The failure of this post-election campaign has not made it costless. Trump has encouraged millions of voters to believe that their votes do not count toward election results. He has sent them on a hunt for participants in a nonexistent conspiracy against the public. He has directed scorn and rage at state officials, including Republicans who backed him loyally, whose sin has been to follow the law instead of indulging him. And he has set a terrible precedent for future elections, especially ones that turn out closer than this one did.
Republicans who have not been willing to parrot his claim of a landslide victory have generally not contradicted it, either. Instead they have resorted to offering one shabby excuse after another for the president’s conduct. They say, for example, that he has every right to make his case in court, a claim that runs against decades of more sensible statements from Republicans about the evils of frivolous litigation. A president ought to have less leeway to abuse the courts than a fast-food patron scalded by hot coffee.
Or they say that Trump and his supporters have raised important questions. In many cases that is an extremely charitable assessment: There is no important or even interesting question about Hugo Chávez’s ability to manipulate vote totals from the grave, for example. In other cases, the questioners refuse to listen to the answers. Take the widely broadcast claim that turnout in Milwaukee jumped suspiciously from 71 percent in 2012, when Obama was on the ticket, to 85 percent with Biden this year. The Republican National Committee spread that one — and didn’t correct the record when it was shown that turnout in 2012 was actually 87 percent, and therefore hadn’t risen at all. The lawsuits don’t merely ask questions, anyway: They request action, typically in the form of throwing out the ballots of thousands of law-abiding voters.