The System Worked ... ish

Trump's efforts to steal the election failed because most Republican officials placed a greater emphasis on doing the right thing than helping Trump

Now that Donald Trump is out of office (and it’s been a whole five days since I’ve heard his voice!) we’re getting more disturbing information about the lengths he went to try and steal the 2020 election.

Over the weekend, there was an absolutely bonkers piece in the New York Times about his failed efforts to replace the top leadership of the Justice Department in order to force Georgia to give him the state’s electoral votes. According to the Times:

“The Justice Department’s top leaders listened in stunned silence this month: One of their peers, they were told, had devised a plan with President Donald J. Trump to oust Jeffrey A. Rosen as acting attorney general and wield the department’s power to force Georgia state lawmakers to overturn its presidential election results.

The unassuming lawyer who worked on the plan, Jeffrey Clark, had been devising ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark.

The department officials, convened on a conference call, then asked each other: What will you do if Mr. Rosen is dismissed?

The answer was unanimous. They would resign.

Their informal pact ultimately helped persuade Mr. Trump to keep Mr. Rosen in place, calculating that a furor over mass resignations at the top of the Justice Department would eclipse any attention on his baseless accusations of voter fraud.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump even tried to get the DOJ to file a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to hand him the election

In his last weeks in office, former President Donald Trump considered moving to replace the acting attorney general with another official ready to pursue unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and he pushed the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate President Biden’s victory, people familiar with the matter said.

Those efforts failed due to pushback from his own appointees in the Justice Department, who refused to file what they viewed as a legally baseless lawsuit in the Supreme Court. Later, other senior department officials threatened to resign en masse should Mr. Trump fire then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

There are many ways to read these two stories. The first and most obvious is that we have more high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the president to throw on the pile. The second is that behind the scenes Trump was making every possible effort to undo the election results. This wasn’t just for public consumption. But the third is perhaps the most important: Trump’s attempted theft of the election failed miserably because the overwhelming number of GOP officials put fealty to democracy ahead of fealty to Trump.

This is no small point because, as I argued in September, a number of political observers were raising fears that a Trump-led coup (or autogolpe if you prefer) could happen with the active support of Republican state and federal officials, judges, and state legislators - but it was almost certainly not going to happen. The fact is, officials in a number of states had the option of going along with Trump and chose not to. Trump brought state GOP legislators from Michigan to the White House to apparently convince them not to certify the state’s election results for President Biden. They said no. He phoned the Republican speaker of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives for help in reversing his defeat there. He said no. Trump made repeated efforts to coax Republican state officials in Georgia, including the state’s governor, Brian Kemp, and Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, to undo the state’s electoral results. That effort was stymied as well.

Trump’s campaign team filed 62 campaign lawsuits, including many that were adjudicated by judges appointed by Trump and came before Election Day. Sixty-one of them failed. Attorney General Bill Barr and Vice President Mike Pence refused to help Trump. And this weekend’s revelations are yet more evidence that even lower-level Department of Justice officials were not willing to assist in these efforts. Over and over again, when given the choice to help Trump steal the election, Republican officials refused to go along.

There is an obvious rejoinder to this argument: what about the majority of congressional Republicans who did support Trump’s efforts? They knew that Trump’s efforts to stop the certification of electoral votes would not succeed and I assume many went along for deeply cynical, political reasons. They sowed the discord and misinformation that led to the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, believing, wrongly that there would be consequences for their actions. But it’s striking how few Republicans, in a position to do something on behalf of the president’s efforts, actually participated. Those officials with real responsibilities, acted responsibly. The ones who have spent their careers playing to the grievances of GOP voters - and with little ability to change the outcome - acted as they always do.

Maybe if the election had been closer things would have turned out differently and GOP officials would have been more inclined to help the president, though I’m skeptical. Again, it’s worthy of note that there were measures that could have been taken on the president’s behalf - including by federal judges - that could have had a huge impact on the election. This simply didn’t happen.

I’ll grant that it’s hard to give medals to people for merely doing the right thing, but there are a whole host of state officials in Georgia who have likely torpedoed their political careers - and that includes Kemp, who is now facing a far more difficult race for reelection in 2022. Doing the legal and democratic thing is, undoubtedly, far too low of a bar for public officials but considering Trump’s brazen efforts to steal the election it’s no small thing either.

Democracy in America was preserved because the overwhelming majority of Republicans officials were not willing to help the president steal it. We can and should take some solace in that.