. But let’s just say, for now, this was an inglorious end for an ignominious president that was four years in the making.

Back to Normal

          After six hours of chaos, order was restored to the Capitol and Congress resumed debate on a routine motion leading to a foregone conclusion.

          At 3:40 AM, Vice President Pence announced that Joseph R. Biden will be the next president of the United States by a vote of 92 to 8 in the Senate and 282 to 138 in the House.

          And President Trump tweeted.

          “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Trackback URL