By David M. Greenwald
President Trump went too far on Wednesday. I think most reasonable people believe and acknowledge he went way too far, well before Wednesday, but Wednesday definitely went beyond anything we had seen—even grading on the ridiculous curve that we have for the last four years.
There was a time when even Republicans were openly talking about the possibility of either impeachment (yes, with two weeks left) or invoking the 25th Amendment. Assuming that the President keeps things under control for the final two weeks—never a completely safe assumption—that was probably just a fleeting moment, although we will probably see some fleeting attempts.
The events that unfolded on Wednesday undermined any real chance—which there was none—that his allies could undo the election results. A number of Senators who had planned to object to and vote against confirmation of the electoral results was cut in half. Seven Senators voted to reject Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, and 138 House members. Given everything that happened yesterday, that was an astonishing total.
Did things go too far? Yes. Will that change anything? Hard to know. Mitch McConnell made a very eloquent stand against the effort to overturn the result—before all this happened.
“We’re debating a step that has never been taken in American history. Whether Congress should overrule the voters and overturn a presidential election,” he said.
He said that “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale, the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence. The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a National Board of Elections on steroids. The voters, the courts, and the stage have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our Republic forever.”
McConnell rose to the occasion before the mayhem hit—but where were these words a month ago, before our slide?
One of the problems in our system today is that we are so polarized politically that it takes something almost cataclysmic to shake people out of their partisanship. That is why we could have the last four years and end up with a closely contended Presidential Election that came down to a number of relatively close, though not cliffhanging, states to determine who would win.
This was not 1964, 1972, 1980 or 1984 landslides. They were not 1960, 1968, and 2000 cliffhangers either.
There was talk after the close election result on November 3 that Trump could simply reload for 2024 and run again. After all, he has a strong base of support, controls the political levers of the Republican Party and would be an impossible figure in the Republican primary to oppose.
But after what we have seen over the last two months, that might be a much more difficult challenge. And yes, this is a politician that has survived many things that would be fatal to mortal people, but he’s not as invincible as he once was.
He still refuses to acknowledge that he was rightly defeated at the polls. For now, he says he has lost and will leave and there will be a peaceful transfer of power. But there actually wasn’t a peaceful transfer of power. There was a breach of the nation’s Capitol, our legislators were sheltering in place and sprawled on the floor in gas masks, shots were fired, a woman was killed, the People’s house was breached. That this happened two weeks before the fact rather than on January 20 does not change this fact.
The one advantage of impeachment now is that, if convicted, he would be precluded from holding federal office again.
Given the response from his supporters, I’m not sure ultimately that this would be in the best interest of the nation.
Will there be political consequence here? Maybe. This is a nation closely divided. The number of competitive states is but a handful or two. Increasingly, state and congressional elections have taken on a national tone, with more and more states haveingboth Senators from the same party.
But as we saw with Georgia this week, there probably was a consequence—subtle as it was. On Election Day both Republicans had narrow leads and only the state law requirement of a fifty percent threshold prevented them from winning on November 3.
For much of the time between November 3 and January 5, it appeared that the Republicans had the upper hand. But something shifted in the last week, and some point to polling that showed a shift which occurred around December 30, a week before the election when Missouri’s Senator Hawley announced he would file a protest.
From that point, the polls shifted subtly but strongly to the Democrats. Trump’s confrontation with the Georgia Secretary of State on Saturday that was published by the Washington Post on Sunday may have sealed the deal.
That ended up costing the Republicans control of the Senate, pushing it to a 50-50 body where Vice President Kamala Harris will serve as the tiebreaker.
It was a small shift, a small consequence for the conduct of the President, but it does demonstrate that there will be fallout. The exit polling and analysis are not complete, but things that stand out were a softening of the rural turnout in Georgia, the continuation of the trend away from Republicans in the suburbs, and the strength of the Black vote in Georgia.
It is in a way sad that yesterday happened. We could be talking about the victory of Senator Warnock, the first Black Democratic Senator elected from the South—the year when civil rights icon John Lewis died, and we see a preacher from Ebenezer Baptist Church, MLK’s church, elected to the Senate. Kind of overshadowed by everything else right now.
So have we reached the point where reasonable people say enough, have you no decency, at long last? Or is this simply the next step on our road to decline? Optimists and pessimists have some tea leaves to read this morning, and time will tell.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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