Zeynep Tufekci: American’s next authoritarian will be more competent
In another case, Trump lawyers argued that the Michigan results are invalid because the number of votes cast exceeds the number of voters in the precinct. But as the Trump-friendly Powerline notes, the lawyers appear to have confused Michigan and Minnesota precincts.
The Trump campaign’s initial strategy this month was to contend that some votes that were cast by mail should not have legally been allowed. This argument lacked grounding in law and sought to disenfranchise citizens who had followed the rules in casting their votes, but at least it offered some consistency and logic about which votes shouldn’t be counted. Since that failed, the president is now simply insisting without evidence that there is fraud and hoping that judges or legislators will toss the results wholesale in certain counties or states.
The Trump team’s tenuous claims would be laughable were they not so dangerous. First, there is always the outside chance that some enterprising legislators might actually try to discard votes, which would be a miscarriage of democracy. Second, the flimsiness of the claims is probably irrelevant. Polling suggests that huge portions of Republicans believe the election was rigged, and no number of debunkings is likely to convince them otherwise—this is motivated partisan reasoning, not thoughtful analysis. Besides, once the president has decided to place all his chips on simply circumventing the will of the voters, the strength of his argument no longer matters. What is important is brute strength. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to have it.
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Nonetheless, most Republicans remain distressingly slow to challenge Trump’s claims. Early on, GOP lawmakers contended (anonymously, of course) that there was little harm in letting Trump throw his tantrum, since it would come to naught. This was a bad argument then, and it has not improved with age. As the president’s claims get more and more far-fetched, and his attempt to steal the election grows more overt, most Republicans are still remaining on the sidelines.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have concluded that Trump’s strategy probably won’t work, but that if it does, that’s fine. The few exceptions include the usual suspects, including Senators Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse. Other Republicans have tried to have it both ways, declining to condemn Trump or call Biden the president-elect, but also saying the administration should allow the transition to proceed, just in case. None of this rises to the challenge of the moment. Former President Barack Obama seems to have it right when he says these officials are going along with the subversion “not because they actually believe it, but because they feel intimidated by it.”
Although Trump is deeply unlikely to succeed in his attempted theft, he’s revealing weaknesses and softening up the system for a future authoritarian, who, as Zeynep Tufekci has written, is unlikely to be as bumbling as he is. Defeating Trump in an election was a straightforward enough task, and defeating him in court has proved even easier. But if he succeeds in undermining the system badly enough, it will mean that defeat at the polls just won’t matter next time.