John Bolton: For the sake of the party and the country, Republicans must stop coddling Trump on his election fraud claims

Yeah, I’m not sure any righty anywhere on the pro- or anti-Trump spectrum wants a civic lecture from this guy, given that he was willing to rip Trump in his book but not to testify during the House impeachment inquiry.


Anyway. Two weeks before the election, Bolton told CNN that he believed congressional Republicans would stand up to Trump if/when he lost and inevitably began claiming he was cheated. Which leads one to wonder: Does Bolton understand the first thing about how his party works anymore?

Bolton warned: “Let’s be clear: Trump will not leave graciously if he loses. He will not leave graciously. Whether he carries it to the extreme, I don’t think we know.”…

Ultimately, Bolton said, what happens will be “on the leadership of the party, elected officials, private citizens. If it is clear what the outcome [of the election] is, it is up to Republicans, not Democrats, to say, ‘This is on us. He’s got to go.’”…

Bolton said he believes Republicans are “ready” to deal with Trump based on conversations he has had with many of them. “I don’t think they will stand” for Trump refusing to step down if he loses, he added.

Eight days after Election Day, he’s back with an op-ed proclaiming his dismay at the completely foreseeable development in which congressional Republicans have not, in fact, stood up to Trump. “The long-term Republican interest emphatically involves … rejecting Trump’s personalized, erratic, uncivil, unpresidential and ultimately less-than-effective politics and governance,” Bolton writes at one point, not at all convincingly. The country just got four years of the full Trump experience and yet the president (a) received more votes than any candidate in U.S. history apart from the man who defeated him, (b) saw his party do surprisingly well in House and Senate races, and (c) improved on his 2016 showing among every racial and gender demographic except white men. We don’t need to rehash the argument over whether Trump was “repudiated” or not; for our purposes here, it’s enough to say that the jury is out on whether Trumpist politics is a long-term loser for the GOP.

Bolton is spot on, though, that the party’s strategy of “humoring” Trump while the court farce plays out will backfire badly. The president will try to get away with whatever he thinks he can get away with; that’s his nature, and it’s why handing him a second term in which he no longer had to worry about electoral consequences for his actions would have been so dangerous. The party believes, foolishly, that by lining up behind him on his “I was cheated” claims right now they’re giving him time to come to terms with the loss and putting courts in a position to let him down easy. But what they’re really doing, intentionally or not, is telling him that he has their support in resisting transferring power to Biden. Now he’ll feel emboldened to push it however far he wants to push it.


And once they’ve climbed aboard that tiger, it’s hard to climb off. With each passing day, Trump and his fans get more invested in the idea that there’s a chance he’ll be declared the winner after all. As that investment deepens, it becomes harder for Republicans like McConnell to tell them, “Okay, it’s time to come back to reality now.” Telling them the day after the election that Biden had won would have been an outrage. Telling them a week after the election, when they’ve absorbed a thousand half-baked stories of massive fraud and have convinced themselves they’re on the cusp of victory, will be treated as treason. Bolton:

One approach holds that coddling Trump while he trashes the U.S. electoral system will help him get over the loss, thereby making it easier to reconcile him to leaving the Oval Office. But this coddling strategy is exactly backward. The more Republican leaders kowtow, the more Trump believes he is still in control and the less likely he will do what normal presidents do: make a gracious concession speech; fully cooperate with the president-elect in a smooth transition process; and validate the election process itself by joining his successor at the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Coddling proponents plead that an enraged Trump will jeopardize the chances of victory in the Georgia runoffs. But that is true only if party leaders do not speak up, explaining to voters what the real facts are. Do we in the GOP not trust our own base enough to absorb the truth? They will find out in due course anyway if Trump’s election litigation indeed crashes into reality. Once in court, state or federal, before judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats, actual witnesses will have to raise their right hands and tell the truth, and then face gale-force cross-examination from lawyers for President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign. It’s one thing to tweet; it’s another thing to testify.

Who is going to explain that to Georgia’s voters? Republican leaders should lay that groundwork now and not cede the field to a president whose interests directly contradict the party’s. Otherwise, they will rue the day they stood silent.


“Do we in the GOP not trust our own base enough to absorb the truth?” he asks, again leading me to wonder what year he thinks this is and what sort of person he believes defines the GOP base. We had two Senate candidates in Georgia last month competing for the endorsement of a QAnon-er, not in spite of her affiliation with QAnon but *because of it*. To be clear: No, McConnell and other congressional Republicans don’t trust their base enough to absorb the truth because they know that that truth won’t be absorbed. It’ll be replaced by Trump’s Orwellian version of truth in which the election was stolen from him because it’s more comforting to believe the lie.

And can this guy, a former National Security Advisor, really be so naive as to believe that the president’s failure in court will be treated by fans as proof that his voter-fraud claims were without merit rather than as proof that the judges were in on “the big steal” or whatever? I almost — not quite, but almost — sympathize with McConnell and the rest of the cretins in his caucus who are biting their tongues right now as Trump goes around committing civic arson with loose talk of cheating. What good would it do if they spoke out and affirmed that Biden won? Who would be convinced?

