Last week, leaders of Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature showed no interest in nullifying their state's election results, even after Donald Trump pressed them to do exactly that. But GOP leaders in Harrisburg also felt as if they had to do something to satisfy the party and its base.
And so, on Friday, dozens of Republican state legislators signed a joint statement, calling on Pennsylvania's congressional delegation to object to their own state's electoral college votes.
This won't amount to anything, but Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R) -- one of the recipients of a presidential lobbying call -- acknowledged the pressure Republicans are feeling from the party's rabid base. Ward told the New York Times she didn't see her colleagues' joint statement before its release, but she added that openly defying Trump's anti-election crusade might have led to her house being "bombed."
In all likelihood, the GOP legislator wasn't being literal -- at least, I hope not. But Ward's candor is emblematic of a larger truth: Trump's lies are being embraced with unnerving vigor by far-right activists, who in turn are creating real-world threats. The New York Times reported in a separate article today:
Despite his clear loss, Mr. Trump has shown no intention of stopping his sustained assault on the American electoral process. But his baseless conspiracy theories about voting fraud have devolved into an exercise in delegitimizing the election results, and the rhetoric is accelerating among his most fervent allies. This has prompted outrage among Trump loyalists and led to behavior that Democrats and even some Republicans say has become dangerous.
As we discussed the other day, the list includes some frightening examples. Armed men gathered outside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home, for example, and made loud threats. Officials in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Vermont have also reportedly been the target of violent threats from right-wing radicals.
The Times' new report added to the list, including Ann Jacobs, the chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, explaining that extremists have begun posting photographs of her home online. One of the threats she received specifically referenced her children.
That this is dangerous and tragic is obvious. But it's also important to acknowledge the inevitability of the circumstances.
Something the Washington Post's Michael Gerson wrote in a column last week stood out for me: "By claiming the plot against his rightful rule was successfully coordinated across several states, Trump is not merely claiming instances of election fraud. He is alleging that the American system of democratic government has failed, which implies a right to revolution. By demanding specific, unlawful acts to overturn results in a fair election, he is urging authoritarian solutions to his political problems."
And the outgoing president's followers, unaware of the fact that Trump is lying to them about the election results, aren't just hearing the undemocratic signals from their leader, some are acting on them.
In theory, Republican Party leaders could send a reality-based message to their base, telling them the truth about the integrity and reliability of their own country's electoral system, but they don't want to. Some GOP officials agree with the outgoing president's nonsense, some see value in an enraged and agitated base, and some are simply too cowardly to do the right thing.
The results are plain. The Times' article added, "Many Republican leaders in critical swing states are standing behind the president's false narrative, unwilling to contradict his claims. Along with the president, their stance is further convincing tens of millions of Americans that the electoral process is too corroded to legitimately deliver the presidency to anyone whose name is not Trump."
There was a school of thought in GOP circles last month that Trump's anti-election tantrum was meaningless theater. He'd stomp his feet, raise some money, and file pointless lawsuits, but the world would move on without him.
Trump's followers never saw the wink and the nod. They believe the lies, and some of them are engaging in dangerous intimidation campaigns.
Last week, Gabriel Sterling, a conservative Republican who helps oversee Georgia's elections operations, delivered an impassioned plea to Donald Trump and GOP leaders to stop attacking the United States' elections. "It has all gone too far," he said. "All of it."
The Georgian specifically implored Trump to "step up," adding, "Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it's not right."
The outgoing president responded by doing the opposite. Republican leaders apparently don't care.