“When Donald Trump says, ‘I think I deserve a third term, or I think the election should end on election night, that’s the way it’s always been,’ I don’t think he’s joking. I think we should take him deadly seriously,” said Democratic senator and top Joe Biden surrogate Chris Coons. He in contrast Trump’s statements to aspiring autocrats in younger democracies that he handled when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on African Affairs. “We would rally the international community and say, ‘No, you should not do that. It’s not a good idea. That violates the norms of democracy.’”
But most Republicans, from critics to allies of Trump, have remained publicly silent. It’s not new for Trump’s party brethren to duck and canopy when he says one thing troubling. But after 5 years of perfecting the artwork of explaining how they “didn’t see the tweet” — the much parodied speaking point to which Republicans on Capitol Hill typically resort — it’s surprising but not stunning that they aren’t talking up now, even when the integrity of America’s electoral system is under attack by their party’s chief.
Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii known as Trump’s weeks-long marketing campaign to discredit election outcomes an “incompetent attempt at autocracy.”
“There are lots of reasons to believe that what Trump is talking about or contemplating cannot be accomplished,” said Schatz, who’s outraged by the dearth of Republicans who have criticized the president’s false assertion about when ballots are counted. “But if your plan includes congressional Republicans standing up to Trump, you need a new plan.”
Efforts to solicit on the record remark from a broad vary of party leaders Monday had been met with indifference.
Sen. Ben Sasse didn’t reply to a DM. Chris Christie didn’t return a textual content. A message to the spokesman for Sen. Josh Hawley, an up-and-comer within the party, went unanswered. Sen. Lindsey Graham didn’t return a call after POLITICO left a voicemail for him. (Graham’s outgoing message provided the choice of sending a fax but a reporter didn’t avail himself of that technique of communication.)
White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah promised to call back but by no means did. Rudy Giuliani went silent, though a reporter sweetened the deal by agreeing to hear him out on the Hunter Biden intrigue, a present Giuliani obsession. Karl Rove was form sufficient to reply, but he was too busy to talk about the president’s feedback sowing doubt and distrust in regards to the sanctity of the election course of, because, he said, his “flight is getting ready to shut the door and pull away from the gate.”
Hogan Gidley, a spokesman for the Trump marketing campaign, did reply. When requested in regards to the president’s feedback suggesting that votes shouldn’t be counted after Election Day, Gidley replied, “What’s the quote?” Told by a reporter, “Have you been following the news? There are dozens of them!” Gidley didn’t reply on the record.
As traditional, Never Trump Republicans, who usually now back Biden, had been prepared to converse their minds.
“For months now the president has questioned the integrity of the election, and now at the 11th hour, he’s signaling prematurely that he’ll declare victory before the result is certain, setting the stage for further discord,” said Miles Taylor, the previous chief of staff on the Department of Homeland Security who not too long ago unmasked himself as Anonymous, the interior Trump critic who revealed a scathing op-ed in The New York Times. “I think it’s destructive to the democratic process. I think it could potentially lead to civil unrest and even violence in the country, and it’s wildly irresponsible for a president to do.”
He is “disappointed” that his fellow Republicans are remaining quiet. “Right now Republican elected officials need to be saying that the president’s words are unacceptable and we need to patiently await the outcome of the vote,” Taylor said.
Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee at the start of the Obama period, expressed comparable issues. “The president knows full well that not in the history of elections in this country have we ever certified the outcome of the election on election night because votes are allowed to continue to be processed after Election Day,” Steele said. “Election Day is just that, the day to vote. It is not the day that a winner is certified.”
Steele added that Trump “is fearful of the outcome because he has not made the case for his reelection to the American people so he’s trying to game the system against itself to his benefit. He’s poisoned people with this notion that the only way he loses is if the system is rigged. Well that’s just bullshit.”
Many Republicans insist they’re disgusted by Trump’s threats, they simply aren’t prepared to say so publicly. Dozens of quietly anti-Trump members on Capitol Hill, or who left the Trump administration, often in disgust, are prepared to torch the president — but solely under the cloak of anonymity.
“It’s despicable and un-American but not surprising,” said one senior Senate GOP aide. “They have never had any respect for the institutions of democracy that don’t benefit them. The beauty of federalism is that we leave it to the states to make their own rules and the idea that a president would overturn a state official’s decision to benefit them in an election is just kind of the antithesis of what Republicans used to believe in.”
He added, “It’s just one final F.U. to what Republicans used to believe in.”
Trump has been abetted not simply by the silence of Republicans — his threats have been unfold by top surrogates, together with his sons, Eric and Don, and his daughter-in-law, Lara. She not too long ago told voters in Scottsdale, Arizona, that mail-in balloting, which has been expanded in lots of locations because of the coronavirus pandemic, and can seemingly create delays in poll counting, was a Democratic plot to “rig the system.”
Other top marketing campaign aides have joined the misinformation marketing campaign. On Sunday, Jason Miller, a senior adviser, advised that partial vote counts on Tuesday evening ought to by some means decide the winner. “President Trump will be ahead on election night, probably getting 280 electoral [votes] — somewhere in that range, and then they’re going to try to steal it back after the election,” Miller said, suggesting that totally counting ballots is a Democratic plot.
This rhetoric has also seeped down into the Trump grassroots throughout the nation. At recent Trump rallies in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and North Carolina, voters typically took it as an article of faith that mail-in ballots tabulated after Tuesday had been by some means fraudulent. Leaving a Trump rally Sunday evening in Hickory, North Carolina, a group of supporters talked about how polls had been rigged because they had been commissioned by the media, and that vote-counting after Election Day would give Democrats a likelihood to pad their totals with 1000’s of faux votes.
As all the time with Trump, there may be a debate amongst Republicans as to whether or not he ought to be taken critically.
“I just can’t believe that he would say anything like that. It’s crazy,” said a former senior administration official. “I don’t know if it was an off the cuff remark that he often says that he hasn’t thought through or if it was a real strategic decision. … A lot of people ask me, ‘If he loses the election, will he try to stay in power?’ I don’t see any way that’s going to be possible. I think once an election is declared valid, he’s not going to have any option.”
Others insist that his rhetoric isn’t as troubling as it sounds. “There have been so many times where people have said, ‘Oh he said this, he’s going to strip away our freedoms!’ and it doesn’t happen that way,” said a former White House official. “It never happens that way, so this is just another one of those things.”
A present White House official also tried to downplay Trump’s steal-the-election rhetoric. “I don’t think it’s something that’s being seriously considered,” he insisted, maybe not realizing how much work the phrase ‘seriously’ was doing in his assertion.
Another White House official insisted it was typical Trumpian hyperbole. “POTUS will play by the rules,” he said. “He will play by the rules.”
But what if he doesn’t?
Schatz argued that there was no purpose to consider Republican leaders would arrange themselves to pressure Trump to stand down if he pushed issues in a really anti-democratic course that went past professional authorized challenges or election evening hyperbole.
“In the ‘West Wing’ version of this it would be Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and a couple of former presidents,” he said. “In reality there’s no one.”
When requested if there was a “West-Wing” like contingency plan for Republican leaders if Trump did one thing radical within the coming days, the senior Senate GOP aide was coy.
“I can’t really talk about that,” he said. “It’s not something I can really get into.”
But when pressed, he provided the next: “It’s all hypothetical, but if they do what Jason Miller was talking about you’ll see a lot of people” — he paused for a moment — “not agreeing.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.