The election is history, but a grumpy Trump is attempting to hold the Presidency hostage, refusing to concede, and not allowing the processes that ensure a peaceful transition of power to commence. Steve thinks Trump’s weaponization of denial is more than a tantrum... it is the ultimate loyalty test for Republicans.
Sure, everyone knew that even in defeat, Donald Trump would continue to exercise out-sized influence on the Republican Party. But the combination of asserting that the 2020 election was “stolen,” the refusal to concede, stonewalling the transition, ignoring the virus, and now the rumor that Trump may announce that he will run again in 2024 is playing to fawning Republican acquiescence and only the most timid of dissent. It sure makes us wonder if there is a “post” in the “post-Trump” Republican Party.
Just when you thought you might see crocuses of conscience poking through the ground in the aftermath of defeat, you realize that it is only the canary in the same old coal mine of hypocrisy, sycophancy, self-interest, and political calculation. Donald Trump has moved quickly to establish to Republicans that just because he will no longer be President, it does not mean that he won’t still have their vital body parts in a vice.
The soon-to-be former President of the United States has been sheltering-in-place in the White House -- apparently in order to avoid being contaminated by the actual election results -- all while demanding that the Republican sheep bleat, excrete, and retweet his deceit. Dutifully, those sheep are falling in line behind Trump’s demand for herd stupidity.
A number of the most senior officials in Trump’s White House are busy advancing the President’s preposterous posturing that he had indeed won the election.
A full week after CNN called the election for Biden, Kayleigh McEnany, Mike Pompeo, and Peter Navarro have each gone so far as to discuss their planning for a “second” Trump term. Countless reckless, feckless, and clueless jackass Republicans have repeated a mantra about the need to count all the “legal” ballots, clearly implying that there is an unknown number of “illegal” ballots, somehow leaving open the possibility that this number may have reached 160,000 in Michigan, 50,000 in Pennsylvania, and 30,000 in Wisconsin. We have yet to hear evidence of a single “illegal” ballot, let alone a quantity approaching a quarter of a million.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on Fox and said “President Trump won this election, 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.” Good dog, Kevin. Here’s a treat.
We had wondered if some traditional Washington Republicans were secretly hoping that Trump would be defeated – perhaps even badly spanked – so that they could get their lives back. Perhaps one or two of the big-name Republicans who resoundingly trashed Donald Trump before he won the nomination in 2016 – Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz – were aching to be freed from their indentured servitude. These men had served four long years in purgatory for the sin of selling their souls to hold their jobs, and one wondered if they would have found liberation in a Trump defeat.
In late 2015, a resolute and grounded Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” who “does not represent my party,” and who “doesn’t represent the values that the men and women in uniform are fighting for.” It is a tragedy that a man who appeared so principled, serious, and dignified in that video clip has been reduced to a life that amounts to carrying around Donald Trump’s spittoon. We just had to believe that Lindsey Graham could not wait to embrace Donald Trump’s defeat and be counted among those who would seek to reclaim the party of hillbilly elegy back from a family of utterly disingenuous Beverly Hillbillies.
And then there is Ted Cruz, a guy who allowed his loved ones to be savagely torched by Donald Trump, and then had to crawl on his knees begging for Trump to help him get re-elected to his Senate seat. Trump didn’t just brand Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted,” he crudely insulted the physical appearance of Cruz’s wife, and he actually accused Cruz’s father of being part of a plot to assassinate JFK.
Does Ted Cruz really like and admire Donald Trump? Well, here’s a clue. This May, 2016 quote from Ted Cruz is so juicy we just had to quote in its entirety:
Ted Cruz: “I’m going to do something I haven't done for the entire campaign, for those of you all who have traveled with me, all across the country. I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump…
"This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And he had a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook. His response is to accuse everybody else of lying. He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying, and it's simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen. Donald Trump is such a narcissist, that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, ‘Dude, what’s your problem?’ Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. And he combines being a pathological liar, and I say pathological because I actually think Donald—if you hooked him up to a lie-detector pass, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he'd pass the lie-detector test each time. Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it, but the man is utterly a moron.”
