Generations of students of American history - nay, of world history - will know of Donald Trump's refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election - first by a blizzard of lawsuits in the various states, then by efforts to have Congress overturn the count in the Electoral College, then by inspiring an assault on the capital. The cornerstone of the republic, since George Washington warned of factionalism and foreign entanglements as he voluntarily left office 1797, has been the willingness of legislators, governors, and presidents to leave office when their time has come. And Donald Trump's time has come.
Some somber observations:
1. History is still unfolding, and the two weeks until the January 20 innauguration of Joe Biden cannot pass fast enough. A letter signed by the 10 living former Secretaries of Defense warned that "Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory." Without any specific accusations, the bipartisan former military leaders were unnerved by the firing of Secretary of Defense Mike Esper on November 9, former General Mike Flynn's conjecture about declaring martial law to re-run the election in battleground states, President Trump's request that the Georgia Secretary of State "find" the 12,000 votes necessary to overturn that election, and a report of a suggestion in December to split the National Security Agency and Cyber Command (perhaps to better manage communications.)
2. There is some legitimacy to the underlying legal argument about the elections in several states, most particularly Pennsylvania. The central point is that Article II of the Constitution provides to the state legislatures the authority to establish voting procedures. Driven by the difficulty of voting during the coronavirus pandemic - with an overlay of partisan advantage to Democrats - several state and federal judges, Secretaries of State, and election commissions adopted procedures which extended the receipt time for absentee ballots, and in some cases loosened requirements for signatures, photo IDs, and chain of custody for absentee ballots. In violation of the Supreme Court's Purcell principle, many of these changes were made much too close to the November 6 election. But, we have a Supreme Court, we are a nation based on laws, and it is not the place of the Congress or the Vice President to overturn the vote of the people as reflected in the Electoral College.
3. Of much less importance than the damage to the nations institutions and international standing, is the damage to the Trump legacy. It is likely that with record low unemployment, rising real wages, an ending of US engagement in wars in the Middle East, and a policy of finally challenging China's economic policies Trump would have cruised to reelection were it not for the pandemic. While there is room for criticism for his lack of leadership on masks and social distancing, and failures of the federal healthcare bureaucracy, the good of the first three years would have been enough to claim a dominant position in the Republican Party even if he were defeated.
4. Individual Republican politicians will have cemented their positions in the party based on their actions over the past month, and particularly since the first of the year. The post-President Trump party was already looking toward an engagement between the working class populist wing and the upper class former Establishment wing with the hope that a reconciliation could lead to continued success at the state level and a regaining of power at the national level. Ambitious contenders for the Trump mantle such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who encouraged those marching on the Capitol, will be eclipsed in favor of more thoughtful conservatives such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who have called for the President to accept defeat. Ted Cruz is down; Marco Rubio is up.
5. There is space for "I told you so; how could you have supported him? " from the Democrats, the liberal media, and well intended Never Trumpers. (A personal note: in 2016 I supported Marco Rubio, then John Kasich to prevent Trump from being the nominee. On ethical terms Hillary Clinton was no better, perhaps worse for having lived in the swamp. Particularly prior to the pandemic I have supported Trump as he delivered peace and prosperity, with a focus on the working class.) What will be of consequence is Joe Biden's reaction. The urgency of forging reconciliation has become much greater, but with the Great American Public having looked into the abyss, he will have much broader support for policies which are targeted at the broad center over the objections of the Left or the Right.
6. The Center held.
bill bowen - 1/7/21