Could anyone have doubted that Donald Trump would go out like this?
Having lost the election decisively — by 74 votes in the Electoral College, and by 6 million and counting overall — he has availed himself of every imaginable scheme to undermine the vote's legitimacy and obscure what was plainly a fair and square victory for his opponent, President-elect Joe Biden.
How does anyone know the outcome was fair? State election officials in both parties from coast to coast have said so. Federal prosecutors have said so. Voting-machine vendors and testing labs have said so. The Election Assistance Commission has said so. Along with the rest of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, the president's own Homeland Security Department has called this election "the most secure in American history."
Even Trump's lawyers have implicitly conceded the fact. Despite filing more than two dozen lawsuits, they've been unable to produce a shred of evidence for their invented and often contradictory claims about electoral misconduct. In several cases, they've affirmed in court that they had no such proof. As Sen. Ben Sasse, one of the few Republicans to oppose this charade, put it: "When Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts under oath, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud — because there are legal consequences for lying to judges."
With these efforts flailing, Trump has resorted to more eccentric tactics. In Pennsylvania, his team asked a judge to effectively invalidate the election and let the state's Republican legislators decide among themselves who should be president. The judge, a Republican member of the Federalist Society, dismissed the suit. In Michigan, Trump has insinuated himself into the otherwise routine process of certifying results, and even invited two of the state's lawmakers to the White House to press his case, as though the entire edifice of American democracy should rest on the outcome of chats between the president and a handful of state officials.
As this circus rolls on, Trump's legal team continues to allege that he was the victim of a wayward vote-counting algorithm, improbable ballot-tampering schemes and vast global conspiracies orchestrated by Venezuela and the Clinton Foundation. Despite a complete absence of proof for these claims, this effort is working in at least one sense, thanks in no small part to partisan media outlets that amplify them: More than three-quarters of Trump's supporters now think Biden won due to fraud.
You might be tempted to dismiss all this as an egotist's desperate final gambit to save face. But Trump's refusal to yield is imposing real costs. His staffers are refusing to let Biden's transition team conduct even routine preparations, thereby jeopardizing national security and public health. His secretary of state is preventing Biden from receiving messages from foreign leaders. His Treasury secretary is increasing the risk that his successor will have to contend with financial instability on top of everything else.
With a few notable exceptions, congressional Republicans have been complicit in all this, either through their silence or active encouragement. Enough. Over the years I've worked with many Republicans in Washington, and we've had our differences over lots of issues, from taxes to climate change, and that's healthy. But this isn't a policy issue — it's a question of patriotism. I know them to be patriots — and now they must step up and show it.
In recent days, the dam has begun to crack, with more Republicans beginning to speak out. But it's past time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to say what's been obvious for weeks: Trump lost and Biden will soon take office.
Leadership is about facing reality and dealing with it. That's the job. Trump has never understood that, as the pandemic has made painfully and tragically clear. But if McConnell and McCarthy and other elected Republicans don't face up to it, they will do lasting damage to the fabric of our democracy — and go down in history as enabling a demagogue who would do anything to hold onto power, the Constitution be damned.
You should never run for office unless you are prepared to give a concession speech. I've done it. It's not fun or easy but it is the very essence of democracy, and without it, the country would crumble. But we shouldn't expect this president to concede anything, ever — no matter the cost to the country. So let him rage against reality — it's all he's ever done. But it's time for the Republican leadership to send a clear and unmistakable message to the rest of their party, and especially to the more than 70 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump: The election is over and partisanship must give way to patriotism.
Michael R. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, and served as mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013.
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