The call, an audio of which was obtained by The Washington Postâ€™s Amy Gardner, was as outrageous as it was chilling. Legal experts can debate how close to the line Trump was with the telephone call. Others can speculate about the presidentâ€™s current state of mind. The contents of the call speak for themselves, and the audio excerpts should be heard by anyone who cares about the integrity of elections in America.
Here was a desperate president alternately begging, pleading, cajoling and, yes, seeming to threaten a state official â€” and fellow Republican â€” by asking for a change in the outcome of an election that already had been recounted and then certified.
The president was not arguing facts or offering evidence. Having failed time and again with multiple lawsuits brought by his campaignâ€™s legal teams or their allies, all of which were rejected by the courts, Trump had nothing of substance to offer, just bluster and baseless claims that he has made nonstop since he lost. He was trolling with rumor, innuendo (and the muscle that comes with calling from the White House), attempting one more time to bully and intimidate Raffensperger.
At one point, Trump said told the secretary of state: â€œAll I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes [Biden won the state by 11,779 votes], which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.â€ At another point, he claimed that he had won by â€œhundreds of thousands of votes.â€ At another he offered that he had heard rumors of ballot shredding in Fulton County, home to Atlanta.
Raffensperger has endured verbal abuse and threats to his safety throughout the entire process of counting, recounting and certifying Georgiaâ€™s results. He has stood firm, as he did once again on Saturday, pushing back politely and repeatedly saying that the presidentâ€™s statements were incorrect.
Ryan Germany, the general counsel to the secretary of state, was similarly direct when Trump claimed that voting machines had been removed or in some way tampered with. â€œNo,â€ he said. Asked whether he was sure of this, he said, â€œIâ€™m sure. Iâ€™m sure, Mr. President.â€
Trump will never let this go, not between now and the day he is forced to give up the office and Biden is sworn in, not in the days and weeks and months after that. That he is on a mission is evident, but to what end, other than to avoid the ignominious label of â€œloserâ€ after a single term in the White House? That, at least, is consistent with the behavior he has exhibited throughout the four years of his presidency. He cares nothing about collateral damage to democracy.
The president, however, is not on this mission alone. Instead, he continues to gather support from members of a party he has remade in his own image. On Wednesday, members of the House and the Senate will meet to approve the results from the electoral college. Those results show that Biden won 306 votes to Trumpâ€™s 232. Vice President Pence will be in the chair, ultimately to read out that he and Trump have lost the election, as a few other vice presidents have done in the past.
But there will be objections in both chambers, debates and votes, prolonging what is normally a pro forma process and a brief way station to the transfer of power. Trumpâ€™s many allies in the House have made it clear that they will object to the results from a handful of states.
For a time, it was questionable whether any member of the Senate would do so. Now there are a dozen, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who plan to challenge those results. Pence added his support to those efforts.
Their argument is that, because there are allegations of improper voting or counting, Congress should step in by appointing a commission to run a 10-day â€œauditâ€ of disputed states and then those states could call special sessions to evaluate the findings and, if necessary, certify new results. Itâ€™s difficult to imagine that this crash investigation of states, some of which have already scrubbed and rescrubbed their results, would produce something new.
For the most part, these Republicans claim they are not actually seeking to overturn the election results but only want to give voice to the allegations and the concerns of people who question the results â€” people who have been told repeatedly by Trump and his allies that the allegations of fraud are in fact actual fraud. Yet they persist.
The Republicans who will object are acting on the basis either of fear of the president or sheer political opportunism, or both. Some are weighing a 2024 presidential campaign and know that being on the wrong side of Trump could mean certain defeat.
Some of the Republicans who have joined this effort point to 2004, when a few Democrats objected to the election results in Ohio. But in that case, John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, disavowed the effort. Others point to 1877, when a commission was appointed to resolve a dispute about the 1876 results. But in that case, unlike now, several states had not been certified in the electoral college.
The party is now fracturing over the efforts to disrupt Wednesdayâ€™s procedure. After Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) became the first senator to announce that he would raise objections when Congress meets this week, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Mo.) rebuked the â€œinstitutional arsonistâ€ members in both houses, saying they were â€œplaying with fireâ€ by raising objections without evidence of fraud on a scale that would overturn the election.
In the wake of the announcement on Saturday by Cruz and his colleagues, other Republicans have weighed in with caustic criticism. Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) called what Cruz and the others are doing â€œan egregious ployâ€ that â€œdangerously threatens our democratic Republic. â€¦ I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?â€
Former House speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) issued a statement Sunday that said that the efforts to upend the electoral college results â€œstrike at the foundation of our republic,â€ adding that he could not think of â€œa more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans.â€
Contrast Ryanâ€™s statement to the behavior of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who added his name to the more than 100 House Republicans who joined an ill-fated Texas lawsuit to overturn the results in four states, a move that was summarily dismissed by the Supreme Court, and who by some accounts had lent quiet support to the efforts by House members to object on Wednesday.
Trump appears determined to do everything he can to disrupt the last formal step ahead of Bidenâ€™s inauguration on Jan. 20, including urging supporters to rally in the capital on Wednesday. The efforts by the president and his allies further threaten to undermine Bidenâ€™s presidency. Even more so, they add to the discredit Trump has brought on himself by trafficking in conspiracies and playing the victim.