They’re reduced to this, God help them. Imagine how badly you’d need to want to be a senator to sacrifice this much dignity to keep your job:

Bolton’s also right that the Georgia runoffs are driving the GOP’s “coddling” approach to Trump. Republicans have freely admitted it to reporters. “We need his voters. And he has a tremendous following out there,” said John Thune to Politico about the upcoming races. “Right now, he’s trying to get through the final stages of his election and determine the outcome there. But when that’s all said and done, however it comes out, we want him helping in Georgia.” Another person involved in the race said of Trump, “you don’t want him blowing you up in the runoffs” and stressed that McConnell knows “being successful in Georgia is to keep Trump under the tent.” Cocaine Mitch thinks of only two things when he opens his eyes in the morning, confirming conservative judges and controlling the Senate. If the price of the latter is letting Trump burn down the country while Senate Republicans stammer “j-j-just let the process play out,” so be it.


The candidates in the runoffs are stuck too. Remember that weird statement Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue issued a few days ago calling on Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign over the election while not actually accusing him or anyone else of wrongdoing? Turns out that was a hostage statement. “We’re told the president and his top allies pressured the two Republican senators to take this step, lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday. Again we have Republican senators playing ball with demagoguery because their jobs are more important to them than reassuring their constituents that they can trust their state’s electoral system.

It makes me wonder if Democrats secretly wish they’d lost the two Georgia Senate races on election night. They’re very likely to lose them anyway in the runoffs; meanwhile, the importance of controlling the Senate is keeping McConnell and his caucus in Trump’s corner on the “I was cheated” campaign. January 5 is a *long* way away, and in light of what I said in this post about the menacing second phase of Trump’s resistance to the election results that’s coming, we can only wonder how much more McConnell might let him get away with before acknowledging Biden’s victory.

If Trump starts calling on state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona not to certify their elections but instead to declare that phantom fraud has tainted the results and therefore Trump should receive those electoral votes, what will McConnell do? If Georgia is all-important and winning Georgia depends on Trump’s cooperation, what leverage does he have to say, “Sorry, Mr. President, but I can’t quite condone a g-ddamned coup to keep you in power. Even if that costs me two Senate seats.”


Does anyone think McConnell has the basic ethical sense to do that, knowing that losing those seats would cost him a Senate majority? How much would you bet on it?

Another way to approach the moment we’re in is this. Over the last few days, a strongman president who was just defeated at the polls has denied the legitimacy of his opponent’s victory; convinced the head of the Justice Department to change the rules so that federal prosecutors can start making noise about voter fraud; has fired the head of the military and begun installing underqualified cronies in some key defense positions; has apparently ordered arms of his administration not to cooperate with the winner of the election in transitioning power; and relished having his top diplomat half-joke, against all available evidence, that his boss had won reelection. If all of that were happening in, say, Turkey with Erdogan or in Venezuela with Maduro, what would you think was going on in that country? Would you think the strongman was responding in a routine and credible way to a threat to his power?

See, I think Mike Pompeo would be issuing statements denouncing those developments as anti-democratic and illegitimate. I think Mitch McConnell’s Senate might even pass a resolution condemning them. Especially if the heads of foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence were also rumored to be on the chopping block as part of the ongoing purge.

“All transitions bring uncertainty,” Bolton writes in today’s op-ed, “but to decapitate substantial parts of the national-security apparatus during such a period for no reason other than personal pique is irresponsible and dangerous. Republicans know this.” They may know it but they aren’t saying anything about it. Imagine how disappointed Bolton will be if/when we reach the stage of this nightmare where the strongman calls on state legislatures to invalidate vote counts that went against him and commit their support to him — and Republicans don’t say anything about that either. On the contrary, Lindsey Graham and Ron DeSantis have both explicitly entertained that idea lately.


The only reason we’re not having a giant national freakout because of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election is that he lost credibility with voters outside his own base ages ago. Yesterday John Ziegler marveled at just how chill most everyone is being despite the president purging military leaders and flailing wildly about voter-fraud conspiracies. “Bizarrely, and quite troublingly, about 2/3 of the nation no longer takes Trump remotely seriously even when he makes the most dramatic and emphatic claims imaginable, while the remainder has never viewed him with more reverence now that he somehow overcame unprecedented efforts from liberal/media elites to oust him from power and still managed to get far more votes than any incumbent president in history,” he wrote. Among the professional commentariat, it almost feels a bit gauche and hysterical to worry about what he’s up to. After all this time, don’t you know it’s all just a con and a grift? A show?

Well, it is until it isn’t. And Bolton’s point about Republicans “coddling” him for too long raises the chances that it isn’t.

I’ll leave you with this. As our strongman crisis deepens, it’ll be fascinating — and terrifying — to see if foreign leaders like Boris Johnson and Macron stop referring publicly to Biden as the president-elect at some point because they no longer have confidence that power will in fact be transferred to him.

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