By David M. Greenwald
When I warned people over the summer of the threat to democracy, there were usually two responses—a lot of partisan agreements and a lot of independent and conservative denials. Indeed, when Trump at the first debate refused to commit to accepting the election results, a lot of people still did not see a true threat.
The only real parallel the US has had in our history was the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. But that election was legitimately in dispute—both sides agreed that there was no clear winner in the three states that would ultimately decide the election, and ultimately there was a deal cut by Hayes to be seated as President basically in exchange for ending Reconstruction.
In some ways this is worse. The New York Times today quoted Presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss, who pointed out, “In the case of Hayes, both sides agreed that the outcome in at least three states was in dispute. In this case, no serious person thinks enough votes are in dispute that Donald Trump could have been elected on Election Day.
“This is a manufactured crisis. It is a president abusing his huge powers in order to stay in office after the voters clearly rejected him for re-election.”
Some have suggested to let this play out. It is playing out—but in most ways it already has played out. The legal avenues have largely been exhausted. The courts have pretty much thrown out every single challenge by the President.
Georgia held a recount. They did find a few uncounted ballots. It did close the gap by a few hundred votes. But it left the result intact.
We are left pretty much with madness.
Anyone who actually watched Rudy Giuliani’s press conference had to leave shaking their head. Remember when to a lot of Americans this guy was a hero? That was just under 20 years ago. Now he delivered a 90-minute briefing that overflowed with falsehoods and conspiracy theories.
At no point has Trump’s legal team offered proof of their allegations for widespread fraud. One official did say that this was an “introductory statement” and they would be striking at claims about a conspiracy involving Venezuela and George Soros interfering with the US election.
Even before they were made, most of the specific claims have been refuted whether by federal election experts or bipartisan election officials.
“This was not an individual idea of 10 or 12 Democrat bosses. This was a plan. You would have to be a fool not to realize that,” Giuliani said, pointing to legal challenges in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and elsewhere.
Attorney Sidney Powell also alleged that Dominion Voting Systems used technology developed by Hugo Chavez, the late-Venezuelan dictator, to manipulate votes tabulated overseas to favor Joe Biden.
Of course the company has disputed the assertions, and Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has said there is no evidence of foreign adversaries changing vote tallies. Moreover, that’s not how they count votes anyway.
The Wall Street Journal in an editorial explained there were some errors, but they point out that the errors in Michigan actually didn’t affect the totals and, “In any case, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office said the error “would have been identified during the county canvass,” when Democrats and Republicans ‘review the printed totals tape from each tabulator.’”
Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy told the Associated Press: “There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error.” She’s a Republican, the WSJ points out.
Princeton Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel said that “voting machines could theoretically be hacked. Where’s the proof they actually were in 2020?”
“Vulnerabilities,” Appel wrote in a blog post Friday, “are not the same as rigged elections, especially when we have paper ballots in almost all the states.”
Trump went further in a tweet: “REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE. DATA ANALYSIS FINDS 221,000 PENNSYLVANIA VOTES SWITCHED FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP TO BIDEN. 941,000 TRUMP VOTES DELETED.”
Dominion responds that’s “impossible,” noting that Dominion only serves 14 counties in Pennsylvania, and it could not have deleted a million Trump votes. Moreover, the WSJ points out, “With turnout at 76%, it adds, those counties registered 1.3 million votes.”
George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who has actually been critical of the media’s dismissal of the Trump claims of fraud before evidence has come out, believes that the Trump team could face a defamation suit from Dominion.
He writes, “If the Trump team does not put forward this evidence in its case challenging the election, it could now be forced to produce it in a case brought by Dominion or its officers.”
With the legal ploys going nowhere and devolving into bizarre conspiracy theories, the other move seems to be election nullification.
This is an interesting test for just how strong our democracy is—I suppose.
The NY Times lists the chances as “somewhere between remote and impossible.”
In Michigan, the bizarre machinations in Detroit where Republican canvassers at first refused to certify the results, then did so, now are claiming threats and pressure and want to withdraw their certification, but apparently have no mechanism to do so.
Now he is attempting to get the Michigan Legislature to overturn the Biden victory and seat a Republican slate of electors. He invited the delegation to the White House to attempt to persuade them to ignore the popular vote outcome.
“Not going to happen… We are going to follow the law and follow the process,” said Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate. Of course he said it before the meeting and, as we know, the President can be quite “persuasive.”
Michigan alone would not be enough to overturn the results—he would need two other states to follow suit, and the NY Times suggests Georgia and Arizona as most likely.
But what happens if he succeeds? What happens if he can convince a few key people to overturn the results of a popular election?
This really isn’t that close of an election. The close election was the 2000 race where it came down to one state—Florida and a 500-point margin. There were legitimate concerns about the ballots. There were legitimate legal challenges. I think a lot of Democrats were angry at the result then as it was a 5-4 decision on partisan lines by the Supreme Court to halt the counting and, in that case, I think the result was legitimately within the margins for error.
Florida also took a lot of steps to recognize the shortcomings of their process and improve the system after that.
This is different. Biden won: Michigan by nearly 160,000 but there were much closer margins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia—but none less than 10,000 votes.
If Trump succeeds in throwing this one, I’m not sure how our democracy recovers. But the good news, I suppose, is, so far, it still seems like an extreme longshot to actually succeed.
What he has done is throw a lot of his supporters—many already inclined toward bizarre conspiracies—into a lather over this and that will make it much harder to bring this nation together again. Maybe ever.
Part of the problem here is the way that votes were counted fueled people’s misunderstanding of the fundamental fact: Republicans voted on election day, Democrats voted early and by mail. That made for large vote swings depending on which ballots were counted last.
As New York Times reporter Nate Cohn tweeted this morning, “The thing that’s most dispiriting about the ‘vote dump’ charts (which purport to show irregularities, but just show large Dem. cities reporting), is that it’s in such complete bad faith that there’s no way the electoral process could be reformed to guard against it going forward.”
Giuliani alleged on Thursday that Donald Trump won by a landslide.
Christopher Krebs, the Election Cybersecurity Official fired earlier this week, tweeted in response: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”
Many election systems would have simply folded under the strain of this. Ours has at least so far not really buckled.
It remains to be seen at one point the kind of mainstream Republican leaders say “enough.” Will they wait until December 14? Another three weeks of this?
Two Republican Senators spoke out yesterday.
One was 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, now a Utah Senator, and the other Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. Both have been more independent and critical of Trump.
“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement posted to Twitter. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”
It is worth pointing out that Romney and Sasse may have some leverage here, particularly if they could gain the support of a third senator like Murkowski or Collins. They could threaten to bolt the Republican caucus, effectively losing control of the Senate for the Republicans regardless of the outcome in Georgia.
But for now we will watch how this plays out.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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