Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There is one day until Congress counts the Electoral College Votes, and 15 days until the Inauguration of Joe Biden.
Gabriel Sterling’s frustration was palpable, because he knew that he was screaming into the void.
The day after we heard Donald Trump berating Georgia’s Secretary of State to ”find” enough votes to overturn the presidential election, the state’s voting systems manager held an extraordinary press conference.
Point by painful point he rebutted one Trump lie after another.
One by one he debunked the president’s claims of fraud, calling them “easily, provably false.”
“The reason I’m having to stand here today is because there are people in position of authority and respect who have said their votes didn’t count and it’s not true,” Sterling said before he rattled off and dismissed a lengthy list of claims from Trump. “It’s Groundhog Day again. I’m going to talk about the things I’ve talked about repeatedly for two months, but I’m going to do it for one last time — I’m hoping.”
He even brought AV support, as if somehow he could make facts matter again:
Sterling was especially anxious to fact-check a video of ballots that Trump repeatedly mentioned during the call.
“I will admit, when I listened to the audio of the phone call, and the president brought that up again, and I heard it on a radio ad again today, I wanted to scream,” Sterling said. “Well I did scream at the computer, and I screamed in my car, at the radio talking about this, because this has been thoroughly debunked.”
We’re there with you, Gabe. We all want to scream.
Even as he spoke, Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler was preparing to ignore him. As Trump headed to the state, Loeffler declared that she would vote to disenfranchise voters from her own state.
And then last night in Georgia, as our Tim Miller writes, “the President of the United States held a rally during which he called on the vice president to refuse to certify the election results in order to keep himself in power against the will of the people.”
Unlike Trump and Loeffler, Sterling is still under the impression that truth matters. That makes him an anachronism of sorts, but his press conference performed a useful service:
It reminded us there is no real debate here. There is only posturing and grift. As fact-checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale noted, there’s no debate because “One side has the facts, the other side has nonsense, deception, idiocy.”
And that brings us to what will happen tomorrow. Over the next few days, we will get a definitive whip count of Republicans willing to undermine democracy on the basis of lies, conspiracy theories, and cynical grifting.
To vote against certifying the Electoral College votes of six states, those Republicans will have to give the idiocy and bat-shit crazy QAnon-flavored fantasies more credence than the decisions of local and state elections officials, canvassing boards, secretaries of state, governors, legislatures, and courts at every level, both state and federal.
As Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman, noted, “after two months of recounts and legal challenges, not a single state recount changed a result and, of the dozens of lawsuits filed, not one found evidence of fraud or irregularities widespread enough to change the result of the election....”
This should be the easiest vote of their careers: simply doing their constitutional duty.
But instead, as Michael Gerson writes today, they will “try to disrupt and overturn a free and fair election.” And they will define themselves in the clearest possible way. As Gerson notes, “they are no longer just allies of a subversive; they become instruments of subversion.”
They not only help a liar; they become liars. They not only empower conspiracy theories; they join a conspiracy against American democracy. They not only excuse institutional arson; they set fire to the Constitution and dance around the flame.
I’m sorry, but this needs to be emphasized:
Republicans who object to the count will have to take the wild theorizing of Sidney Powell, the insane rants of Rudy Giuliani more seriously than they take official certifications of officials at every level in the six contested states. They will have to ignore the rulings of more than 60 courts. And they will use the bogus deceptions as the basis for throwing out the votes of tens of millions of Americans.
This is Trumpism boiled down to its essence. There is no principle here, because there are no facts.
There is only grift and performative loyalty to Trump.
None of this is subtle. Within hours of announcing that he would object to the electoral count, Josh Hawley began fund-raising off of his attempted putsch.
“Of course he’s fundraising off fantasy,” outgoing Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman tweeted. “Getting ready for 2024. Using disinformation and conspiracies as a baseline for fundraising. Grift. Fooling people to take their money. #QAnon and conspiracy theories are the new ‘normal’. Shameful stuff.”
The elements of this grift are familiar: non-existent or bogus “evidence” that is used to stoke fear and outrage, mixed with the cynical exploitation of false hopes and expectations that are doomed to fail. Failure fuels more outrage and positions the charlatans for the next grift.
It is clearly working: Trump has already raised hundreds of millions of dollars since the election and, as George Will writes, Hawley has decided to “stroke this erogenous zone of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominating electorate.” Cruz, who once pledged that he would not be Trump’s “servile puppy,” quickly rushed to prove his own servility, because he is also running.
As a result, writes Will, Hawley, Cruz, and their cohort are now the “Constitution’s most dangerous domestic enemies.” By embracing the baseless conspiracy theories about the election, notes Will, they are far worse than the crackpots of our youth.
“They were demented,” writes Will. “Today’s senatorial Grassy Knollers — Hawley, with Cruz and others panting to catch up — are worse. They are cynical.”
They know that every one of the almost 60 Trump challenges to the election has been rebuffed in state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, involving more than 90 judges, nominated by presidents of both parties. But for scores of millions of mesmerized Trump Republicans, who think the absence of evidence is the most sinister evidence, this proves that the courts, too, are tentacles of the “deep state.” Hawley and Cruz, both of whom clerked for chief justices of the Supreme Court, hope to be wafted into the White House by gusts of such paranoia.