Hey, nobody hates the smarmy, smug, oily Ted Cruz more than me, but you gotta admit… that was one tidal wave of a take down, packing the punch of an NFL punter delivering a sharp kick between Trump’s Towers. You would have thought that Ted Cruz would be savoring Trump’s defeat.
But not even Graham and Cruz – with recent Senate wins cementing their positions – could muster the slightest push back on Trump’s crazy claims. Graham, who apparently donated his moral fiber to science when John McCain died, went on Hannity to issue an utterly unsupported condemnation of corruption in Philadelphia elections. He endorsed the idea that Republicans should implore the Pennsylvania General Assembly to override the popular vote and award the state's Electoral College slate to Trump. “Everything should be on the table,” said the answer to the Jeopardy question, “Who is the biggest hypocrite on the face of the earth?”
And Ted Cruz?
Yes, that same Ted Cruz who appropriately vented his rage when Trump ominously threatened to “spill the beans” on this wife, tweeted a photo intended to denigrate her physical appearance, and accused his father of murdering JFK, is now just another little frightened puppy hiding under Trump’s skirt. Asked his position on Trump’s contentions that the election was stolen in widespread voter fraud, Cruz fell in line: “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.”
To be fair, there are Republican leaders who were willing to discretely whisper to the Emperor that he was experiencing a minor wardrobe malfunction. The Republican Gang of Four – Romney, Collins, Murkowski, and Sasse – have let it be known that Trump’s behavior is not acceptable, but those four may as well be AOC plus three to Trump loyalists. And, yes, some Republicans have asserted than Biden should been given intelligence briefings “until things are sorted out,” which sounds a little like a note of independence from Trump until you realize that they are actually fueling Trump’s core contention that there is doubt about the outcome of the race.
And so goes the story of the new post-Trump Republican Party: there is no "new" and there is no “post.” There had been some hope that if and when the Electoral College door slammed down on Trump, the Republican party would gradually begin the mitosis process and split into two: the permanent residents on Trump’s Fantasy Island, and a resurgent band of traditional Republicans who would use the occasion of Trump’s defeat to try to move on.
Sure, we expected Trump to react to his defeat with the grace and equanimity associated with rottweilers, cable television phone representatives, and two-year old children at bedtime. He has refused to concede defeat, refused to speak, refused to release the funding and briefing process that enables a smooth transition of power, and refused to pay attention as a pandemic now explodes wildly out of control on his watch.
And then there's this...
Yes, there is talk that the way Trump intends to “save face” after his loss is to never concede defeat, to continue contended that the election was flawed, and to announce his plans to run again for President in 2024.
Fun fact: the last time a major party candidate who did not win the White House was renominated to run for President was Richard Nixon, who ran as the Republican but lost in 1960 and then won in 1968. The last time a major party candidate lost an election and was nominated again four years later was in 1956, an exact rematch of the 1952 election… and Dwight Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson both times.
By and large, in the past 50 years, the major party candidates who did not win the White House have been labeled as failures or disappointments who lost because they ran flawed campaigns. You lose, you snooze. Be it Mondale, Dukakis, Dole, Gore, McCain, Romney, or Hillary Clinton, the rule has been one and done. You get one shot at winning, and if you fail, you become damaged goods.
Ah, but today’s Republican Party may as well rebrand itself the “Trumpublican Party.” Trump, who is damaged goods incarnate, is one of just three elected incumbent Presidents in the last 100 years to fail to be re-elected, and the only elected President in American history to be impeached in his first and only term. Yet he appears to be in a position to call the shots about whether or not he will be the party’s candidate again in 2024.
Sure, we’ve heard all the attempts at Trump-splaining what is really going on. Fine: some Republicans think that it’s best to let Trump work through his 43 stages of denial, and that we should all pretend to agree with him so little Donnie doesn’t get angry and send ICBMs flying. Then there’s the rationale that Trump is smart to refuse to concede so that he can continue to do fundraising. Heard this one too: no Republican wants to call bullshit on Trump for fear of alienating the Trump base in Georgia prior to the two run-off races that will determine control of the Senate. No question about this one: the man is so petty that he is refusing to green-light the flow of transition funds and intelligence briefings just to try to damage Biden’s Presidency. We doubt this one but are duty bound to report it: Trump's Hail Mary is that Republican States legislatures in key states might try to overturn election results and send an alternative slate to the Electoral College. Still an outlier possibility: he thinks that he can cobble together all this obstruction, attempts at delegitimization, delay, and annoyance to force Biden to agree to a deal with him that frees Trump from the worry of prison time.
