The Slatest

Republicans: Ha Ha Ha, No, the President Didn’t Really Mean That About the Peaceful Transition of Power, Ha Ha

The two men, both wearing suits and blue masks, walk side by side in a hallway.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in the Capitol on May 19. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After several days of building up to it by saying he needs to confirm a Supreme Court justice who will rule in his favor on potential election-related cases, Donald Trump put a cap on things Wednesday night by taking a reporter’s bait and declining to say that he will leave office in a “peaceful” manner if he loses the November election. “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” he said, in what was at best a reference to his belief that million of mail-in ballots submitted by Democrats will be fraudulent.

“President Implies He Might Try to Hold Office by Force If He Loses Election” is a story that will get people’s attention, and you can bet that a majority of independent voters are going to answer the poll question, “Should there be a huge disruption to the way the United States conducts the transition of presidential power,” with “No.” So Republican damage control is underway:

Okay, but as Slate alum Jamelle Bouie points out, there’s something a little off there about McConnell’s specific phrasing of “the November 3rd election,” given how many completed ballots may still be in the mail and Trump’s frequent insistence, despite that fact, that a winner needs to be declared on election night.

Other prominent Republicans weighed in with statements about respecting results too. Mitt Romney’s was notably direct and is bolstered by his previous demonstration that he will vote against Trump and McConnell if he feels like it. The rest were useless, particularly coming from people who have just shown that they were lying for four years about what they would do if another Supreme Court vacancy came up in an election year. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman:

Throughout America’s history, the peaceful transition of power has been a hallmark of our democracy. This year, both candidates must commit to abiding by the results, no matter the outcome.

Thank you, Rob, for getting Joe Biden in there too. He’s got a 40-year record of being committed, often to a fault, to bipartisan, multi-branch government, but you never know what kind of strongman aspirations he might have been keeping quiet about that whole time. Here’s South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham:

If Republicans lose we will accept the result. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Joe Biden, I will accept that result.

Is everyone reassured by that? No. Did Graham’s statement, or any others, say the president should stop his campaign’s lawyers from pursuing lawsuits whose goal is to make the election process more confusing by complicating the process of voting by mail during a time when going to the polls would be a dangerous risk for older and otherwise vulnerable citizens? No, none of the statements got into that whole business.

What the president said on Wednesday was the same thing the rest of his party has been saying since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. He just wasn’t sealing it with the centrist-pleasing topcoats of plausible deniability and smarm that his peers used.

Here’s Ted Cruz on ABC this weekend, for example, describing why Ginsburg’s seat needs to be filled:

An equally divided court, 4-4, can’t decide anything. That could make this presidential election drag on weeks and months and well into next year. That is an intolerable situation for the country. We need a full court on Election Day, given the very high likelihood that we’re going to see litigation that goes to the court. We need a Supreme Court that can give a definitive answer for the country.

Why is there a high likelihood of the Supreme Court getting involved in this election? Cruz had previously given an explanation to Fox of what he claims that “litgation” will be about:

Democrats and Joe Biden have made clear they intend to challenge this election, they intend to fight the legitimacy of the election. As you know, Hillary Clinton has told Joe Biden, “under no circumstances should you concede. You should challenge this election.”

This is, in the typical Ted Cruz style, a backward and self-serving account of things. Clinton, in fact, said in August that Biden should be prepared to contest not “the election,” but what she believed would be Trump campaign efforts toward “suppressing or stopping voting.” The Republican Party, she said, would try to “mess up absentee balloting.” Trump has since said repeatedly that vote counting should stop on election night and that Democrats should not be allowed to vote by mail, so Clinton’s prediction was correct. (Please note, also, that Hillary Clinton is not going to make the decisions about what Joe Biden’s campaign does after the election.)

Cruz is using sophisticated language that seems to put him in the neighborhood of traditional norms. Trump is not. But both are arguing that if Biden wins the electoral college, it will be illegitimate and Trump shouldn’t have to leave office. The premise that both their statements operate from is that voting by mail is “cheating” when Democrats do it, despite many millions of Republicans and Democrats alike having voted by mail already for years. The president and the rest of his party have different theories about whether to use the words “peaceful transfer of power,” but they are united in attacking the democratic process by which a peaceful transfer of power would take place.