"Fox & Friends": Maybe Trump should think about starting the transition on COVID and national security

Maybe he should, Brian Kilmeade. Maybe he should.

McConnell was pressed yesterday about Trump’s deepening retreat into fantasy, in which he remains undefeated in everything he’s ever done, and said, “We are going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one. What we all say about it is frankly irrelevant… All of it will happen right on time, and we will swear in the next administration on Jan. 20.” That’s noteworthy in two ways. First, he’s still unwilling to admit that Biden won. “The next administration” is vague enough that it could be understood to mean “Trump’s second term.” Second, it’s flatly untrue that we’re going to have “an orderly transfer.” The transfer doesn’t happen on January 20, it happens gradually during the lame-duck period. The transfer is already disorderly.

And because the president seemingly can’t cope with the reality of his defeat, it’s apt to get a lot more disorderly before Inauguration Day.

The difference between Trump and McConnell is that Trump would burn down the country to soothe his ego whereas McConnell would burn it down in exchange for a few extra GOP Senate seats. You know Mitch, always thinking strategically.

Whether the transition officially begins or not isn’t technically up to Trump. It’s up to Emily Murphy, the head of the GSA, who’s enough of a crony to have held out so far on “ascertaining” Biden’s win but not the sort of close crony from whom Trump might expect absolute loyalty a la Rudy Giuliani or Jenna Ellis. CNN reports today that Murphy is struggling with the dilemma of whether to continue to help the president light the country on fire or whether to acknowledge observable reality about who won. The fact that she’s struggling with that choice makes me wonder if Trump isn’t going to scramble to fire her before the states start certifying their results and replace her with someone who’ll never, ever acknowledge Biden’s victory, like Judge Jeanine. Boo hoo:

“She absolutely feels like she’s in a hard place. She’s afraid on multiple levels. It’s a terrible situation,” one friend and former colleague of Murphy’s told CNN. “Emily is a consummate professional, a deeply moral person, but also a very scrupulous attorney who is in a very difficult position with an unclear law and precedence that is behind her stance…

Sources close to Murphy describe her as a technocrat and policy wonk, with a lengthy career as a congressional aide and at GSA. It’s not clear what specific actions Murphy is waiting on before granting ascertainment. Sources tell CNN she is basing her decision on what she sees as the precedent set by the 2000 election, where there was not a clear winner for more than a month…

Two sources close to the transition told CNN that Trump’s disastrous day in court last Friday had moved the dial forward, but days later there was still no ascertainment letter from Murphy.

The impending results from Georgia’s recount, which are expected to be certified Friday with no dramatic shift in results, along with other states beginning to certify the election are also factors in Murphy’s decision, these sources said. But Murphy has not publicly said what the definitive line will be.

Trump’s victory was “ascertained” the day after the election four years ago despite the fact that he lost the popular vote and won key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania by smaller margins than Biden did this year. The analogy to 2000 would make sense only if this election, like that one, had come down to hundreds of votes in a single decisive state, not tens of thousands of votes across multiple states. The lawsuits between Bush and Gore were a serious dispute over which ballots should count; the lawsuits being led by Giuliani and Ellis are a face-saving PR stunt to delay certification. The 2000 comparison is nothing more than a fig leaf Murphy’s using to cover up her fear of pissing off Trump and getting fired — at a moment when she knows she’s going to be out of a job in two months anyway:

Trump employees can do the right thing for the country, like Chris Krebs, or they can do the right thing for Trump, like Murphy. My guess is that she’ll eventually cave next week, after the swing states states certify their results, which means the delay she’s engaged in right now achieves … nothing. Trump’s still going to fire her like a mad king after she “ascertains” Biden’s victory. All she’s doing is slowing down the transition and ensuring that she leaves with the least possible dignity once he drops the axe.

Jonathan Rauch argues today that what Trump is up to right now isn’t an election strategy, it’s an information-warfare strategy. I disagree. It *is* an election strategy first and foremost, but certainly Rauch’s right that it’s a psy op as well. This passage is interesting in comparing what Trump is engaged in off the cuff, to what autocrats in other countries do as a carefully considered disinformation program:

What Trump and his supporters are up to should be thought of not as a litigation campaign that is likely to fail, but as an information-warfare campaign that is likely to succeed—and, indeed, is succeeding already. More specifically, they are employing a tactic called “the firehose of falsehood.” This information-warfare technique, according to researchers at the RAND Corporation, is marked by “high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions.”…

Unlike more traditional forms of propaganda, the firehose of falsehood does not aim primarily at persuading the public of something that is false (although this is a welcome result). Rather, it floods the information environment with so many lies, half-truths and theories that the public becomes disoriented, confused and distrustful of everyone.

While the bulk of firehose claims are false or misleading, even mutually contradictory, a skilled propagandist may salt the mix with statements that are partly valid, lending apparent plausibility to the rest. The bewildering panoply of true and false, rumor and conspiracy, lawsuits and countersuits, all work toward the main objectives: to undermine legitimate authorities, polarize and fracture society, and open the door to cynicism and demagoguery.

Mass gaslighting, in other words. The point isn’t to fully convince the audience, which is too difficult given all the evidence on the other side that the election was fair, but rather to get them to the point where they conclude that actual truth is unknowable and therefore can choose the reality they prefer. Like Rauch says, it’s succeeding:

Reuters’s poll today underlines his point. Just five percent said that Trump won the election versus 73 percent who said that Biden won, but among Republicans 52 percent said that Trump rightfully won versus just 29 percent who said Biden did. In other words, even most righties recognize the reality that Biden will be president, but the firehose of falsehood lets them arrive at whatever conclusion they want about who the “real” winner was.

Unlike Rauch, though, I don’t think that’s Trump’s main play. If he has to settle for gaslighting everyone as his consolation prize upon leaving office, he’ll take it; the “I was cheated” PR push helps prop up the myth of Trump the invincible. But there’s no way to look at the ecstasy among the president and aides like Ellis last night after Wayne County briefly refused to certify its results as anything but proof that they really are trying to pull off a coup.


It’s not going to work, but not because they’re not serious about it. It’s because Biden’s electoral-vote margin is sufficiently large that they’d need to get the results thrown out in multiple states, not just one. If this election had come down to Pennsylvania, as Trump clearly hoped would happen in the event that he ended up trailing Biden, America would be on the brink of fracturing. There’d be an all-out attempt ring-led by the president himself to annul a state’s election result on a bare assertion of widespread fraud, aided and abetted by partisan cronies in the state legislature. The country would be broken beyond repair by such a brazen theft. It’d be the end of American democracy, with some people talking about secession. Trump would happily follow through on it anyway, just to spare his own ego a bruise, and McConnell would humor him for the sake of some Senate seats in Georgia — assuming Georgia was still a U.S. state by January 5. The disgrace will never wash off.