What Time Is the Coup?

Illustration for article titled What Time Is the Coup?
Image: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

It has been three days since the 2020 presidential election was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, denying an incumbent president re-election for the first time in 28 years. President Trump, however, has no intention of conceding. Instead, he intends to hold up the election results in litigation, claiming contention that simply isn’t there. His administration stooges are similarly cavalier about their denial: On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” But while Trump’s attempts to claim victory via fruitless recounts and baseless claims of election fraud are only receiving vague support among elected Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and rejection from the courts, his virulent impact on the electorate will likely surpass Biden’s inevitable inauguration in January.


So far, team Trump has filed five lawsuits in key swing states: In Arizona they boasted an absurd conspiracy theory claiming ballots filled out with Sharpie are invalid (they’re not); in Georgia they argued that ballots were received past the deadline, in Nevada it was faulty machines used to verify voter signatures and processes vote-by-mail ballots, in Michigan it was unfounded claims that there was no transparency in the vote-counting process, and in Pennsylvania they quibbled over extended deadlines and ballot observers. Most of these suits have been rejected by lower courts and according to NPR, while the Trump camp has had marginal successes in their Pennsylvania suits—some contested ballots, ballot observers allowed to stand closer to those tabulating votes—none will have a big enough impact to change the results of the state, where Biden is currently leading Trump by more than 46,000 points.

But the suits keep coming: On Monday, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit to Pennsylvania federal court in the hopes of blocking state officials from certifying Biden’s inevitable win, claiming the state held different voters to different standards. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro called this convoluted argument, “another attempt to throw out legal votes.”

While rumors swirl about Trump aides fretting over their boss’s mounting delusion, Trump’s inner circle has even more crypto-coup drama to contend with: People jumping ship. NBC News reports that Richard Pilger, the director of the Election Crimes Branch of the Justice Department resigned from his post in protest over Attorney General William Barr granting federal prosecutors authority to investigate “to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections.” In other words, Barr was pushing his employees to go out on a witch hunt to do Trump’s bidding, searching for delusional fantasies to match Trump’s own.

For now, Republicans in the House and Senate are playing along. Only a handful of Republican elected officials have extended their congratulations to President-Elect Biden. Meanwhile, McConnell is placating Trump. In a press conference on Monday, McConnell said the president is “100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”


And while the usual suspects crow about counting every “legal” vote—a deafening dog whistle—the Republicans who have been the loudest about this voter fraud charade are Georgia Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The two have gone so far as to call for the resignation of Georgia’s (Republican) Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.

Conveniently, Loeffler and Perdue both face runoffs in January which will help determine the balance of power in the Senate. They’re the only two Senators who don’t have the luxury to relax right now, so they’re spending their valuable campaign time following conspiracy theories of election irregularities that do not exist.


From Politico:

“There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems,” Loeffler and Perdue said in a joint statement. “The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.”


Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger responded in a statement Monday saying he would not resign, and defended his office’s handling of the election. [...] He also took a shot at Perdue and Loeffler for their criticism: “As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”


While Loeffler and Perdue’s antics are more about self-preservation than licking Trump’s boots, their behavior helps Trump signal to his base that his election defeat is fraudulent. And while elected officials may not cosign this claim as readily as Trump’s surrogates, the rhetoric has made an impact. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair. This has only been aided by social media posts that have run rampant and spread easily debunked misinformation about the electoral process:


Still, while this is a bleak look at the months—if not years—ahead in which a sizable portion of the American electorate is convinced that Biden and the Democrats stole the election, it appears as if Trump’s avenues to steal it himself are turning into dead ends. Any skeptics need only look at the details of Trump’s latest lawsuit in Arizona. The Trump camp claimed that there was a “large scale” issue regarding incorrectly rejected ballots in Maricopa County. Maricopa Couty says the maximum number of ballots “potentially” impacted by this irregularity is 180.

You do the math.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.



We really can’t afford to be dismissive of this, the way we were dismissive of Trump’s campaign in 2015. Or how we were dismissive of Trump fighting the Mueller investigation in the press.

In fact what Trump is doing now is the same thing as what he did in the Mueller investigation: Muddy the waters just enough to give any supporter a justification to continue supporting him. This includes Senate and Congressional Repubs, judges, justices, prosecutors, AG’s, state legislatures, governors and slates of electors.

Make no mistake, as much of an insane long shot as it would be for Trump to successfully steal this election, he is taking the steps that would allow him to do so.