Yesterday I said we were still in the “respectable” phase one of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, where he pursues traditional remedies like demanding recounts and bringing voter-fraud claims to court. That’s what any candidate would do when they think they’ve been cheated — or rather, in his case, when they want fans to think they’ve been cheated.

Phase one may be wrapping up now. Several Trump-friendly mainstream commentators have chimed in over the past 24 hours to nudge readers towards accepting the fact that Biden won. (“Trump-friendly” doesn’t mean “hardcore MAGA,” just establishment conservatives whose commentary over the past few years has been generally favorable to POTUS.) John wrote last night about Karl Rove’s op-ed arguing that there’s no realistic path to legal victory, but there was also Henry Olsen yesterday in WaPo noting that the telltale signs of electoral fraud aren’t present in this case. There was Byron York this morning in the Examiner insisting that Trump lost because he was treated unfairly by the media over the past four years, not because of shenanigans in the vote count. And there was NRO editor Rich Lowry warning the president and his team that it would be “completely insane” to ask state legislatures to invalidate the result of the vote in their states and award their electors to Trump if the legal challenges fail.

Phase one is wrapping up for the simple reason that we’re nine days into this court fight and Team Trump still isn’t within a thousand miles of producing a fraud claim compelling enough to put the outcome of the election in doubt. It’s put up or shut up time, as Ed noted earlier. It’ll go on for a few more days, until the decisive states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia — move towards certifying their results, at which point Trump and the GOP will come to a crossroads. Either he can start backing down and let the transition machinery begin to turn (e.g., GSA releasing transition funds to Biden’s campaign, the State Department sharing messages from foreign leaders with Biden) or he can ratchet things up by suing to block certification of the results and/or by asking states like Pennsylvania to ignore their results and hand him their electors. That’s phase two, the “desperation” phase.

That’s where things get dangerous. Biden has convinced Democrats to ignore this “I was cheated!” charade during phase one because everyone staying cool is good for the country and, after all, the transition process hasn’t been *very* disrupted yet. It’s been disrupted inasmuch as the White House isn’t cooperating with him on transitioning but we’re still more than two months from Inauguration Day. No harm done — yet — and meanwhile the electoral process at the state level is playing out as normal. That changes if Trump manages to block certification. That’s when Biden’s lawyers are unleashed and when the word “coup” will start being used in earnest, not by Biden himself (who’s trying to lower the rising temperature) but by plenty of Democrats and other commentators. Demonstrations will begin; if they get violent, Trump will start chattering about the Insurrection Act. That’s also where the GOP establishment will come under maximum pressure to break with him. They “humored” him by standing with him during the “respectable” phase but that phase will be firmly over by then. Are they prepared to stand with him during the “desperation” phase too, as he tries to pull off an autogolpe?

Judging from this tweet he’s going to get more desperate and irresponsible, not less, as circumstances go against him, which is true to form. McConnell’s going to have to make a decision soon.

There may have been more destructive tweets that Trump has sent over the past four years but none leap to mind. He’s a rhetorical arsonist by nature and so, watching his court options sputter to a halt, his instinct is to start setting fires and hope that his enemies get burned. As for the OAN segment he referenced, it also made allegations involving Edison Research — which of course is baffled as to how it got roped into this:

Various righty commentators on Twitter, some of them usually well disposed to Trump, compared his tweet to the left claiming after the 2004 election that Diebold’s voting machines had been rigged to tilt Ohio to Bush, providing his margin of victory in the electoral college over Kerry. But the Dominion stuff is even more insane for the simple reason that no single state can hand Trump the election this time. We’d need a multistate conspiracy involving the Dominion software to get the president to 270.

Chris Krebs is the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an agency established by Trump two years ago to protect critical infrastructure, like elections, from cyberattacks. Krebs dismissed the conspiracy theories about Dominion and “Hammer and Scorecard” days ago:

Krebs is expecting to be fired soon despite having rendered the public a service by protecting the country and providing accurate information. He committed an unpardonable sin by insisting on telling a truth that contradicted a self-serving lie told by the president. We get the government we deserve.

Alec Dent and the New York Times also have worthy pieces debunking the Dominion conspiracy theory.

Many of the claims about Dominion can be traced to its alleged role in vote-counting errors in Antrim County, Michigan, and several counties in Georgia. Antrim County revealed it had inadvertently misreported a number of votes in unofficial results, with state GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox claiming that the error was due to “tabulating software glitched and caused a miscalculation of the votes.” However, Michigan’s secretary of state announced that it was not a software issue, but “user human error” that led to the misreporting, and clarified that “the correct results always were and continue to be reflected on the tabulator totals tape and on the ballots themselves. Even if the error in the reported unofficial results had not been quickly noticed, it would have been identified during the county canvass.”

