But there’s a glaring exception: It seems as if President Donald Trump and much of his team never got the memo. Indeed, if you tracked Trump’s Twitter feed or checked out the President’s false statements at his Georgia rally Saturday about the election being stolen from him, you would correctly assume that the White House and a large portion of the electorate are inhabiting an alternate universe.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a game, a false flag operation, or an unruly child’s tantrum better ignored than legitimized. There is a massive, albeit chaotic, operation underway to deepen and expand Trump’s longstanding assaults on the norms, traditions, laws, and guardrails of our system of government and politics.
Trump’s ongoing claims are a twisted mixtape of fabrications and falsehoods and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared to double down on this approach in surreal appearances last week before the Michigan and Arizona legislatures. Both the Michigan House and the Arizona Legislature have since had to limit operations because of fears that members were exposed to Covid-19 after Giuliani tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized on Sunday.
All that was complemented by a litigation frenzy with new filings in courts across the country by Trump and his allies, including Sidney Powell, complete with claims that would be rejected if they were advanced in a fiction-writing contest as simply too implausible. Several of those cases have since been tossed with more sure to follow.
So why do we even care? As the national director, the outside counsel, and an advisory board member of the Voter Protection Program (VPP), a national bipartisan organization focused on election protection, we want to be clear: None of this will change the outcome of the election. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated on January 20.
Nonetheless, Trump’s ongoing attacks on the American election pose a serious threat. The risk goes beyond the immediate harm of trying to hijack the clear will of the voters — these dangerous ideas will carry forward and outlive the life of the Trump presidency.
If we learned anything over the past four years it’s that although we shouldn’t always take Trump literally, we should take him seriously.
In the short run, he simply wants to be able to cast aspersions — however bogus — on President-elect Biden’s slates of electors. And alarm bells should go off when you learn that a substantial number of Americans seem to agree, according to public opinion polling that comports with our own surveys at VPP. We can’t let this immediate confusion settle in as lived experience for a large number of our fellow citizens.
Next, Trump has made no secret about his medium-term aspiration: to kick up a fuss when Congress meets on January 6 to formally finalize the election results. His goal appears unchanged — maintain Trumpism and its web of conspiracy theories as a movement, with him and his family at its head, into a fierce and potent political force in 2022, 2024, and beyond.
Don’t think for a second that isn’t a serious risk — simply wishing illiberal movements into the fringes has had some notable failures.
The good news is that on the first front of Trump’s short-term aspiration to sow the seeds of doubt, there are governors, attorneys general, and private litigants fighting back in court and winning with an overwhelming record of success. Even when it feels like the headlines have moved on, they’re still fighting for electoral sanity. And they hail from both parties, doing everything possible to defend the election’s integrity and the will of the American people.
On the medium-term front, we’ve been encouraged by GOP acknowledgments in Congress of Biden’s win that we’ve seen from the likes of Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey and others. Even the President’s most loyal supporters are starting to wake up and smell the coffee, including most recently and notably Attorney General Bill Barr.
That augurs well for January 6. In 2016, members of the House who wanted to challenge the certification of Trump’s election couldn’t find a single senator of either party to join them. We hope there will be a similar reaction among Republicans in Congress this year, which would make our founding fathers proud.
On the long-term front, we at the VPP, like so many others, understand the vital need to embrace and empower bipartisan voices in a lasting and strategic way. This isn’t just about today, tomorrow, or next month. We need a healthy, two-party system for America to thrive.
Without this shared commitment to tangible facts, reality, and American values, the system will simply cease to function. We are committed to joining with millions of others in keeping our eye on the ball and doing everything in our power to restore a thriving democracy. We must bring the same intensity to batting down Trump’s lies going forward as we did during the election season, and match that with advancing a positive vision of our electoral system as the crown jewel of American democracy.
Trump is not giving up on his unmoored version of electoral unreality. We can’t give up either.