There have been a lot of low moments for democracy over the past four years, but none that reached quite as low as what happened on Wednesday afternoon: The release of a 46-minute rant by the President of the United States aimed at undermining the election results.
I’m not going to reproduce any of the myriad lies and conspiracy theories Trump leaned on in the address, which he opened by grandiosely declaring “this may be the most important speech I’ve ever made,” because, well, that’s exactly what the outgoing President wants. He wants the media to report on what he said and, in effect, launder the lies so that they come out looking somehow new or more relevant. (And some media outlets will do just that! Conservative stations and publications will cover this speech like a legitimate presidential address, repeating the debunked junk coming out of the President’s mouth like it is actually up for debate.)
What Trump is doing here has moved beyond laughable or embarrassing. It is now into the downright dangerous phase.
Unlike in the days immediately following the election when the outcome was genuinely in doubt – or even the week or so after the election was called for President-elect Joe Biden when Trump and his team had a number of lawsuits in swing states pending – there is now zero doubt about who won on November 3. The record of Trump’s legal team in the many, many cases they have filed around the country would make the New York Jets blush. The chief law enforcement officer in the country has acknowledged that “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” The Biden transition is picking up steam.
In short: This thing is all over but the shouting. There’s no there there when it comes to all of the legal challenges and conspiracy theories that the President and his ever-dwindling group of loyalists are pushing.
And yet, what Trump did Wednesday is to spew more and more falsehoods supported by the power and the prestige of a presidential backdrop. He stood at a podium bearing the presidential seal and flanked by the American flag and another flag bearing the presidential seal on it. It was hard to miss this message. This was the President speaking in his formal capacity. Not as a losing candidate for office. As the leader of the free world.
Trump’s move to throw the power of the presidency behind disproven claims that seek to actively undermine the very idea of safe and fair elections and the peaceful transition of power creates a clear moment of choosing for elected Republican leaders who have, by and large, stood by silently as he has made his increasingly outlandish claims about what happened on November 3.
Now is the moment for Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to stand up and say something like this: I supported this president. I voted for this president. I backed his right to pursue legal challenges to the vote. But it’s now clear that Joe Biden has won.
Because to not say something like that in the wake of Trump’s 46-minute diatribe is not just irresponsible, it’s dangerous. If Republicans can’t stand up and say “enough” to Trump, then he will just keep pouring it on. He will go lower and lower. He will reel into even more audacious conspiracy theories. He will make even more things up. He will work even harder to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.
And that is a very bad and very dangerous thing – whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. We simply cannot allow an outgoing president to make things up about the election results without any pushback from those in his party who know he is wrong.
A defensive crouch has been the default position of establishment Republicans for the last four years. And we can look around the country and see the damage done – and the cost in human lives. Now is the time for Republicans to speak out because, if they wait much longer it will be too late.
Endangering the pillars of our democracy for purely selfish reasons – and using the prestige and power of the presidency to do it – isn’t something that can be allowed in a healthy republic. No matter how afraid of the President’s Twitter feed you might be.