Opinion | Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?

The Republican effort to derail Congress’s electoral vote count on Wednesday will fail, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20, as the Constitution commands. What will persist, however, is an existential crisis: What to do about a political party that is no longer committed to representative democracy?

On the one hand, there are the Republican officials, such as Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, who have stood up against President Trump’s efforts to keep this reality at bay.

Two months after a majority of voters rendered a decisive verdict against him, the president is still pretending he didn’t lose. At first it was baseless tweets about fraudulent ballots in Detroit and Philadelphia. Next it was demands that Republican-led state legislatures disregard the will of their voters and flip their electors from Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump. Then, on Saturday, the president spent an hour attempting to extort Mr. Raffensperger, whom he threatened with criminal prosecution unless the Georgia official helped “find” 11,780 votes for Mr. Trump — one more than the margin by which he lost the state to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump went on and on about dead people voting and burned or shredded ballots. He unleashed a stream of specific-sounding numbers — 4,502 unregistered voters! 18,325 vacant address voters! — which Mr. Raffensperger, who certified Georgia’s vote total in November, after a hand recount of nearly five million ballots, calmly parried. “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong,” he said.

Thanks to Mr. Raffensperger and his team’s decision to record the call, there is no contesting what Mr. Trump was seeking: the disenfranchisement of millions of American voters. “The Trump campaign had ample opportunity to challenge election results, and those efforts failed from lack of evidence,” Paul Ryan, a former Republican House speaker, said Sunday in a statement. “The legal process was exhausted, and the results were decisively confirmed.”

For the record, falsifying vote totals, or soliciting someone else to do so, is a crime under both federal and state law. It is without question an impeachable offense. Even though he has only two weeks left in office and the country’s focus should be on stopping the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a strong argument that Mr. Trump — perhaps the most lawless and least qualified chief executive in the nation’s history — should be not only impeached for a second time but also convicted and disqualified from ever again holding public office.

The most chilling part of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Raffensperger was the president’s threat of prosecution if Mr. Raffensperger didn’t fall in line. “You know what they did, and you’re not reporting it,” Mr. Trump warned him, in reference to people who had supposedly destroyed ballots. “That’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.” (Ryan Germany, Mr. Raffensperger’s general counsel, was also on the call.)

Why does all this sound so familiar? Mr. Trump was impeached a little more than a year ago for doing essentially the same thing, only that time the call was to a foreign leader rather than a state official, the demand was to manufacture dirt on his political opponent, and the threat was the withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed military aid. But the ultimate goal of both calls was the same: the use of corrupt means to hold on to power.

The first time, Republicans in Congress were more than happy to let him get away with it — all Senate Republicans but one voted to acquit Mr. Trump of the two articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives. Susan Collins of Maine defended her not guilty vote by claiming that the president had learned “a pretty big lesson.” She pointed out that his extortion effort had earned him rebukes from both Democrats and Republicans. “I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future,” she said.

Ms. Collins was right about the first part: Mr. Trump did learn a pretty big lesson. He learned that he can break the law and undermine democracy with impunity. He learned that he can do the political equivalent of shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and he won’t lose the support of Republicans. So, naturally, he pulled the trigger again.

This time, many Republicans have again swarmed to the president’s defense. As of Monday night, more than 140 House members and at least 13 senators were expected to object to electoral vote results on Wednesday, when Congress officially counts the ballots. That is, more than 150 Republican lawmakers have signed on to reject the votes of tens of millions of Americans.

On what grounds are they taking this stupefying step? Overwhelming evidence of voting fraud and irregularities, they claim. When called to present such evidence in a court of law, however, they’ve got nothing. In dozens of lawsuits filed over the past two months, Mr. Trump’s lawyers and allies have been unable to document more than a few isolated cases of fraud in any state, much less the hundreds of thousands of cases in multiple states that would be necessary to change the outcome. That’s no surprise in an election that was praised by election officials as “the most secure in American history.”

There are lawmakers who understand the grave danger in what their colleagues are doing. Several Republican senators — including Ms. Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah — have urged Congress to “move forward” and certify Mr. Biden’s victory. In choosing any other path, warned Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, “Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has also urged his colleagues not to object.

In a sense, this is all political theater. Every state long ago certified its vote totals without contest. On Monday, Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, publicly and painstakingly debunked every one of Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud. “This is all easily, provably false,” he said. The objectors know this; many won their own seats on the same ballots that they are attempting to invalidate. What they are really objecting to is the fact that Mr. Trump lost.

But there are many Americans who believe their claims who are not in on this disingenuous, cynical game — and who believe that their votes for Mr. Trump are the ones being invalidated. That mistrust will have consequences that extend far beyond Wednesday’s certification, including the creation of a generational myth of a stolen election, the discrediting of Mr. Biden’s presidency from the outset, and the passage of stricter voting laws that target Democratic-leaning voters, under the guise of electoral integrity.

That’s a big problem, because a republic works only when the losers accept the results, and the legitimacy of their opponents. All the more reason to commend Republican officials like Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. Sterling — and the handful of Republican Congress members who have spoken out, however wanly, about Mr. Trump’s scheme — for resisting the immense corruption and pressure from their leaders.

If only that weren’t extraordinary in the Republican Party today.

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