Joe Biden’s fate will be sealed over these next two days. On Tuesday, local time, Georgia votes. If the Democratic challengers defeat the two incumbent Republican Senators, President Biden will control the Senate with much better prospects for his program in Congress. President Trump is trashing Georgia’s Republican officials because they certified Biden’s victory in November, with rifts in the party threatening to depress Republican turnout. But beating both Republicans would be an epic upset.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate will meet in joint session to formally count the Electoral College votes, affirming Joe Biden as the duly elected president. But well over 120 Trumpist Republicans in both chambers will trigger a process that seeks to challenge the Biden electoral votes from swing states that Trump lost, such as Pennsylvania.
This is not unprecedented. In both 2000 and 2004, recalcitrant Democrats protested the defeats of Al Gore and John Kerry by George W. Bush. Twenty years ago, vice-president Gore had to preside over the joint session that affirmed his Electoral College defeat. And yet Gore said, "May God bless our new president and our new vice-president and may God bless the United States of America." Will Vice-President Mike Pence fulfill his duty to the constitution or his fealty to Trump?
In the American experience, there has not been anything like the living history we are now witnessing: a defeated president who does not concede and works to sear into the minds of millions that the election was redolent of fraud and stolen and that Joe Biden is therefore an illegitimate president.
What Trump is doing is nothing less than an assault on America’s democracy. Trump tweets big lies every day: “The United States had more votes than it had people voting, by a lot … It was a Rigged Election, one not even fit for Third World countries!” “We already know enough, and we won big!”
Trump is intent on stopping the peaceful transfer of power. In his address to the American people last month, Trump said: “We cannot allow a completely fraudulent election to stand.” This is why he has called on state legislators to overturn the votes in their states. He and his campaign have filed dozens of lawsuits to nullify the election, losing at least 60 times in lower courts and three times in the US Supreme Court. Trump has discussed imposing martial law and re-running the election. Sensationally, on Monday, a recording emerged of Trump calling Georgia’s Secretary of State to demand that he “find” 11,870 votes to award that state to Trump. There may be violent mobs in Washington on Wednesday demanding Trump stay in office.
If these brazen ploys were successful, Trump would be actively launching an attempted coup.
The outcome of the joint sitting is not in doubt. The 2020 election result will stand. But immense collateral damage has been done. With Trump’s sway among Republicans, 70 per cent of the party believe the election was rigged. This translates to 30 per cent of the country as a whole. As Dan Balz of The Washington Post has observed, “While Trump has not been able to overturn the election, the toxicity of his baseless, repeated charges has infected the body politic.”
But Trump’s hand is getting weaker. Last week was the worst of his presidency. For the first time, Trump was twice deserted by most Republicans. Dozens joined with Democrats to override his veto of the huge defence bill – Trump’s first such rebuke. House and Senate Republicans overwhelmingly opposed his $2000 cash payments to taxpayers for urgent COVID relief.
It is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who engineered this new state of play. McConnell is done with Trump. Together with his recognition of Biden as “President-elect”, and his insistence that the counting of the Electoral College not be hijacked, McConnell has concluded that Trump now is more a liability to the Republican Party than an asset – and that Trump must leave office.
Trump is enraged, but he will be less dominant in six months. With 350,000 Americans dead, many are numb to a toll that is simply too staggering to fathom. But after the worst is finally over, with the country on the road to recovery via vaccines and a stronger economy, there will be accountability – and anger— at Trump’s contemptible mismanagement. There will be stories of Trump’s shocking and chaotic final days in office. There will be a stench from his pardons. He will be in the crosshairs of prosecution in New York over his business affairs. And much more.
Today, Georgia is on Biden’s mind. When Barack Obama took office 12 years ago, he could lose 39 votes in the House and still get his program through. Biden can only afford to lose just six; that is how severely the Democratic margin was cut in November.
The Senate is a jump ball. There are upwards of 80,000 new voters in Georgia – principally black and younger voters. As Biden carried Georgia by just 12,000 votes out of nearly 5 million, this could determine whether the Senate is where Biden programs go to live or die.
We will know if times have changed in Georgia if an African American minister and a Jew can beat a white woman and a white man. As the improv routine goes, “A priest, a rabbi, and a monk walk into the bar. The bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?’” Punchline to follow when the Georgia polls close.