It could be all of the above, but above all that, it could be just a big, sloppy loyalty test. Donald Trump is just testing everyone in the Party to champion his utterly outrageous claim of election fraud in order to make clear that he still owns these people. Anyone who crosses him will be excommunicated, primaried, or – God forbid – banned from appearing on Hannity or Carlson.
Maybe the simplest explanation is the best: were Trump to make an announcement that he was planning a 2024 run, it gives him a substantially elevated platform from which to bask in the limelight of FOX interviews, rejuvenate his bitter soul with more super-spreader MAGA-A rallies, all while keeping the spotlight off every pretender to inherit his leadership of the party.
And what exactly does this mean for the dozens of Republicans who were positioning themselves for a “post-Trump” era? Good luck getting any traction when the “post Trump era” looks exactly like the “Trump era” itself.
Take Mike Pence, Sycophant-in-Chief and pretender of deep Christian faith, who sold his deeply discounted soul to Trump, sticking with him through thick and thin even as he committed the most heinous acts. Hypocrites like Pence probably justify their abdication with some quasi-legalese argument that there is no overt commandment in the Bible that specifically precludes ripping babies from their mothers.
Pence was playing the long game. He was thinking that if he’d rode shotgun on the Trump bus, he would be next in line for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue… either as natural heir to a defeated Trump in 2020, or as the man carrying forward the winning torch in 2024 after two terms of Trump.
Imagine Pence’s surprise to wake up and find that his constant enabling has now simply enabled Trump to continue to hold Pence’s future in his hand.
Mike Pompeo is another guy who has made no secret of his designs on the White House. You got the feeling that Pompeo was just playing angles, feigning fawning respect for Trump while smugly enjoying his thinly-clad belief that Trump was his intellectual inferior. In his memoir, John Bolton recalls receiving a note from Pompeo in a White House meeting saying that Trump “is so full of shit.”
Now, Pompeo – like every other Republican with eyes on the prize – must sit back and totally cool his heels, waiting for Trump to decide what he is going to do. No casting about for campaign staff, no feelers sent to big donors, nothing. Stand on the sidelines and wait.
Any Republican who makes a move on 2024 before Trump makes his decision is just flying a kamikaze mission on the entire Fifth Fleet. Who knows? That could last for two years... crippling any candidacy.
Before Trump’s White House allowed that little rumor of another run at the White House in 2024 to slip, pundits were expecting a Republican field in 2024 that would dwarf the 25 candidates who made a run at the Democratic nomination in 2020. Now you won’t hear a peep, as every Republican will be obligated – on penalty of Party treason – to say that they are waiting to see what Trump intends to do.
Good luck raising campaign money, Marco. Better keep the powder dry, Nikki. And all of you shrill, penny-ante micro-Trumps (Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz. etc., etc.): shut up and get back on the bus.
What’s fascinating – but utterly impossible in the Trumpublican Party -- is that now is actually the perfect time for some heretofore unknown Republican to make a name for him or herself by being the one who calls BS on Trump. Someone who stands up and says, “Can we all stop kidding ourselves? Our guy lost. Incumbents are supposed to win, and he didn’t. And do you know what? If we nominate him in 2024, we lose again. We can spend the next four years doubling down, repeating his fantasies, and generally pimping for him, or we can start thinking about what it will actually take to win in 2024.”
Ah, wouldn’t that be sweet. But don't worry... it ain’t gonna happen.
Trump is making clear – and the Republican sheep are enabling it – that Trump alone will decide who runs in 2024.
And boy, won’t it be something if Trump finally makes his decision and announces it from the inside of a Federal penitentiary. Not a glam look for the Grand Old Party.
Trump lost, but he has retained stunning leverage in the Republican Party, for one simple reason. They let him.
He is the grift that will keep on grifting. He is the party guest who got bombed, slept on the couch, and now demands breakfast. He is at once the ghost of Christmas past, and yet also the ghost of Christmas yet to come.
We have seen the future of the Republican Party, and its name is Donald Trump.
God help us, everyone.
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