The Republican Party is Abandoning Democracy

Republicans at many levels of government have launched an all-out assault on the election results.

November 19, 2020

What are the bedrock principles of a democracy?

After a hard-fought campaign, the party in power accepts its defeat in an election and hands over the reins of government to the opposition party. Although the losers are not happy with the results, they bow to the will of the people. They don’t attack the election process, or their opponents, as illegitimate or fraudulent. The transfer of power is peaceful and prompt.

The Republican Party is abandoning these principles, and that is very dangerous for our country and our democratic traditions. Republican leaders at several levels of government have launched an all-out assault on the election results, undermining the public’s confidence in this key democratic process.

You would expect Donald Trump to be a sore loser, to fling baseless accusations about election fraud, and to cling to his office despite a clear mandate from the voters to pack his bags. After all, this is a man who has expressed his admiration of the perks enjoyed by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and other strongman who have secured life tenure in their jobs.

But Trump is a symptom, not a cause, of the alarming authoritarian tendencies in the Republican Party.

By Saturday, November 7, Joe Biden had clearly won the election, with 306 electoral college votes and a popular margin of about three million votes (which has increased then). On that day, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, should have congratulated Joe Biden on winning the Presidency and pledged to work with his administration. As the senior Republican in Congress, McConnell should have accepted the election results as legitimate and fair. This would be the normal practice in a healthy democracy.

Instead, McConnell gave cover to Trump’s allegations, saying the President had the right to pursue his legal challenges to the results. McConnell’s complicity has allowed Trump to continue attacking the results as “rigged” and “fraudulent”, even though he has no basis for those claims.

When Barack Obama was elected President, McConnell shocked the political world by declaring that his goal was to make Obama “a one-term President”. Now, McConnell has gone a step further, refusing even to acknowledge Biden’s election. It’s been almost two weeks now…

Meanwhile, about 70% of Republicans are concerned that the vote-counting process was “rigged” and 50% believe that Trump “rightfully won” the election, according to a new Reuters-Ipsos poll released today. Only about 30% of Republican voters believe that Joe Biden “rightfully won” the election.

Our country faces its greatest crisis since World War II, with Covid raging, and it is imperative that the Republican-led Senate and the new Administration work together fast to find solutions. But McConnell has poisoned the atmosphere in Washington; he is burning bridges rather than building them. Beneath his calm exterior, Biden must be seething with rage that his former colleague in the Senate is undermining him even before he takes office.

McConnell set the tone for the Senate. So far, only five Republican Senators have acknowledged Biden’s victory. That’s five out of 52. Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse have all congratulated Biden, to their credit, and Marco Rubio has referred to Biden as the “president-elect”. The other Republican Senators are mostly ducking the question.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham has taken a different approach. The Senator called Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state in Georgia, to ask about whether mail-in ballots were properly completed or whether some could possibly be challenged.

Raffensperger, a conservative Republican, felt that Graham was putting him under pressure to revise the election results, and he ended the call. The secretary of state promptly called his lawyer, who advised him not to call Graham back.

Georgia’s election procedures are none of Graham’s business. The Senator represents South Carolina, not Georgia, and he has no responsibility for monitoring election practices in the various states. Nonetheless, Graham also called the secretaries of state in Arizona and Nevada.

Sen. Lindsey Graham/ photo: Alex Wong-Getty Images

Meanwhile, the two incumbent Republican Senators in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, have criticized their fellow Republican and called for Raffensperger to resign, on the grounds that “illegal votes must not be counted”. Both faced tough races, and they were apparently miffed that they have to endure run-off elections in January against Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff. The two incumbent Senators are also angry that Joe Biden won in Georgia, albeit by a modest margin, which was 14,000 at the time of their complaint.

The Senators did not provide examples of fraud or tampering in Georgia, and none have been reported. The officials in Georgia are conducting a recount by hand, to confirm that the results were accurate. The recount has turned up about 5,000 ballots that were inadvertently not counted, but there is no indication of any improper behavior.

That’s out of 5 million votes cast in the state. Officials expect that Biden’s final margin will be about 13,000 votes, rather than the initial tally of 14,000 votes.

Doug Collins, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is leading the Trump campaign’s efforts to challenge the results in the state. Collins has accused Raffensperger of capitulating to Democrats because he has not backed the allegations of voter fraud.

Various Republican officials on the state level have also sought to invalidate the election results. When President Trump initiated numerous lawsuits in Pennsylvania, seeking to overturn the results by invalidating thousands of ballots, 10 Republican Attorneys General filed amicus curiae (supporting) briefs on behalf on his behalf. That is about one out of every three Republican Attorneys General.

The election results in Pennsylvania were none of their business. That’s especially the case since Trump’s claims were mostly frivolous. One has to ask, why did they intervene? What are the key legal questions at stake for their states?

The one “substantive” issue was whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exceeded its authority by allowing election officials to accept mail-in ballots up to three days after the election, provided they were postmarked by Election Day. The Court granted that grace period so voters could feel confident that their mail-in ballots would be counted…taking into account the delays caused by the Trump Administration’s sabotaging of the Postal Service.

That seems a reasonable exercise of judicial discretion during a deadly pandemic…and a strange decision to challenge. After all, the Trump campaign was challenging ballots that had been cast, and mailed, by Election Day. Why not let them be counted?

The Pennsylvania courts have rejected almost all of the Trump campaign’s claims as of this writing.

Even Republican officials on the county level have tried to block the election results, on spurious and suspicious grounds. On Tuesday, two Republican election board officials in Wayne County, Michigan, refused to certify the results. This created a deadlock, since the board had two Democratic members. Wayne County, a largely Democratic area, includes Detroit, which has a large Black population.

The two Republican members of the election canvassing board said they were concerned with small discrepancies between the number of votes cast in some precincts and the number of people that officials had recorded as voting. Some minor discrepancies can occur, for example, if a voter checks in at the polling station but leaves because of long lines. In this instance, the mayor of Detroit said the discrepancies involved only 357 votes out of 250,000 cast in his city.

One of the Republican officials suggested, to break the deadlock, that the board certify the votes of other communities, which were mostly white, but not Detroit’s. After a huge backlash, the Republicans finally backed down and agreed to certify the results the next day. Joe Biden won Michigan by 150,000 votes, so the 357 votes would not have made any difference.

The Republicans’ refusal to accept the election results because of such minor discrepancies was not only highly unusual. As the New York Times reported, the real goal of this maneuver was to throw out the election results and allow the Michigan legislature, dominated by Republicans, to appoint a pro-Trump Electoral College slate.

When we add this all up, we see a sustained effort by numerous Republican leaders, at various levels of government, to discredit the election procedures and overturn the results. This is NOT normal behavior in the United States, or in any democracy. It is a dangerous, corrosive attack on fundamental democratic institutions, the election of our leaders by popular votes and the peaceful transfer of power.

This authoritarian mindset among many Republican leaders and operatives did not start with Donald Trump, and it will not end with his departure from the White House. Republicans in several states have used extreme measures to suppress voters, and these attempts to delegitimize the latest election results represent a dramatic escalation of anti-democratic tactics.

We are in for a rough four years. We have won a battle in the fight to save our democracy, but we have not won the war.

A Wall Street Democrat. Security analyst (financial institutions), former lawyer and banker.