In Georgia, local officials in Morgan and Spalding counties said an update caused some tabulating machines to crash, which delayed voting and vote counting. No allegations of a miscount arose. Gwinnett County, Georgia, also experienced delays in uploading the results of the election, though Dominion stated that the issue “does not relate to system software and has had no impact on the accuracy of vote totals or tabulation.”

Remember that Georgia is doing a hand recount. If there’s software chicanery afoot, we’ll know soon, won’t we? And remember too that the story of the election is how surprisingly well Republicans performed at every level — even in the presidential race, considering how bad the polling looked for Trump. If Democrats had the power to change vote totals, it’s completely inexplicable that they would have allowed Republicans to overperform downballot and for Trump to lose only narrowly in places like Arizona and Georgia. They had all the cover they needed from the polls to “rig” a blue-tsunami election in which the GOP is wiped out everywhere. As it is, they ended up with Biden hanging on and Republicans on the brink of winning a Senate majority that’ll render Biden largely powerless as president.

In that sense, because the “I was cheated!” conspiracy is so ludicrous, it’s the ultimate loyalty test for Trump. He’s asking followers to reject a very clear reality and substitute one that’s more flattering to him. It’s practically an oath of allegiance. I doubt he even cares if his fans sincerely believe the specifics of the Dominion thing. What’s important is that they take the oath.

Ross Douthat made the point this afternoon that if Trump fans really believe Trumpism is the wave of the future and an electoral powerhouse in the making, manufacturing outlandish theories to support a power grab by their hero is a weird way to show it.

If “Trumpism” means something more than “slavish worship of Trump” then last week’s election results aren’t bad. The new president is a senescent moderate Democrat; he’s blocked by a Republican Senate (in all likelihood); and the House looks set to flip to Republican control in 2022. Nothing crazy’s going to happen in government between now and then. It’s a perfect moment to build on populist gains, take that message to voters, and maybe win back total control of government in 2024 with a president who’s not going to stick his foot in his mouth 16 times a day.

If “Trumpism” doesn’t mean something more than “slavish worship of Trump,” then sure, go all in on the great Dominion conspiracy. Anything to preserve his ego. Guess we’ll see.

By the way, I think I speak for everyone on all sides when I saw that we’re tired of hearing Trump aides whisper to the media that everyone inside the White House knows it’s all over. If it’s over, let Trump say so. If he doesn’t say so then it’s not over in the important sense of beginning the transition, now is it?

According to WaPo, there’s no White House strategy to get the results overturned and Trump himself has taken to talking about running again in 2024:

Asked about Trump’s ultimate plan, one senior administration official chuckled and said, “You’re giving everybody way too much credit right now.”…

“If the party doesn’t fight on the recount, the grass roots is going to leave the party,” said one senior Republican involved in the discussions. “That’s the choice they have. That’s why they are doing it. It’s less about the president than it is his voters.”…

Inside the president’s orbit, many aides find themselves grappling with a dual reality — pretending, and some perhaps believing, that Trump has a shot at holding the White House while they also look for their next opportunity, said one senior administration official who spent part of Tuesday and Wednesday searching for a job. Two administration officials added that many in the West Wing are updating their ­résumés, talking to headhunters and looking for work. But they are also living in fear, with senior Trump adviser Johnny McEntee promising to terminate anyone who gets caught seeking employment, officials said.

This denial of reality would be tremendously embarrassing but not sinister *if* Trump could be counted on temperamentally not to pursue a “desperation” phase of this strategy. But he can’t. Lawsuits to try to block certification of the results may be coming. If he loses, what then? Like Charlie Sykes says, loyalty oaths are forever.

If sticking with Trump is all about keeping up Republican voters’ morale for the Georgia runoffs on January 5 then there’s no off-ramp for McConnell from this nightmare unless Trump takes it first. Without him conceding or saying something concession-like (“I was cheated but I accept that Biden will be president on January 20”), the Senate GOP won’t contradict him before that date — but there’s also no earthly way that Democrats will keep their cool if this standoff drags on for two more months. Which means, in theory, that the Republican establishment is going to sit by and watch Trump set fires during the “desperation” phase and not do anything meaningful to try to put them out. They’d rather see the country burn if it gives them a slightly better chance to rule over the ashes. We get the government we deserve.