If we want to see how the primary politics of this play out, look no further than one that’s already in its early stages: the next Republican presidential primary, in which hopefuls like Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are not just keeping their silence, but actively spreading the voter fraud myths pushed by the Trump campaign. The irony for their presidential aspirations is that, even as they try to appeal to the base by aggressively backing the president, they’re fueling the martyr myth that would make the base choose Trump over them in 2024.
A similar bind applies to the rest of the party. As long as they see Trump’s supporters as too valuable to upset by crossing Trump, Trump will hold on as the party’s de facto leader. We should not expect for there to ever be an “easy” time for Republicans who hope to maintain or rise in power to acknowledge that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in a fair election.
Georgia is just one episode in an open-ended series, and Republicans will have to make choices even before those January votes arrive. When the Trump campaign runs out of lawsuits and recounts, what will Republicans say then? When 270 electoral votes’ worth of states have certified their results for Biden, what will Republicans say then? If Trump leans on state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere to select their own slate of electors under the nebulous cloud of voters having “failed” to choose a president—even if this is an unlikely gambit—what will Republicans say then? At a certain point, after all the other excuses run out, there’s no longer a way to both appease Trump’s bruised ego and uphold democracy.