Republicans know Trump's attempt to overturn the election is dangerous, but they're too cowardly to fight it

Anthony L. Fisher
trump supporter guy fawkes mask
A protester in front of the Oregon State Capitol during a Stop the Steal rally on November 7 in Salem, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump's fake voter-fraud allegations continue to get laughed out of court, and his administration's own attorney general, Bill Barr, acknowledged Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no meaningful evidence to support them.

  • Republican lawmakers are torn. They know Joe Biden won fair and square and want voters to trust the democratic process, but they're too cowed by the Cult of Trump to say "enough." 

  • Given Trump's cult of personality, it could take a generation for millions of conservatives to believe a Republican electoral defeat is legitimate. 

  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump's fake voter-fraud allegations continue to get laughed out of court. He's literally running out of states in which to stage his pathetic coup attempt. Even his administration's own attorney general, Bill Barr, told the Associated Press on Tuesday, "We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election."

Within a few hours, the Justice Department tepidly softened Barr's statement, adding that the investigation that had turned up no meaningful voter fraud was not yet completed.

Barr has been one of Trump's most loyal attack dogs, so this all should be over now, but it won't be. Several die-hard media Trumpists immediately pounced on Barr for his insolence, including the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who called Barr "either a liar of a fool or both" and insinuated he might be "compromised."

If Trumpism has shown us anything, it's that it can always go lower.

And when it does, Republicans will issue tepid throat clearings rather than the more appropriate response to such despicable behavior: forceful denunciations.

One such lonely Republican, the Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, plainly and angrily said Trump's attack on the democratic process risked "inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence" and "has to stop."

This is what Republicans should be doing, but Sterling is unrepresentative of his party. More typical is Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who reportedly told a former county-level Republican chairman that he knew Biden won fair and square but that to admit so publicly would be "political suicide."

That kind of cynicism might keep someone in good standing with the Cult of Trump. The cost is that extricating Trumpism from the Republican Party becomes impossible.

Even after Trump leaves the White House, hang-dog Republicans know he's still the boss.

Trump's lawyers v. Trump's attorney general

On cue upon Barr's statement clearing American democracy of any "Crimes Against Trump," the ever-more-disgraced Rudy Giuliani and the fellow Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis released a statement saying Barr's "opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud."

This bears repeating: Trump's lawyers are arguing that Trump's Justice Department came to the conclusion the election was clean "without any knowledge or investigation."

Trumpism is not based in reality.

It's a grievance culture whose boogeyman changes on the whims of its most prominent conspiracy theorists and ultranationalists. That's how 2016's "economic anxiety" and fear of Muslim refugees and Latin American migrants morphed into 2020's terror over Black Lives Matter and antifa invading the suburbs.

Fact-based arguments go in one ear and out the other for the true Trump believers. It's fear that holds their imagination.

Trump v. Trump's party

One of the reasons there is no bottom to Trumpist disinformation is that Republicans have allowed themselves to be caught in Trump's trap.

GOP lawmakers, for the most part, dare not tell him to stand down and accept the will of the people, lest they incur a tweet that siccs the most excitable and least informed Trump followers upon them. This is in keeping with the tradition of the past four years, when Republican lawmakers have played footsie with Trump's most outlandish and baseless conspiracy theories when they're not endorsing them outright.

That's how you get a situation in which Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia - currently campaigning in one of two runoff elections that will determine the balance of power in the Senate - publicly endorses Trump's democracy-undermining scam. At the same time, one of her top campaign advisors publicly wishes Trump would knock it off because telling Georgia Republicans that the election was rigged is likely to depress voter turnout in the runoffs.

Consequentially, numerous surveys since Election Day indicate Republicans don't trust the 2020 presidential election results. A poll released this week from YouGov and Bright Line Watch found only about 20% of Republican respondents believed Biden really won, and almost half thought Trump would still be inaugurated once again on January 20.

The president - who still has not issued a basic concession of material facts that might reassure the public he respects the same democratic process that put him in office - on Tuesday morning tweeted directly at Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, to "call off" those very same Senate runoff elections.

Notably, Trump's dictatorial call came in the form of a quote tweet of the far-right Gateway Pundit honcho Jim Hoft, who shared a story from an obscure right-wing website about a random guy livestreaming his stalking of a rental truck that he's certain was carrying corrupt voting machines. That's it.

Dumb stuff to be sure, and not particularly novel in the Trump era.

We've all become numb to the many layers of malevolent stupidity Trumpism traffics in to keep its base angry and mistrustful of reality. But the president of the United States publicly and brazenly interfering with the democratic process, even after his legal team's multistate faceplant, remains legitimately dangerous.

Trump's former lawyer Sidney Powell retweeted an image calling for a coup d'etat, a suspension of democracy, and "military tribunals." And one of his current lawyers, Joe DiGenova, said the Trump administration's recently fired cybersecurity chief, Christopher Krebs, should be both "taken out at dawn and shot" and "drawn and quartered." And there is no shortage of examples of media Trumpists essentially calling for martial law.

Krebs' crime against the Cult of Trump was simply telling the truth, which is that there was "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

Trump and his minions' undermining the integrity of the election through brazen lies dredged from the scumbucket of the internet isn't merely unseemly and distasteful. It's an attack that will leave permanent damage. Given Trump's cult of personality, it could take a generation for millions of conservatives to believe a Republican electoral defeat is legitimate.

Trump's tweets are not the harmless last gasps of an accident of history, when a corrupt, failed businessman posing as a tycoon on a TV game show became the leader of the free world.

There will come a time when Trump's mouthing off will not be news. But for as long as he's the president, his words have great consequence. And Republicans and conservative commentators who enable it with silence or outright support have failed their country.

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