The Republican effort to derail Congress’s electoral vote count on Wednesday will fail, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20, as the Constitution commands. What will persist, however, is an existential crisis: a political party that is no longer committed to representative democracy.
On the one hand, there are the Republican officials, such as Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, who have stood up against President Trump’s efforts to keep this reality at bay. Two months after a majority of voters rendered a decisive verdict against him, the president is still pretending he didn’t lose. At first it was baseless tweets about fraudulent ballots in Detroit and Philadelphia. Next it was demands that Republican-led state legislatures disregard the will of their voters and flip their electors from Biden to Trump. Then, on Saturday, the president spent an hour attempting to extort Raffensperger, whom he threatened with criminal prosecution unless the Georgia official helped “find” 11,780 votes for Trump — one more than the margin by which he lost the state to Biden.
Trump went on and on about dead people voting and burned or shredded ballots. He unleashed a stream of specific-sounding numbers — 4,502 unregistered voters! 18,325 vacant address voters! — which Raffensperger, who certified Georgia’s vote total in November, after a hand recount of nearly five million ballots, calmly parried. “Well, President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong,” he said. Thanks to Raffensperger and his team’s decision to record the call, there is no contesting what Trump was seeking: the disenfranchisement of millions of American voters. “The Trump campaign had ample opportunity to challenge election results, and those efforts failed from lack of evidence,” Paul Ryan, a former Republican House speaker, said Sunday in a statement. “The legal process was exhausted, and the results were decisively confirmed.”
For the record, falsifying vote totals, or soliciting someone else to do so, is a crime under both federal and state law. It is without question an impeachable offense. Even though he has only two weeks left in office and the country’s focus should be on stopping the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a strong argument that Trump — perhaps the most lawless and least qualified chief executive in the nation’s history — should be not only impeached for a second time but also convicted and disqualified from ever again holding public office.
Why does all this sound so familiar? Trump was impeached a little more than a year ago for doing essentially the same thing, only that time the call was to a foreign leader rather than a state official, the demand was to manufacture dirt on his political opponent and the threat was the withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed military aid. But the ultimate goal of both calls was the same: the use of corrupt means to hold on to power.
In a sense, this is all political theater. Every state long ago certified its vote totals without contest. On Monday, Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, publicly and painstakingly debunked every one of Trump’s claims of fraud. “This is all easily, provably false,” he said. The objectors know this; many won their own seats on the same ballots that they are attempting to invalidate. What they are really objecting to is the fact that Trump lost.
But there are many Americans who believe their claims who are not in on this disingenuous, cynical game — and who believe that their votes for Trump are the ones being invalidated. That mistrust will have consequences that extend far beyond Wednesday’s certification, including the creation of a generational myth of a stolen election, the discrediting of Biden’s presidency from the outset and the passage of stricter voting laws that target Democratic-leaning voters, under the guise of electoral integrity.
The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists with NYT ©2020