It now seems tragically clear that Americans might never see a “have-you-no-sense-of-decency?” moment coming from national Republican leaders fed up with President Donald Trump’s destructive assault on democracy borne of his pique for losing the election.
Those words — uttered by Army lawyer Joseph Welch to Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis., during a 1954 congressional hearing — unmasked a bullying demagogue engaged in a crusade of smears and investigations that history now calls McCarthyism.
And what of Trumpism? For four weeks after Election Day, the defeated incumbent has spun fanciful conspiracy theories of a “rigged” and “fraudulent” election, all the while convincing tens of millions of followers that America’s presidential vote was a scam. Amid this (mostly inept) assault on the democratic process, top GOP officials like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have remained silent.
Runoff elections in Georgia
In fact, only about a fifth of Senate Republicans have publicly recognized Joe Biden as president-elect. A few others, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune and Senate President Pro Tempore Charles Grassley, have at least acknowledged that the former vice president should begin receiving intelligence briefings as preparation for taking the Oval Office.
Ironically, this willingness to abide Trump’s recklessness might even threaten McConnell’s preeminent goal of hanging on to his Senate majority. Trump’s campaign of disparagement could suppress some Republican voter turnout in two runoff Georgia elections on Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate.
The president attacked the state’s Republican governor and secretary of state — both supporters of his — for failing to intervene when Biden won Georgia. Trump has also promoted a debunked theory that voting machines there have been manipulated. The result: Some Trump supporters are urging a boycott of the runoff elections. (“IGNORE those people,” a worried Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.)
Dozens of Trump lawsuits challenging election results and alleging widespread fraud have been thrown out of court for lack of evidence, one dismissed by a Pennsylvania judge who said it contained “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations.”
Battleground states are one by one certifying Biden as winner, most recently Arizona on Monday. Foreign leaders have called to congratulate the president-elect. And Biden is forming a Cabinet.
306 electoral votes
In 2016, Clinton conceded her loss the day after the presidential election. White House officials say Trump might never concede, although last week he reluctantly allowed Biden access to federal transition monies and contact with federal agencies.
By Sunday, the president was back to claiming he had been cheated. “This is the greatest fraud in the history of our country,” Trump told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, who failed to challenge his fantasies. “This country cannot have fake elections, like we have fake news.”
Such words do real damage to the orderly transfer of power that has been an American hallmark for 230 years. Surveys show Trump’s followers are listening, that 70% to 80% Republicans refuse to believe that Biden won.
McConnell, McCarthy and other Republican leaders have to wrestle with the cold, political reality that Trump continues to have a fervent base. But will reasons for complicit silence ever end? And as the president continues attempting to take a sledgehammer to the American election process, what of the oath these GOP leaders took to protect and defend the Constitution — not Donald Trump?
Again and again since Trump was nominated, these leaders (except for a handful of profiles in courage, such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah) have failed to call out conduct that they would have excoriated in any Democrat.
As the Electoral College prepares to formally choose Biden on Dec. 14, Trump’s Republican enablers appear determined to remain spineless until the end.