Election day front page:
Gut wrenching? Doing your constitutional duty? Via the NYT:
Some of Mr. Trump’s other advisers have helped fuel the idea that Mr. Pence could affect the outcome of the election. In an interview with Jeanine Pirro on Fox News on Saturday night, Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser, claimed inaccurately that Mr. Pence could unilaterally grant a demand by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and 11 other Republican senators for an “emergency 10-day audit” of the election returns in the states Trump allies are disputing.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump called Mr. Pence and expressed “surprise” that the Justice Department had weighed in against a lawsuit filed by Trump supporters, including House members, seeking to expand Mr. Pence’s powers in the process. The suit was dismissed on Friday by a federal judge in Texas whom Mr. Trump had appointed.
One person close to Mr. Pence described Wednesday’s duties as gut-wrenching, saying that he would need to balance the president’s misguided beliefs about government with his own years of preaching deference to the Constitution.
This shouldn’t actually be a hard decision, if Pence retains even a modicum of self-respect. At this point, that is questionable.
Bonus fact check:
Ed O'Keefe @edokeefeCampaigning in Georgia tonight, @realDonaldTrump on the @VP: “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you. I hope that our great Vice President comes through for us. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
In case you are trying to figure out the GOP divisions right now, Dave Weigel has a useful guide:
1. MAGA Nihilism Is On The Ballot In Georgia
So while it is true that the fate of the Senate majority is in the balance, and others will try to make this election about policies or appointments or the very fate of market capitalism, the two incumbent senators themselves have told you otherwise.
David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler care not a whiff about any of that. Anything you project onto them that you hold dear, they will dispatch with in a moment at the caprice of a Trump family member.
They believe in nothing but whatever Trump and his supporters tell them to believe. And they want your vote.
Say what you like about it, at least it’s an ethos.
Trump’s rambling, incoherent performance was marked by what seemed to be a case of TDS—Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome—so bad that it caused even the maskless cult members who packed into the Dalton, Georgia event site to become bored by the show.
But Trump’s unintelligibility and TDS do not take away from the gravity of the undertaking. The rally was ostensibly in support of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue’s Senate run-off campaigns, but in reality it was an opportunity for the president to ensure that said senators—and any others who dare cross him, like Mike Lee, whom he name-checked more than once—see that their only path forward is by participating in his effort to overturn the election.
2. The Wall Street Journal Epitomizes the Failure of Elite Conservatism
Make sure you read Mona Charen’s masterful takedown of the WSJ editorial prevarications:
In the Trump era, the Journal’s editorial board has betrayed its readers. It has trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime. Every now and then—usually on textbook economic matters like tariffs—the board has issued stern rebukes of the president’s policies. But rarely. For the most part, it has retreated into anti-anti-Trumpism, averting its gaze from the president and focusing disproportionately on his opponents. Some columnists have become outright cheerleaders for the Russia hoax narrative.
3. Ted Cruz Wants to Copy the Corrupt Process That Killed Reconstruction
Ward Carroll asks: Tone deaf? Dog whistle? The Texas senator invokes the terrible electoral commission of 1877.
The commission’s deliberations were accompanied by sidebar negotiations between Hayes loyalists and moderate southern Democrats. Those negotiations led to the infamous Compromise of 1877, which tipped the Electoral College vote to Hayes with the promise that once he became president, he would remove federal troops from southern statehouses.
President Hayes made good on his promise, which gave Southern states the maneuvering room to break the big promise they made at the end of the Civil War about how they’d treat their black citizens. The corrupt bargain marked the de facto end of Reconstruction, ushering in the beginning of the Jim Crow laws that required “persons of color” to remain separate from whites on public transportation, in parks, schools, restaurants, theaters, and elsewhere. Basically, all the civil rights gains that had been made over the 12 years since the end of the war were erased. Still worse, violence against blacks at the hands of the KKK and other racist organizations intensified and lasted well into the next century when Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders finally convinced President Lyndon Johnson to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
4. In Praise of Those Who Resist Temptation
I’ll probably struggle to remember Secretary Brad Raffensperger’s name two weeks from now, but he has demonstrated the intestinal fortitude lacking in some elected officials with much fancier titles and much higher profiles. And our republic will still exist on January 7, January 21, and hopefully for decades to come because of people like him around the country who have played their unpleasant, but necessary, roles in this process.
I suspect most of these people would probably tell you they’re just doing their jobs. But the reality is that their jobs are hard. And their jobs are subject to a great temptation. Yet rather than telling people what they want to hear, these public servants told people what they needed to hear, including the most powerful person in the world.
It appears right now that a majority of Congress will join the ranks of these patriots later this week. Yes, some in Congress will not, and they will likely be remembered for giving in to temptation. But many, many more have stood up for truth and resisted the temptations of comforting lies.
These American heroes are preserving our way of life. They deserve our praise and our gratitude.
Siri: Show me a demagogue squirming.
“Self-licking ice cream cone”. Well said.
Ezra Klein @ezraklein"You introduce a false idea, spreading it by every available means. Then, once people are talking about it, and some believe it, you cite its prevalence as evidence that it might be true—an epistemic sleight-of-hand by which propaganda validates itself." https://t.co/AKEv7uSIrg
The Bravery of William Winter
A 2014 documentary called The Toughest Job chronicles Winter’s fight for education reform. Rather than integrate schools following Brown v. Board of Education, Mississippi had ended compulsory education in 1954. When Winter was elected governor a quarter of a century later, Mississippi was the only state in the nation with no laws requiring school attendance. He waged a fierce battle for fundamental education change and finally, by one vote in his last year in office, the legislature passed the most sweeping education reform in the state’s history. In that one short term—at the time, Mississippi governors could only serve one term, a relic of Reconstruction when the legislature wanted to be the center of power—William Winter changed Mississippi forever.