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Ludicrous Texas anti-election lawsuit jolts Republican politics

Don't be too quick to laugh off the Paxton lawsuit. When a political party decides democracy is a problem that needs to be contested, it's dangerous.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton addresses reporters on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton addresses reporters on the steps of the Supreme Court on March 2, 2016, in Washington.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

On the surface, the circumstances sound almost comical. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, under criminal indictment and facing an FBI investigation, filed a lawsuit this week asking the Supreme Court to invalidate votes in states that supported the Democratic presidential ticket. Legal experts from the left, right, and center quickly denounced the case as ridiculous.

Which, as NBC News' Pete Williams explained late yesterday, it clearly is.

President Donald Trump calls it "the big one," but the Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate President-elect Joe Biden's election victory at the Supreme Court has several problems that doom it, according to experts on election law.... Officials from both parties in the states named in the lawsuit ripped Paxton's challenge as "a publicity stunt" loaded with "false and irresponsible" allegations.

It's tempting to simply end the conversation there. A scandal-plagued state AG, likely looking for a presidential pardon, filed a hopeless and pitiful lawsuit, built on an "utterly ridiculous" foundation, targeting the administration of other states' electoral systems for no credible reason. What more is there to talk about?

As it turns out, plenty. Because as blisteringly stupid as Ken Paxton's case is, what matters more is how Republican officials responded -- and to an unnerving extent, embraced -- the Texas Republican's ludicrous anti-election effort.

Broadly speaking, there are three GOP contingents to consider. The first is Republican attorneys general, 17 of whom decided yesterday to formally endorse the Texas case. In other words, there are now 18 states -- Texas and its 17 new partners -- actively involved in trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate tens of millions of American votes without cause. Their party lost an election, and rather than accepting voters' verdict, 18 Republican-led states expect Republican-approved justices to overturn Americans' will.

This, alone, is a national embarrassment that will not soon fade.

But this, alas, is just the start. Donald Trump yesterday threw his support behind the crazypants litigation, partnering with John Eastman, a fringe lawyer who argued this year that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is ineligible for national office because her parents are immigrants. The president and his lawyer made a court filing yesterday filled with factual errors -- including an obvious one literally on the first page.

What's more, after Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R) recognized the Texas case as bananas, Trump reportedly reached out to Carr directly, warning the Georgia Republican not to explain reality to other GOP officials.

Finally, there are congressional Republicans, many of whom appear a bit too eager to back this obvious nonsense. In the House, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) began soliciting signatures for an anti-election court filing, while in the Senate, GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) volunteered to argue the Paxton lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court.

To be sure, this insane case will almost certainly be laughed out of court. It's simply too bonkers for even the most reactionary, far-right judges. But the fact that it exists, and has picked up broad support from leading Republican officials, is a painful reminder of a toxicity in the body politic.

Yes, Paxton's case is stupid. Yes, it will fail. But in 2020, we've reached the point in our history at which much of a major political party believes election results they don't like should be overturned -- because they say so.

It's one thing when Sidney "Kraken" Powell files a silly case, drawing derision and chuckles from observers. It's something else when 18 attorneys general file an anti-election lawsuit, and it received vigorous support from many federal lawmakers and the sitting president of the United States.

Republicans don't have proof or evidence that can withstand meaningful scrutiny, but they have some weird tweets and a handful of discredited conspiracy theories, which they hope to use to nullify states whose voters had the temerity to reject a failed and corrupt candidate.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes added yesterday, "Like so much of what's happened over the last month the Texas lawsuit is both laughably buffoonish and just unspeakably poisonous in what it represents."

When a major American political party decides democracy is a problem that needs to be contested, the United States faces the kind of danger it is not accustomed to seeing.