President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his apparent (though at the time still unconfirmed) defeat by former Vice President Joe Biden provided elected Republicans who have staunchly backed Trump through scandal after scandal with yet another offramp to peel off from him. But the usual suspects are refusing to take it.
In the hours after Trump held an unhinged press event at the White House in which he undermined the election by claiming, without evidence, of fraud and pleaded for the US Supreme Court to get involved, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) all went on Fox News and tried to lend credence to Trump’s nonsensical case.
“President Trump won this election,” McCarthy told Laura Ingraham. “So everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”
McCarthy made this statement at a time when it was becoming clear that Biden would eventually prevail in Pennsylvania, giving him enough electoral votes to clinch the election. Indeed, less than 12 hours later, Vox’s partners at Decision Desk called the state for the Democratic nominee. The state’s 20 electoral votes pushed Biden over the required 270 threshold, and he’s likely to net another state or two to spare.
Republicans will not be silenced.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) November 6, 2020
We demand transparency. We demand accuracy. And we demand that the legal votes be protected. pic.twitter.com/1RZbzEOSfH
But despite those indications being readily apparent last night, McCarthy was not alone in endorsing the president’s claims. His interview came on the heels of an edition of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show where Hannity cited false claims about the Trump campaign not being able to observe Pennsylvania poll workers as they tally votes — in fact, a judge granted the Trump camp’s request to observe — to argue there should be a “do-over.”
Hannity was joined by Graham, who announced he was donating $500,000 to Trump’s legal defense fund. Graham also wouldn’t rule out Hannity’s suggestion (one that was first made earlier Thursday by Donald Trump Jr.) that Republican legislators in states like Pennsylvania would invalidate the electoral results and simply award their electoral votes to Trump. (Pennsylvania Republicans have already signaled they won’t do this.)
“Everything should be on the table,” Graham said.
"Everything should be on the table" -- Lindsey Graham won't rule out that Republican legislatures should invalidate the election results and (presumably) award their electoral votes to Trump pic.twitter.com/ykNdFCicZW— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 6, 2020
A bit later on, Cruz was less willing to go as far as Graham, but he still tried to back up Hannity’s claims about the Pennsylvania results being marred by fraud.
“I am more than a little frustrated that every time they close the doors and shut out the lights, they always find more Democratic votes,” Cruz said, ignoring that Trump has nobody to blame but himself for the fact that Republicans proved to be much more reluctant to cast their ballots by mail than Democrats — and there’s no evidence that the disparity is a product of fraud.
Hannity is very serious about redoing the election in Pennsylvania pic.twitter.com/207nHIDZyz— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 6, 2020
At another point during Hannity’s show, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich went as far as to compare Trump’s effort to invalidate his apparent loss to Biden to the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.
While McCarthy, Graham, and Cruz indicated that they’re willing to do what they can to lend credence to Trump’s desperate arguments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell posted a wishy-washy tweet saying that while “Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not.” But since Trumpworld has been unable to marshal any credible evidence of illegal votes, “legal votes” in this context seems to be code for “votes for Trump.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) tweeted a statement in which he didn’t name Trump but seemed to indirectly rebuke him by saying, “Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy.” Romney urged people to “Have faith in democracy, our Constitution, and in the American people.” (At least one Senate Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, went further, characterizing Trump’s evidence-free claims of fraud as “very disturbing.”)
At this point, siding with democracy is siding against the president, who has repeatedly made clear in the hours since election night that he thinks only the votes cast for him should be counted, and pushed out a torrent of misinformation on Twitter that has been tagged with so many warnings his timeline looks like cigarette packaging. On Thursday, Trump’s arguments were obviously incoherent — he insisted efforts to count all the votes in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where he led during the early portion of the tally, were part of a conspiracy, while simultaneously saying that states like Arizona where he trails must continue counting votes.
Insane -- after arguing that Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were rigged against him because all the votes were counted, Trump calls for all the votes to be counted in Arizona. He's blatantly trying to have it both ways. pic.twitter.com/UoAvMCqvOW— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 5, 2020
Nobody in the president’s orbit has yet been able to offer evidence or a credible legal argument that Biden’s advantage in the popular vote and Electoral College is the result of anything other than more voters preferring him to the president. So for those who have been paying close attention, their efforts to undermine the election have had a clownish quality.
But the danger is that some people seem to be taking them seriously. On Thursday, two men were arrested while driving to Philadelphia in an alleged attempt to attack the convention center where votes are being tallied. While we don’t know their motives, the vehicle they were driving reportedly featured QAnon stickers. Trump surrogates in Georgia, meanwhile, were speaking openly of shooting Biden supporters.
As they’ve done so often during the Trump era, Republicans who should know better are going out of their way to pour fuel on this fire.