We pretty much know by now what Donald Trump was up to in the aftermath of the 2020 election: trying to retain his office after an election that he had lost and (apparently) knew he had lost.
I put “apparently” in parentheses above to leave open the possibility that Trump’s personality renders him unable to entertain the thought that he might actually have lost (even though he had lost, and by substantial margins in both the popular and electoral vote) to Joe Biden.
But it’s easier (and probably wiser) to assume that Trump is simply unwilling to abide a loss and so, when he lost, he automatically shifted into cheating mode to see if he could steal a win, and now is reduced to waiting for 2024 to redeem himself and feed his monstrous insatiable ego.
If, on the other hand, Trump truly believes the nonsense that comes out of his mouth, he is perhaps even more dangerous, to himself, to democracy and to the great American experiment, which relies fairly heavily on the peaceful transfer of power after an election, based on the results.
If Trump really is that self-deluded, it’s a powerful delusion. As U.S. Rep Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican and co-chair of the committee investigating Trump’s coup attempt, pointed out in her opening statement at Tuesday’s session of the attempted coup investigation committee: The election was over, the recounts were over, the result had been confirmed by Congress and Trump’s own Attorney General William Barr had confirmed that Trump’s arguments to the contrary were (as Barr told Trump, according testimony) of “no merit.”
In his opening statement, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who took the lead for the committee in presenting the Tuesday evidence, called Trump’s election lie “a dangerous cancer on the body politic,” because “if you can convince Americans that they cannot trust their own elections, that anytime they lose it is somehow illegitimate, then what is left but violence to determine who should govern?”
For that reason, Schiff said: “The President’s lie was — and is — a dangerous cancer on the body politic.”
Yes, Schiff said, “the system held”; but barely. And the system held because people of courage, Republicans and Democrats, like the people who testified Tuesday, “put their oath to the country and Constitution ahead of any other consideration,” Schiff said.
Sound like corny stuff? But, really, doesn’t what happened justify Schiff’s tone?
Once again, given the partisan nature of such things, the committee (which includes Trump-critical Republicans Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, but a majority of Democrats, and no pro-Trump Republicans) faces the easy task of convincing the already convinced, and the impossible task of convincing the inconvincible.
(Yes, it was hard to convince myself that it is not “unconvinceable,” but really “inconvincible.” But it is.) Clearly, Trump is, was and probably forever will always be telling his lie, and perhaps using it to raise funds from the shrinking minority who believe him, which, for all I know, includes a majority of Republicans in the electorate.
Perhaps for that reason, the committee relied heavily on Republican witnesses who put their commitment to democracy ahead of party loyalty. The committee assembled, for example, a panel of Republican witnesses who resisted Trump’s pressure to find a way to steal their states for him, like Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, who withstood enormous pressure from the Trump camp to steal that state with many fake claims that Democrats had cheated. (They hadn’t.)
But Raffensperger’s story (in which Trump said all he needed Raffensperger to do was “to find 11,780
votes” to overcome the Biden’s lead of 11,779 in the final certified count of Georgia election), had been told often before.
Less familiar (at least to me, so I’ll focus on it here) and perhaps the star Tuesday witness was Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House, who supported Trump for president, voted for him in 2020 and wanted him to win Arizona.
But after Biden carried the state, and after all reasonable efforts to check that result had been exhausted, Bowers was rock-solid clear that he favored honest democracy more than he favored Trump.
The final tally gave Biden Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by a tiny margin, less than 1% of the vote.
But, as Bowers testified, it was checked and rechecked. There was no fraud. The count was honest. In his capacity as speaker, Bowers led the vote to certify the result.
Trump and his hirelings pestered him relentlessly to help them flip Arizona’s electoral votes. He refused: “Anywhere, anytime, anyone who said I thought the election was rigged — that would not be true,” he testified.
The Trump team had another angle. Get Bowers to use his power as speaker to certify a separate, pro-Trump set of electors. This wasn’t the only state where they tried this. They were operating on a discredited theory that a state can disregard the popular vote, and the Legislature can directly appoint a set of electors of their own choosing.
(You might be surprised to learn that the Constitution does not require a state to even hold a popular election in connection with the choice of a president. In the earliest years of constitutional history, some states didn’t. The Legislature would directly appoint a set of electors.
That system passed away long ago. If you hold the popular vote, you are legally — and morally, and democratically — bound to respect the result. Nonetheless, Rudy Giuliani and other Team Trumpers approached officials in many states, asking them to disregard the Election Day results favoring Biden, and just appoint a set of Trump electors. It didn‘t work in any state.)
In Arizona, when they floated to Bowers the idea of just appointing Trump electors, Bowers said no. He favored Trump, but he favored democracy more. For his trouble, he was subjected, first to Trumpian wheedling, then begging, then abuse. Bowers said no.
This wasn’t the only state where Trump and Giuliani and other Trumpers tried this. It didn’t work.
Months after Biden was inaugurated, they were still working on it, but, it seems, half-heartedly. I have the impression that path has now been abandoned, but I have never (nor have you) seen the tape in which Trump acknowledges that Joe Biden is now the legitimate president of the United States.
I gave Schiff short shrift (pardon the near-pun). But he was factual, smart, solid as I’ve come to expect. If you’d like to watch Schiff’s full 15-minute very smart opening statement, which is also a pretty good overview of the day’s testimony, it’s accessible on YouTube here.