For all the people who predicted that the Republican fever would break the instant it was clear that Donald Trump had lost the presidency to Joe Biden, let me present you with this exchange between CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons on CNN Tuesday morning (bolding is mine):
Coons: “I see no evidence of voter fraud in the key states that would need to have their outcomes changed, and I so far see little evidence of any Republicans standing up to the President. There have been four so far here in the Senate. My hope is that this is the week when that will begin to turn, as it is clear there is no possible pathway for the president to overturn these results. And we are beginning to threaten the foundations of our democracy, which is a regular, orderly, peaceful transfer of power after every quadrennial election.”
Camerota: “What are they telling you behind the scenes?”
Coons: “Bluntly, that they accept that -- they call me to say congratulations, please convey my well wishes to the President-elect, but I can’t say that publicly yet.”
So, Republican senators are calling Coons, a close ally of Biden, to make sure the President-elect knows that they believe he has won fair and square – and to wish him well! – but they are simply not willing to come out publicly and actually, you know, say that?
Yes, that does seem to be the case! As of Tuesday morning, only four Republican senators had publicly congratulated Biden on his victory. That’s roughly 7.5% of the entire Senate Republican conference. And the quartet of senators who have acknowledged the obvious – that Biden won – are a who’s who of past Trump critics. The list: Utah’s Mitt Romney, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Susan Collins and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse.
Romney has, for a very long time, been Trump’s most high-profile critic in elected office. Murkowski and Collins are both centrists who have broken with the President on several occasions. Sasse is positioning himself as a potential post-Trump 2024 presidential candidate.
And, well, that’s it. That’s the list. No Mitch McConnell. (For reasons I explain here.) No other member of Republican leadership. Just a few people who had already spoken out about Trump or have their own political reasons for doing so now.
What’s so revealing about Coons’ admission that Republican senators have privately conveyed their best wishes to Biden while refusing to do so publicly is that it shows how in thrall the GOP is to Trump. Yes, he has lost the presidential election, but they are by and large still to afraid to come out and say it – even if they believe it.
Which is, of course, the opposite of leadership. Leadership is about doing (or saying) what you believe to be right no matter the political consequences or costs. And while that may be a too-high bar for elected officials, it would seem as though a president who isn’t going to be president in 71 days’ time would be someone that they finally might feel comfortable speaking out against when they disagree with him on principle.
But as I’ve noted many times before, the notion that Trump will disappear – or even see a real shrinking of his power – post-presidency is a fantasy. He and his allies are already stoking the notion that he alone can fight back against the liberal horde in 2024. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle are making noise about taking over the Republican National Committee – or putting in place someone loyal to them in that job. The President is planning to form a political action committee that will allow him to dole out dollars to aspiring GOP candidates, according to The New York Times.
Add it all up and two things become clear: First, Donald Trump (and his family) have zero plans to give up their death grip on the GOP. And second, there are very few Republican elected officials even willing to speak up or speak out against Trump, much less challenge his utter supremacy in the party.