E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post, but he is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. Needless to say, he is well-qualified to opine on the current situation in Washington. This morning, I found his latest column in my inbox, and I found it well worth reading … and sharing. If we thought that the Republican Party would pull away from Trump as he throws his juvenile tantrum after losing the election, we were wrong … they are sticking to him like glue. Mr. Dionne reminds us that this is not new behaviour …
Of course Republicans are doing this. It’s who they are.
E.J. Dionne Jr.
November 11, 2020 at 4:19 p.m. EST
No. Not this time. Not again.
We knew that President Trump had no respect for democracy or the Constitution. So we’re not surprised that he’s lying, and lying, and lying again to claim he prevailed in the election that President-elect Joe Biden won decisively, fair and square.
What we did not know for certain was whether the Republican Party would once again bow before Trump’s corruption and his indifference to the fate of our republican institutions.
Well, the GOP has turned out to be as despicably ready to validate Trump’s falsehoods and authoritarian behavior as its worst critics feared. With precious few exceptions, Republican leaders are quite happy to be complicit in Trump’s subversion.
Some innocent souls still want to see the GOP as a normal party ready to work with Biden to solve the nation’s problems.
Sorry, but that party disappeared long ago, and we should not, in retrospect, have expected anything else. After all, this is not the first time that Republicans moved immediately to discredit a Democrat who won the presidency. It’s not even the second time. The practice of hamstringing a new Democratic president by suggesting that his victory wasn’t genuine goes all the way back to Bill Clinton.
Recall that in 1992, Clinton won an overwhelming 370-to-168 electoral college majority over then-President George H.W. Bush. Clinton beat Bush in the popular vote by 5.8 million. But the businessman Ross Perot ran a serious campaign as an independent and won 18.9 percent of the popular vote. As a result, Clinton’s share was 43 percent.
That was all the Republicans needed to assert that even though Clinton won, he was actually a loser. Then-Republican Senate leader Bob Dole declared the day after the election that Clinton had no “mandate” because “57 percent of the Americans who voted in the presidential election voted against Bill Clinton.”
Dole added: “I intend to represent that majority on the floor of the U.S. Senate.” Presto: A drubbing becomes a triumph.
To this day, many Republicans believe, because they have said it so often, that Perot was the reason Bush lost. But the data showed conclusively that this was not true.
The Voter Research & Surveys exit poll that year found that 38 percent of Perot voters listed Clinton as their second choice, and 38 percent listed Bush. The rest said they wouldn’t have voted if Perot hadn’t run.
Thus, a reallocation of Perot’s second choices showed that even if Perot hadn’t run, Clinton would have led Bush by roughly the same popular vote margin. And, at most, only Ohio would have flipped to Bush, leaving Clinton with a still-robust 349 electoral vote haul.
But the truth never caught up with reality. Clinton was hobbled right out of the gate.
In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by such an overwhelming margin (9.5 million popular votes, 365 to 173 in the electoral college) that even the most creative Republicans couldn’t spin that outcome into a defeat. But along came “birtherism,” the false charge (touted most notably by a guy named Trump) that Obama was ineligible to be president because he had not been born in the United States.
We forget how powerful a hold birtherism had on Republicans and how long it has hung around. The lie was ridiculous, outrageous and racist all at once. Obama kept hoping that the claim’s self-evident absurdity would discredit it. When that didn’t happen, he finally — more than two years after he was inaugurated — released his long-form birth certificate proving he had been born in Hawaii.
Even then, Trump wouldn’t give it up. For example, he tweeted on Aug. 6, 2012: “An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that @Barack-Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”
This is the man Republicans are backing up as he makes equally ludicrous claims about our election. They are doing it to make sure Trump voters in Georgia turn out for two Republican senators in a January runoff election. They are doing it because they fear Trump. But they are also doing it to weaken Biden and make it harder for him to govern.
And notice how Republicans have escalated their level of irresponsibility over the years. They started with a phony election analysis in 1992; by 2008, they were allowing a wild lie to poison the consciousness of their base. Now, they are willing to do something even worse. As Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of “How Democracies Die,” said in an interview, the GOP could “damage the legitimacy not just of Biden but of our democracy as a whole.”
Biden keeps telling us: “We are not enemies. We are Americans.”
That’s decent and honorable. But enemies or not, the Republican Party’s leaders are behaving like a nest of vipers. Be wary, Mr. President-elect.