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Image: Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on July 20, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

Seeking illegitimate power, Trump insists Republicans owe him

As Trump sees it, he helped Republicans win, so they now have a responsibility to give him illegitimate power he did not earn.


It took far longer than it should have, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) grudgingly spoke on his chamber's floor last week, congratulating President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election following a vote from members of the electoral college. This week, congressional Republican received an email from the White House with a strange rejoinder from Donald Trump.

A graphic was attached to the email, obtained by NBC News, and it showed a timeline of McConnell's polling numbers since May against his 2020 Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath. It suggested that McConnell was re-elected only because of Trump. It said: "Sadly, Mitch forgot. He was the first one off the ship!"

None of this made any sense. For one thing, plenty of other GOP elected officials had recognized Biden as the president-elect before McConnell did. For another, the idea that Trump was singlehandedly responsible for carrying the incumbent Kentucky Republican to victory is hilarious: the White House cherry-picked a relatively obscure poll to bolster a foolish point, but McConnell had a double-digit advantage for months.

But far more important than the details is the underlying point: Trump believes he saved McConnell's career, which in turn leads the outgoing president to believe McConnell has a responsibility to help the White House nullify the results of an election.

The Republicans' Senate leader has plenty of company. In Wisconsin, state Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn is a conservative jurist who recently ruled against a weak case filed by the Trump campaign. As Hagedorn sees it, he had a responsibility to put politics aside and follow the law.

The president responded by boasting that he helped elect Hagedorn -- in Wisconsin, voters choose their state Supreme Court justices -- suggesting the conservative had betrayed him. (Hagedorn and his family now have extra police protection.)

Last night, Trump kept the offensive going, arguing via Twitter that Senate Republicans would be in the minority were it not for his endorsements. Responding to Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who explained this week that challenging the election results in Congress will not work, the outgoing president called the GOP leader a "RINO" -- "Republican in Name Only" -- before adding, "He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!"

The fact that Trump is whining incessantly is not especially interesting. What's more, the fact that the president is desperately looking for increasingly pitiful ways to lobby his ostensible allies isn't especially notable, either. But the not-so-subtle subtext actually matters.

Let's say the president was right about his electoral calculations. He's not, but consider the hypothetical. Let's say Mitch McConnell, Brian Hagedorn, and a legion of other GOP officeholders owe their careers to Donald Trump and his gracious political benevolence. He endorsed these Republicans, and Trump's followers dutifully did as they were told, carrying these candidates to victory in races they otherwise would have lost.

In Trump's mind, this necessarily means they owe him. And what, specifically, do they owe? Based on this week's tantrums, his successful endorsements mean that Republicans have a duty to assist his scheme to nullify election results.

As far as Trump is concerned, he's entitled to their fealty, no matter the nature of the request. He has, for all intents and purposes, bought it. The outgoing president did them an electoral favor, so they now have a responsibility to give him illegitimate power he did not earn.

This isn't how reality works. Trump clearly doesn't care.