When Kamala Harris returned to the Senate this week for the first time as vice president-elect, her Republican colleagues offered their congratulations and Sen. Lindsey Graham greeted her with a fist bump. A move that Harris has been criticised in some quarters for indulging.
Nevertheless, it was a sign that many Republicans have privately acknowledged what they refuse to say openly: Joe Biden and Harris won the election and will take office in January.
Jonathan Memire and Lisa Mascaro of the Associated Press report that the GOP’s public silence on the reality of Biden’s victory amounts to tacit approval of Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. That has significant repercussions, delaying the transition during a deadly pandemic, sowing public doubt and endangering Biden’s ability to lead the portion of the country that may question his legitimacy.
“The real-world consequences are perilous,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton University. “The long-term implications are calcifying the doubt about the election and what that means for the body politic. It could lead to half the country not just being deeply suspicious of the democratic process but also actively hostile toward it. It becomes difficult to imagine how we move forward.”
Republicans are closing the Trump era much the way they started it: by joining the president in shattering civic norms and sowing uncertainty in institutions. But their efforts to maintain a public face of support for the president began to deteriorate yesterday.
Backroom whispers about the futility of Trump’s legal fight have become louder after Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared in a Pennsylvania courtroom making wide and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in seeking to undo the election results. Asked about the case, Sen. Pat Toomey, said, “Let me just say, I don’t think they have a strong case.”
And when White House chief of staff Mark Meadows visited with Senate Republicans, he encouraged them to “make the most” of their remaining time with Trump, according to two senators.
Sen. John Cornyn, said the message from Meadows was “basically just that we got about 45 days left of the president’s term.” Meadows told them the administration wanted to make sure that if the senators “had ideas of things that the White House could and should do during that period of time, that we got them to him.”
But even then, there remained a glimmer of denial.
“But he did, I have to be honest with you, he did say whether it’s 45 days or four years and 45 days,” Cornyn added.
Despite the private admissions, it has been worth noting that there still has been no public effort by senior Republicans to nudge Trump toward the exit waiting for him as the first one-term US president of the 21st century.
“Trump is behaving exactly as everyone should have expected he would do. Nothing he has done in the last two weeks is out of character,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid. “And Senate Republicans are responding to him the same way they always do: Ignore him and focus on the Senate calendar.”
“But there’s no guarantee this works out well for Republicans.”
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