As Donald Trump has escalated his assault on the U.S. democratic process over the past few days, an interesting and encouraging trend has developed. In several of the states at the center of Trump’s odious machinations, at least some state and local Republican officials have defied the President and asserted the simple truth that so many of their fellow-Republicans in Washington have failed to acknowledge: the election was free, fair, and decisive.
On Friday, following a hand recount of all the votes cast in Georgia, the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, certified that Joe Biden carried the Peach State by 12,670 votes—a victory that gave the President-elect another sixteen votes in the Electoral College, bringing his total to three hundred and six. In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this week, Raffensperger, a businessman as well as a politician, criticized other Republicans for putting pressure on him to overturn Biden’s lead. He also said that he and his wife have received death threats. In announcing the certification on Friday, Raffensperger described himself as “a passionate conservative” and “proud Trump supporter” who backed the President’s bid from early on. He also said, “Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie. As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people—not a decision by the secretary of state’s office, or of courts, or of either campaign.”
Also on Friday, the Board of Supervisors of Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, certified that 2,089,563 votes had been counted in their county, a longtime bastion of Sun Belt conservatism, and that Biden had defeated Trump by more than forty-five thousand votes. The certification came after the dismissal of lawsuits that the Trump campaign and the Arizona Republican Party had filed against Maricopa County—and after Trump supporters repeatedly demonstrated outside the Phoenix vote-counting center. In announcing the certification, Clint Hickman, the Republican chair of the Board of Supervisors, said the lawsuits had “fallen flat” for lack of evidence. “No matter how you voted,” he added, “this election was administered with integrity, transparency, and, most importantly, in accordance with Arizona state laws.”
In Michigan, where Biden won by more than a hundred and fifty thousand votes, the state Board of Canvassers is expected to certify the result on Monday. On Friday, Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader of the state Senate, and Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of Michigan’s lower house, attended a hastily arranged meeting at the White House. With some of the President’s allies openly calling on G.O.P.-controlled state legislatures to take the extraordinary step of appointing slates of Trump loyalists to the Electoral College, and with Trump having personally called a Republican member of the Board of Canvassers in Wayne County earlier this week, the get-together raised alarms. But, after the White House meeting, Shirkey and Chatfield issued a statement that said, “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors.”
Contrast these statements, especially the ones from Raffensperger and Hickman, with the continuing silence from the vast majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill. So far, only three G.O.P. senators have spoken out against Trump’s tin-pot efforts to overrule the will of the voters, and all three of them—Susan Collins, of Maine; Mitt Romney, of Utah; and Ben Sasse, of Nebraska—have broken with Trump in the past. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that it had contacted the offices of all fifty-three Republican senators for comment. “Fewer than 10 senators’ offices responded,” the Post’s report said. “Of those, most declined to comment or referred to previous remarks—in some cases remarks that predated Trump’s actions this week, including his call to a county canvassing board member in Michigan.”
Republicans’ complicity with Trump goes beyond their silence, disturbing as that is. The demented press conference that Rudy Giuliani and other Trump lawyers held on Thursday, at which they alleged a grand voter-fraud conspiracy orchestrated by the Biden campaign, took place at the Republican National Committee’s Capitol Hill headquarters. After the event, the R.N.C. posted a video clip from it on its Twitter account. Later that day, Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the R.N.C., appeared on Sean Hannity’s show, on Fox News, where she defended Trump’s unprecedented refusal to accept the result of the election, claiming that it was based on “real things that we are seeing on the ground across the country.”
In behaving in this manner, the national Republican Party has made the transition from the President’s passive enabler to his active co-conspirator. Over the past couple of decades, many elements of the G.O.P. have embraced tactics like voter suppression and rampant gerrymandering to retain power and frustrate the will of the majority. But, even for a party well practiced in dark arts, trying to void a Presidential election that local officials have certified as entirely legitimate, and not even particularly close, represents a substantial leap into the politics of autocracy and failed states. What motivates it?
An obvious explanation is that Republican senators and representatives, even those with large majorities, are terrified of incurring Trump’s wrath and becoming the next Jeff Sessions or Jeff Flake. Rather than standing up to the President and calling on him to end his antidemocratic crusade, they are relying on the courts, and state and local elected officials, to do the job for them. But, while fear may explain silence, it doesn’t explain the G.O.P.’s active role in Trump’s project. To comprehend this level of aberrance and villainy, it is necessary to invoke higher forces.
One is the upcoming runoff elections in Georgia, which will take place on January 5th. Everyone knows that control of the Senate—and, therefore, Democratic hopes of controlling Capitol Hill and the Presidency at the same time—depends on the outcome of these elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and other Republican leaders have every reason to believe that Georgia Democrats will turn out in droves to wrest control of the upper chamber from the G.O.P. The Republican leaders also know that, with Trump’s name not on the ballot, some of their voters may be tempted to stay home. Given how urgently they need the active engagement of Trump and his supporters, they are probably even more loath than usual to upset the President.
Also coming into play is an even higher force than electoral politics: personal character—or the lack of it. When Clint Hickman, the Republican head of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, spoke about the vote certification, he revealed that he, like other officials, had been pressured to find a reason to change the result. The reason that he refused to countenance such a path, Hickman explained, was that he couldn’t “violate the law or deviate from my own moral compass.” In engaging in their Faustian pact with Donald Trump, many Republicans at the national level long ago subjugated whatever moral codes they retained to their lust for power, conservative judges, lower taxes, or whatever. In all likelihood, few of these Republicans foresaw the day when abiding by this pact would lead them to condone, or actively participate in, a blatantly antidemocratic effort to abrogate an election in which more Americans voted than ever before. That is where they are today, though. And the vast majority of them, unlike some of their colleagues at the state and local level, simply don’t have the character to do the right thing.