According to Joseph Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin grew so powerful that when he gave a speech and mispronounced a word, every speaker would mispronounce the word in the same way.
“If I’d said it right, Stalin would have felt I was correcting him,” remembered Stalin protégé Vyacheslav Molotov, noting the Soviet leader was “very touchy and proud.”
Donald Trump is obviously not Stalin: he doesn’t conduct show trials, send his political opponents to gulags, or starve millions of his own people to death.
In a way, though, that makes the embarrassing post-2020 election obeisance of Republican politicians even more confounding. If they rightly acknowledge Trump’s election loss was not due to vote “fraud” and concede Joe Biden will, in fact, be president on January 20 next year, the worst they will suffer is an angry tweet from the president.
And yet they trot right out, single file, humiliating themselves in order to soothe the “very touchy and proud” adolescent in the Oval Office. Newt Gingrich, a man who knows how elections work, said Trump fell to a “corrupt and stolen election.” On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump is “100 percent within his right” to pursue recounts and litigation.
Attorney General William Barr has authorized Department of Justice agents to begin looking into “voting irregularities.” And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when asked about the impending transfer of power, “joked” there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
And these were some of the more reasonable Republican reactions to Trump’s post-election tantrum. According to one particularly odious pro-Trump commentator, Biden is “not the president-elect” because Real Clear Politics had yet to officially call a handful of states. (This is a heretofore unknown requirement spelled out in the version of the Constitution read exclusively by people with undetected natural gas leaks in their homes.)
For years, watching Republicans actively defend Trump’s solipsism has been unbearable. Whether he’s lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, or auctioning U.S. foreign policy off in exchange for dirt on his political opponents, or virtually ignoring a deadly infectious disease that could hurt his re-election, Republicans have twisted themselves in knots either vying for Trump’s affection or dodging questions about his latest vile utterance.
Last Tuesday, Republicans were rewarded for this strategy, picking up seats in the House of Representatives, and, depending on a pair of January runoff elections in Georgia, retaining control of the Senate. It appears only Trump can’t survive Trumpism.
But the lesson from voters? More of the same, please.
That is why, even with Trump soon to be out of office, Republicans are still spooked by his shadow, actively taking part in his campaign to misinform millions of American voters and plunge the country into a fruitless legal war. Even the supposedly “responsible” Republicans issuing milquetoast statement demanding every “legally cast” vote be counted are winking to the low-information crowds who believe millions of illegal votes were cast.
This, of course, includes a number of GOP presidential hopefuls, who know a ticket to 2024 will cost them their dignity in the short-term. The past is an ever-growing resource, and many of these would-be contenders hope there will soon be enough of it to distance them from the post-election freak show.
Some of these presidential aspirants are counting on Trump fading from view, once news networks are no longer forced to cover him. Others are trying to grab hold of the dragon Trump created and hope they can ride it for four more years.
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” one “senior Republican official” told the Washington Post. “No one seriously thinks the results will change. … He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
Naturally, the ongoing behavior of Trump’s sycophants depends on how visible Trump remains while in exile, and whether he continues to demand fealty from weaker-willed Republicans. And much of Trump’s power will be determined by how much money he can make as a political figure once he’s out of office.
Even the current legal battles over the election results are a fundraising scam, with Trump’s appeals telling donors a portion of the money will be spent to retire campaign debt. As a private citizen, Trump faces hundreds of millions of dollars in debt he needs to repay—if he remains “political,” it seems his focus will be more on vacuuming money from his supporters’ pockets than refereeing disputes between Biden and potential Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But in the shorter term, without any sort of condemnation from his own side, Trump will continue to put his own fundraising over the nation’s well-being as the phony voter fraud lawsuits continue. Historically, the peaceful transfer of power has relied on the losing candidate hoping to preserve his dignity and character. We are seeing what happens when we elect someone with neither of those things.