If any Senate Republicans can be expected to take a responsible line on the 2020 elections, it's Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). He chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over federal election laws; he's a former Missouri secretary of state with experience administering elections; and his panel is responsible for overseeing the 2021 presidential inauguration.
With this in mind, Blunt talked to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, and the host asked the Republican senator why he simply can't bring himself to acknowledge Joe Biden's victory. If we're grading on a curve, Blunt's answer was almost reasonable: he said it's time for Donald Trump's lawyers to present evidence, and he conceded that any possible changes to vote totals in the coming days are "unlikely" to "make a difference."
And yet, two days later, the Missouri Republican appeared before the cameras on Capitol Hill and declared, "You know, the president wasn't defeated by huge number. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all."
In other words, confronted with reality, Roy Blunt's posture managed to get worse between Sunday and Tuesday. The more obvious Biden's victory, the more the senator's instinct to prioritize his party's talking points got the better of him.
He's hardly alone. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who's worked for years on ensuring smooth presidential transitions, was asked yesterday whether he's prepared to congratulate the president-elect on his victory. "No," the Wisconsin Republican replied. "There's nothing to congratulate him about."
A Washington Post report published overnight summarized the political dynamic succinctly:
Republican officials across Washington are acquiescing to and amplifying President Trump's baseless claim that he won the 2020 presidential election — raising the risk of undermining the public's faith in the vote and, by obstructing President-elect Joe Biden's transition, potentially imperiling national security. In recent days, Trump's appointees and allies have alighted on a strategy to support his refusal to admit defeat and initiate a peaceful transfer of power. Instead, they are nurturing the president's ego by indulging his delusions about the vote count and fueling conspiracy theories that the election is being stolen from him.
To reiterate a point from Monday, it's a problem that Donald Trump has created an alternate reality for himself in which he won the election he actually lost. There are potential real-world consequences for the outgoing president playing make-believe in such a dangerous fashion.
But it's a vastly more significant problem that congressional Republican leaders, many of whom know better, have decided to indulge Trump's attack on their own country's democracy, indifferent to the consequences.
On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Chris Murphy explained, "There is an epidemic of delusion that is spreading out from the White House and infecting the entire Republican Party."
There's a cure that would end this epidemic -- acknowledging reality -- but most GOP officials would prefer that the delusion spread.
There's room for discussion about the party's motivations. It's entirely possible that Republican leaders have grown fearful of Trump's followers, so they reflexively echo whatever nonsense the outgoing president peddles. It's equally possible GOP officials expect Trump to run again in 2024 -- a point Republicans such as Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio have emphasized in recent days -- so they're trying to stay on his good side.
Of course, the most likely explanation is that the party has been Trumpified to such an extent that rejecting reality and spouting baseless conspiracy theories has simply become the party's new normal.
I keep thinking about something Politico's Tim Alberta wrote the other day, "We don't yet have any evidence proving voter fraud was committed in this election. We do have evidence that Republicans -- from the president to congressional leaders to the party chair and her aides -- are lying to the public."
In an accompanying article, Alberta added, "After four years of turning a blind eye to the president's subversive rhetoric and manic behavior and relentless dishonesty, the ultimate test for the Republican Party was whether it would accommodate the president's rebellion against this country's democratic norms or denounce it. The Republican Party has failed that test.... A healthy Republican Party would not abide this.... In November 2016, Republicans looked upon Trump's victory and wondered if there was any going back. In November 2020, they looked upon Trump's defeat and decided the answer was no."