This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Dec. 8, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden won a landslide victory. Because of the time required to count the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, it has taken weeks for the magnitude of his win to become apparent. But with a commanding lead of more than seven million votes and counting, he has already achieved the second highest percentage margin of victory since Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in 1996. Biden won the Electoral College vote by a margin of 306 to 232.
Yet a November 13-17 Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed that 52 percent of Republicans said that Trump had “rightfully won,” compared to only 29 percent who said Biden had. Even now — early December — 88 percent of congressional Republicans refuse to say who won the election. Two of them — Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) — say incorrectly that Trump won.
That’s the “Trump effect” on democracy.
As the election results have become clearer, Trump has added to his already stunning post-presidential legal exposure by trying systematically to interfere with the election and reverse his loss. As with many of his most brazen anti-democratic actions, he has proceeded loudly and in plain sight.
And I’m not referring solely to his ongoing false claims of systematic voter fraud that even his loyal attorney general, William Barr, has debunked. Or to the dozens of frivolous lawsuits that Trump and his GOP allies have filed and lost: To date, his post-election litigation record consists of one inconsequential win in Pennsylvania and 47 losses in courts across the country.
No, I’m referring to Trump personally pressuring specific officials to reverse the results in swing states that he lost. He is urging them to ignore the voice of the people who voted him out of office, as well as the judges who have upheld that result. Many of those officials are Republicans who voted for Trump, and his scorched-earth rhetoric has now endangered the lives of some of them.
Nov. 17: After suffering a series of litigation losses in Arizona, Trump’s loyal ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), admits that he called Gov. Doug Ducey (R) recently to discuss his concerns with mail-in voting.
Nov 30: Seven seconds into Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) public signing ceremony for the certification of Biden’s election victory in Arizona, Trump calls him. Ducey ignores the call, and it goes to voicemail as the ceremony continues. Trump then posts an angry tweet attacking Ducey.
Nov. 13: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)) calls Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is in charge of certifying Biden’s win in Georgia. Raffensperger says he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots.
Nov. 16: Appearing on CNN, Raffensperger confirms that Graham’s call seemed directed at rejecting legally cast ballots. “It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger says. He explains that Graham had asked whether he could check signatures on mail-in ballots during Georgia’s recount and use a high frequency of mismatches to justify throwing away mail-in ballots in certain counties. He took Graham’s comments as “an implication of look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out.”
Graham denies that he suggested that Raffensperger toss legal ballots, calling that characterization “ridiculous.” Responding to Graham’s denial, Raffensperger points out that Trump’s lawsuit, filed the same day, sought to use a similar tactic to stop the inclusion of absentee ballots in the state.
Nov. 20: In recent days and in the midst of a hand recount of the votes, Raffensperger and his wife have been receiving death threats, including a text to him that reads: “You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it.” But he certifies Biden’s election victory, and Gov. Brian Kemp (R) certifies the state’s slate of electors for Biden.
Dec. 5: After losing another statewide recount that Trump had requested after Raffensperger’s certification, Trump calls Kemp, urging the governor to persuade the state legislature to overturn the result. Kemp declines Trump’s request.
Nov. 17: Two Republican election officials on the Wayne County canvassing board refuse to vote in favor of a routine certification of the popular vote in the county that Biden won by more than 300,000 votes, thereby deadlocking the board. Trump then tweets praise for the outcome. But later that evening, those officials reverse their decisions and vote to certify the result. Trump calls one of the officials to express gratitude for her support.
Nov. 18: Within 24 hours of Trump’s call, the two Republicans on the Wayne County canvassing board announce that they are rescinding their votes to certify the election results. But the ploy fails because no decertification process exists.
Nov. 19-20: Some Trump loyalists float the far-fetched idea that GOP-controlled state legislatures could ignore the popular vote and appoint a slate of Electoral College electors favorable to Trump. In an effort to actualize that plan, Trump invites GOP leaders in Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature to the White House. After meeting with Trump the next day, the Michigan leaders say that Biden’s victory remains intact, having won the state by more than 150,000 votes.
Nov. 17: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says that he called an election official in Nevada to discuss his concerns with mail-in voting, but can’t recall whom. Arizona’s secretary of state, who is responsible for administering and certifying elections, tweets that Graham hadn’t spoken with her.
Nov. 24: Pennsylvania certifies election results that give Biden a victory margin of more than 80,000 votes in the state.
Nov. 25: After losing lawsuits aimed at reversing Biden’s win, Trump summons several Republican state legislators to the White House.
Dec. 3: More than 60 GOP Pennsylvania House members and seven GOP senators send a letter to every member of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, asking them to “object, and vote to sustain such objection, to the Electoral College votes received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Imagine What Might Have Been
On November 15, after Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger and his wife began receiving death threats on their personal phones, Raffensperger published an op-ed that included this passage:
“By all accounts, Georgia had a wildly successful and smooth election. We finally defeated voting lines and put behind us Fulton County’s now notorious reputation for disastrous elections. This should be something for Georgians to celebrate, whether their favored presidential candidate won or lost. For those wondering, mine lost — my family voted for him, donated to him and are now being thrown under the bus by him.”
The new movie, Mank, depicts episodes in the life of Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for Orson Wells’ classic film, Citizen Kane. It includes a 1934 party at William Randolph Hearst’s mansion where someone glibly dismisses Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, musing, “Forty million Germans can’t be wrong.”
Well, they were.
Raffensperger was one of 74 million people who voted for Trump.