The risks

Benjamin Wittes on Trump’s Tantrum:

There exists no law or rule that compels a president to acknowledge the legitimacy of his defeat—or even the fact of it—except in the very limited sense that he has to vacate the office.

And he doesn’t have to do that until January 20. Until then he can tantrum his wee socks off.

So yes, the president is allowed to sulk. He is allowed to be the sorest of sore losers. He is allowed to once again display before the entire world the complete triumph of ego over patriotism, of self-interestedness over public-spiritedness, within his heart. There is, actually, nothing to do about it if he wants to play it this way; there is no way to stop him. And in and of itself, it’s not even a particularly grave problem. It is certainly sad that the United States has a president who so completely fails the basic tests of honor and decency. It would be lovely to see him just once rise to some occasion, any occasion. But it’s hardly a surprise that he can’t or he won’t or he doesn’t want to. He is, after all, Donald Trump.

I was thinking about that earlier today – how odd it is, in a way, that he didn’t grab such an easy chance to surprise us all. He has to go, so why not confound all our expectations by being generous and cheerful about it? He could take advantage of that maddening cognitive glitch which causes us to give more credit to people for being uncharacteristically decent than for being decent all the time. But noooooooooo, he has to act like a stupid petulant spoiled emperor up to the last second.

The bigger problem than the president’s refusal to concede the race is the toleration of that refusal by the overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans. Yes, a few senators—Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse—have congratulated Biden, and a few others have said that Biden should have access to transition resources and intelligence briefings.

But the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have played along with the president’s obstinate refusal to face reality, pretending that there are still important questions about the integrity of the vote to litigate and resolve….And the president is capitalizing on the opportunity that McConnell and other congressional Republicans are providing.

Wittes then lists the ways Trump is capitalizing.

The administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, has refused to “ascertain” (in the language of the law) that Biden is the “apparent” winner of the election, thus blocking transition funding and preventing certain other transition activity from beginning.

Pompeo said there would be a second Trump administration teehee. Biden is still not getting intelligence briefings.

More generally, the Washington Post reported on Nov. 9 that “[t]he Trump White House on Monday instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.”

And there’s the purge at the Pentagon.

Wittes goes on to explain how difficult it would be to steal the election in reality, and that all this sinister carrying on is dangerous anyway.

First, it is a harm to the orderly transition of power. Merely raising the specter of not honoring the results of an election, merely inducing democratic anxiety such that as serious-minded a person as Bill Kristol could write a piece like the one quoted above, is a democratic harm. Denying information to the Biden transition makes it harder to govern coming in. Conveying uncertainty to foreign actors is dangerous; it invites misunderstanding, and misunderstanding can be deadly.

Second there’s that pesky norms issue again – Trump has kicked them into smithereens with his lying sulks and sulky lies.

Finally, fourth, there’s the chance that I’m wrong that Biden’s prevailing in the election’s aftermath—that the automatic processes I have described are just a little bit less automatic than I think they are. There’s the chance that Republicans, having dug themselves into the Trump hole, don’t stop digging when the results are certified, that they don’t quite know how to back down. There’s the chance that state legislatures are little more aggressively partisan than I imagine, or that a few courts go off the deep end.

So that’s cheerful.

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