Before you ask, yes, of course there are already insinuations circulating on social media that McConnell himself was involved in The Big Steal. Why would a guy whose every waking thought is devoted to filling the federal judiciary with conservatives be willing to engage in chicanery to elect Joe Biden? He wouldn’t, of course. But believing in The Big Steal has always been a loyalty test, not a rational process. McConnell failed the loyalty test this morning by acknowledging Biden’s victory, so now he’s complicit.
If, the morning after Election Day, you’d been asked to predict the precise moment he would acknowledge the reality of who won, today is the moment you’d have picked. There was no doubt Trump would spend weeks insisting that he’d been cheated and there was no doubt most of the Republican base would indulge him in that, so McConnell had to indulge him too by not contradicting him publicly. (Privately is another matter. I’d bet good money that he called Biden to congratulate him weeks ago.) But there was also no doubt that at some point Senate Republicans would need to pivot, especially with the Georgia Senate runoffs bearing down. McConnell wants Georgia Republicans amped to turn out and vote for Loeffler and Perdue, and his strongest message on that point has always been that Biden will have total control of government if Warnock and Ossoff win. But because of Trump’s delicate ego, he was prevented from making that claim forthrightly.
Until now. The electoral college vote gave him all the political cover he could hope for to finally execute that pivot. So he did.
“Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result. But our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20,” McConnell said https://t.co/PyGvwKqydN pic.twitter.com/zoISxy8x5S
— POLITICO (@politico) December 15, 2020
Various Senate Republicans had already spoken out last night, acknowledging Biden’s victory, but McConnell’s statement will make it easier for stragglers in the caucus to ‘fess up to reality too. If the leadership accepts that Biden is president-elect, that’ll be good enough for most backbenchers.
Interestingly, certain antagonists of the GOP establishment are also seizing this opportunity to pivot:
A Newsmax spokesperson to TVNewser just now: "As a result of the Electoral College vote Joe Biden is the president-elect and will be referred to as such on Newsmax. We also recognize President Trump continues to contest the results and we will cover aspects of that news story."
— A.J. Katz (@ajkatztv) December 15, 2020
I wonder if Newsmax would have made the same decision if not for their ratings surge lately. At first blush it makes no sense for them to acknowledge Biden as president-elect. They’re supposed to be the feral populist alternative to Fox News, the sort of network where you might expect them to describe Biden going forward as the “president-select” or as the “alleged president” or whatever. But Greg Kelly’s surge in the 7 p.m. hour may have Newsmax brass believing that they should make some small nods to credibility as they try to establish themselves as a mainstream news network to rival Fox. Deep down, few populist entities want to lead a revolution; they just want to occupy the lucrative niches that the establishment does. Newsmax accepting Biden’s win is a small concession to that reality.
I regret to report that the president is not taking the result from the electoral college as well as McConnell or Newsmax is:
Trump, who cannot jail either Gov. Kemp or Secretary of State Raffensperger, is retweeting Lin Wood's call for him (prediction that he will?) jail both of them.
Republicans have spent weeks trying to convince the president Wood is a Democratic psy-op, to no obvious avail. pic.twitter.com/DFu53252vm
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) December 15, 2020
Having committed no crime, neither Brian Kemp nor Brad Raffensperger are going to jail for anything. That’s just the latest evolution of the running scam aimed at Trump voters that there’s some cabal of villains responsible for his defeat that will soon be exposed and punished. (Lin Wood appears to be a fan generally of conspiracy theories in which cabals of evildoers are forever on the brink of being arrested but never actually are.) Sidney Powell was going to vanquish them with her Kraken lawsuits, then Texas was going to overturn the results in swing states with its SCOTUS lawsuits, now Kemp and Raffensperger are supposedly going to prison. It’s half scam, half descent into fantasy to cope with an intolerable reality. Trump’s probably still sufficiently tethered to the real world that he knows Wood is wrong, but he’s retweeting him anyway because no opportunity to demagogue the Georgia Republicans who refused to block Biden’s victory there is too cheap to amplify.
Here’s Romney last night reminding the country that just because you lost doesn’t mean you were defrauded. We have exactly 22 more days of conspiracy-mongering to go, with the next round of the scam destined to focus on how Congress might install Trump as president again when it meets to record the electoral college’s votes on January 6. That’s effectively impossible since the Democratic House has a de facto veto over the process. And Mike Pence, who’ll preside over the session, isn’t so hardcore a MAGA type that he’d refuse to accept Congress’s verdict or whatever. But the fantasy will continue because reality is hard. What the next conspiracy will be between January 6 and January 20, when Biden is sworn in, is unclear for now but I’m sure Wood and Powell will think of something.