Republicans bite their tongues following Trump's election threats

The sooner Republicans rediscover the principles they "used to believe in," the sooner Trump will stop assuming he can get away with anything.
President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Committee
President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Committee winter meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Feb. 1, 2018.Olivier Douliery / Pool via Getty Images file

Donald Trump and his team haven't been subtle about their plans for this evening and the days that follow. "[W]e're going to go in night of, as soon as that election is over, we're going in with our lawyers," the president assured his followers over the weekend.

The Republican incumbent didn't say specifically what he expects his lawyers to do, but in context, the president seemed to signal his intention to derail the vote-counting process in key states. Indeed, the president has repeatedly argued in recent days that all vote counting should end on Election Day -- something that's never happened in the history of the United States.

Americans have nevertheless heard quite a bit from Trump along these lines. Indeed, the New York Times reported over the weekend, "Trump advisers said their best hope was if the president wins Ohio and Florida is too close to call early in the night, depriving Biden a swift victory and giving Trump the room to undermine the validity of uncounted mail-in ballots in the days after."

A day later, Jason Miller, a top member of Trump's campaign team, told ABC News that he expects the president to be "ahead on Election Night," at which point Democrats will "try to steal it back" -- as if Team Trump sees vote-counting as inherently pernicious.

Is the Republican Party fully on board with an autocratic re-election strategy predicated in disenfranchising as many Americans as possible? Politico reported this morning that GOP officials are "publicly silent," but "privately disgusted" by Trump's election threats.

[M]ost Republicans, from critics to allies of Trump, have remained publicly silent. It's not new for Trump's party brethren to duck and cover when he says something troubling. But after five years of perfecting the art of explaining how they "didn't see the tweet" — the much parodied talking point to which Republicans on Capitol Hill often resort — it is shocking but not surprising that they aren't speaking up now, even when the integrity of America's electoral system is under attack by their party's leader.... Efforts to solicit on the record comment from a broad range of party leaders Monday were met with indifference.

Granted anonymity, however, Republicans loosen up.

"It's despicable and un-American but not surprising," one senior Senate GOP aide said of Team Trump's anti-voting antics. "They have never had any respect for the institutions of democracy that don't benefit them. The beauty of federalism is that we leave it to the states to make their own rules and the idea that a president would overturn a state official's decision to benefit them in an election is just kind of the antithesis of what Republicans used to believe in."

The aide added, "It's just one final F.U. to what Republicans used to believe in."

Substantively, that's obviously true. But politically, the fact that so many in the GOP refuse to tell hard truths like these have real-world effects: Trump is counting on his party and its leaders to smile and nod, quietly going along with his autocratic antics, without regard for consequences.

The sooner Republicans rediscover the principles they "used to believe in," the sooner Trump will stop assuming he can get away with anything.