On Friday I divided Republicans into three groups in their reactions to Biden’s victory. One is the group that no longer has anything to lose by crossing Trump and therefore is free to acknowledge either that Biden won or that there’s no evidence of widespread fraud going on. Pat Toomey and Chris Christie are in that group, as is Mitt Romney. This afternoon Susan Collins joined, having just won another six-year term in Maine and run far ahead of Trump there:
Susan Collins congratulates Biden, calls him “president-elect:” “I understand that the President and others have questions about the results in certain states. There is a process in place to challenge those results and…the President should be afforded the opportunity to do so” pic.twitter.com/PbTaukYNd3
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 9, 2020
Ben Sasse, also freshly reelected, hopped aboard as well: “Melissa and I congratulate the next president, Joe Biden, and the next vice president, Kamala Harris. Today in our house we pray for both President Trump and President-Elect Biden, that both would be wise in the execution of their respective duties during this important time in our nation.”
The second group, which includes most of the Senate GOP (for now), are the people trying to thread a needle between appeasing Trump fans and not giving credence to Trump’s wild claims of massive fraud. Members of this group typically resort to weaselly bromides about counting every legal ballot, Trump having the right to pursue fraud claims in court — stuff that everyone agrees with and therefore doesn’t need to be said, but which signals a certain small degree of doubt about the outcome that leaves them momentarily neutral about who won. Mitch McConnell, appropriately, is the chief spokesman for that group:
McConnell backs Trump's refusal to concede the election. pic.twitter.com/3N36z1gXXL
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 9, 2020
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is part of it as well:
Georgia's election result will include legally cast ballots – and ONLY legally cast ballots. Period. pic.twitter.com/ldgxvOysPj
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) November 9, 2020
McConnell is worried, as always, about Senate elections. He has two runoffs coming up in Georgia that’ll decide control of the chamber and he’s in a jam. If he goes all in on Trump’s “election hoax” claim, it’ll piss off Democrats and maybe swing voters in GA. If he swats down Trump’s claim, it’ll piss off Trump fans there whom he needs to turn out. The only way to navigate that is through ambivalence.
Then there’s the third group, the people who have reason to fear the president or his fans and thus feel obliged to indulge in whatever fantasies he and they insist upon, which brings us to the subject of this post. This joint statement from Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two Republican candidates in the Georgia runoff, is an almost perfect statement of Trumpy “unfairness.” There’s no claim whatsoever here that something illegal happened in Georgia. The claim is simply that the outcome went the wrong way, therefore something must have been amiss, therefore the Republican secretary of state should resign in disgrace. It’s a supreme example of loyalty to the leader requiring the substitution of a more palatable reality for actual reality.
LOEFFLER and PERDUE jointly attack the Republican secretary of state in Georgia. pic.twitter.com/IjHWgLbOCJ
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) November 9, 2020
Raffensperger replied with this statement, to his credit. Were there any irregularities, he says? Sure, as there always are in elections, and his office is investigating all of them. Were there enough irregularities to change the outcome? “That is unlikely.”
The response from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger: “Let me start by saying that is not going to happen. The voters of Georgia hired me, and the voters will be the one to fire me.” #gapol pic.twitter.com/ZBXv4G4gHO
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) November 9, 2020
The lieutenant governor of Georgia, also a Republican, said just a few hours ago that he’s seen no evidence of wrongdoing there. Nate Silver pointed out that Georgia is actually *more* transparent than most states in its vote-counting because it provides regular updates on how many ballots are outstanding in each county. But it doesn’t matter. In a loyalty cult, the important thing is to signal loyalty. That’s what Loeffler and Perdue are doing even though it’s … tricky to ask people to turn out for you while you’re also telling them that the electoral system in your state can’t be trusted to count their votes fairly.
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) November 9, 2020
I think Republicans in Georgia *will* turn out to vote despite their own party’s efforts to convince them that their ballots will be nullified by fraud because, again, the point of this song-and-dance isn’t really to convince anyone that Biden cheated. It’s to give a man and a movement that make a fetish of “dominance” a way to save face by claiming that they’ve never actually been defeated. They remain the voice of The People, whatever The People may have to say about it. If the “voter fraud” stuff is just a face-saving exercise, not a serious allegation of wrongdoing, then sure, Georgians will absolutely turn out to cast their ballots. McConnell’s counting on it.
Cracks are starting to show in the pretense, though. This is noteworthy:
Fox News was airing Kayleigh McEnany’s press conference this afternoon and Neil Cavuto pulled out of it, insisting that he’d need to see some hard evidence to justify keeping it on the air:
Watch the moment Fox News cut away from Press Sec. McEnany: pic.twitter.com/SwW9cq9bJI
— The Recount (@therecount) November 9, 2020
That’s the “loyalty test” in a nutshell. Will you get on the team and accept the president’s bare allegations of massive fraud in multiple states to the tune of hundreds of thousands of illegal votes? Or will you demand evidence that’ll stand up in court? How much reality are you willing to deny to prove your allegiance?
One last point. It’d be one thing if Trump had been a good sport about defeats in the past; in that case we might listen to him crying foul now and say, “That’s not like him. Maybe he really does have evidence of cheating.” But the truth is the opposite. What he’s doing right now is him to a tee. Remember this from 2016?
He can’t cope psychologically with losing because it puncture his “dominance” myth so he invents tales of cheating to comfort himself and keep his fans on side. For an absurd example, read this NYT piece about him complaining over the years how unfair and political the Emmys are because “The Apprentice” never won. Three days before the election, McKay Coppins published this piece quoting Democrats who anticipated the strategy Trump is pursuing at this very moment to try to discredit a Biden victory. “The goal here is really not producing evidence that stands up for any length of time,” said one to him. “They’re interested in sowing just enough doubt … to develop this narrative of fraud—not only so that he can contest the election, not only so that he can refuse to concede a loss, but also so that some portion of his supporters will remain embittered and be able to say the results were illegitimate.” He’d be doing the same thing even if the polls had been right and Biden had won in an eight-point landslide. The fraud claims would be slightly more ridiculous in that case because of the margin but he’d still pursue them, having no reason not to. The goal is to save face. Say “I was cheated” enough times and some people who like you will play along.