Editor’s Note: Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor and Supreme Court advocate who writes on national affairs. Jeffrey Abramson is Professor of Government and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Frederick Hoxie is Professor Emeritus of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The opinions expressed here are their own. Read more opinion at CNN.
On January 2, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he would join Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and nine other Republican senators objecting to the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Attempting to revive the ghost of 1876’s genuinely disputed presidential election, these senators have called for a congressional “electoral commission” to investigate the presidential vote that has been counted and recounted in key battleground states.
This “Rump Congress” conspiracy is a charade going nowhere. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with little further use for Donald Trump, will lead large majorities to affirm the election result.
That means President-elect Joe Biden’s win will be certified on Wednesday, January 6.
Even so, the Republican die-hards theatrical act will prolong a false voter-fraud narrative that could be accompanied by a dangerously discordant score. The heated floor debate on objections will fuel the fire that Trump doesn’t mind setting to our democracy.
That word is barely “code,” easily understood by “Proud Boys” and other far-right groups whom the President infamously instructed at his September 30 debate with Biden, to “stand back and stand by” when asked to condemn White supremacists. Days later he walked back his comments, saying that he condemns “all White supremacists.”
Like truth and love of country, civil order does not compete among Trump’s priorities with what does matter: himself.
Being a loser is a truth he cannot stomach. Surrendering his immunity from prosecution as President haunts him. So he acts in frenzy, calling Georgia’s secretary of state to pressure him to alter the outcome: “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump was recorded saying, “which is one more than we have.”
This is the election interference equivalent of shooting someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, from an untethered President that many congressional Republicans follow over the edge.
Few Republican legislators genuinely appear to believe that Trump won. “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one,” Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse wrote on Facebook Wednesday. “Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will “look” to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”
Yet senators like Hawley and Cruz seem motivated by their ambition to run in 2024. Others quake at Trump’s power to primary them.
Consider how poorly the senators justified their promised acts of objection. “The 2020 election,” their joint statement said, “featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.”
But even Attorney General William Barr, usually a Trump loyalist, could find no significant evidence to support those allegations.
The administration’s own Department of Homeland Security called the election the “most secure” in American history.
Some 60 courts rejected those very allegations. Courts exist to separate fact from fiction. This congressional investigation is designed to give the losing side an opportunity to double down on fiction that could not be proven in court.
The Senate 11 wrongly claim the mantle of history, saying they are following the example of 1876, when Congress appointed an electoral commission to resolve the Hayes-Tilden presidential election. But today’s Trump loyalists cannot steal the past any more than they can steal this election.
In 1876, the presidential election had proven inconclusive. Democrat Samuel Tilden had a strong electoral college lead and the majority vote, but disputes had arisen in several southern districts where US troops were deployed to enforce order. Ohio’s Republica Gov., Rutherford Hayes, could prevail in the Electoral College if those contests went for him.
In the electoral commission’s notorious “Compromise of 1877,” powerful party leaders cast aside African Americans and poor Whites and “clasped hands across the chasm” of their political differences. The Republicans agreed to remove federal troops from the South, and Democrats allowed Hayes to take office. Jim Crow soon consolidated his shameful, centurylong hold on a huge swath of America.
A truly contested election in a democracy can lead to dangerous results. But as much as Trump’s Congressional acolytes might insinuate it, a truly contested election is not what we have.
Instead of invoking a shameful episode in our history as precedent for transparent political ambitions, the time has come for losing-side elected officials to face the truth. Joe Biden won the election and will become President on January 20.
The rest is pure political theater. It would be comic, were it not so tragic to have a defeated President refuse to leave the stage. His antithesis, George Washington, left voluntarily to avoid a monarchy and preserve democracy. Trump prefers to destroy it.