Romney takes public aim at Trump's 'undemocratic' scheme

Brief statements from Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse are a welcome first step, but what's the second?
Image: Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Feb. 4, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file

As Donald Trump positions himself as the first American president to try to nullify a national election, the scope of his party's cowardice is staggering. In a rather literal sense, Trump believes he has the authority to use his office in order to overturn the will of his own country's voters. Is there really no one in the Republican Party who will stand up to denounce such an autocratic scheme?

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) last night went further than most GOP officials in admonishing the outgoing president's tactics.

In a tweet, Romney said that Trump's team has failed to show any widespread fraud and slammed the president for allegedly pressuring state and local officials to "subvert the will of the people and overturn the election." Romney added, "It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President."

The Utahan's missive came on the heels of a related statement from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), which criticized Team Trump's lawyers for failing to produce any evidence to substantiate their wild claims, even in court, "because there are legal consequences for lying to judges."

Pointing to yesterday's bonkers event at the Republican National Committee, the Nebraskan added, "Wild press conferences erode public trust. So no, obviously Rudy and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute. We are a nation of laws, not tweets."

To be sure, it's a pleasant change of pace to see prominent GOP officials express a degree of discomfort with an American president attacking his own country's democracy. It's a step in the right direction. Trump may be slightly less eager to continue with his efforts to nullify an election if his party starts pushing back in support for the U.S. electoral system.

But brief statements from Romney and Sasse are unlikely to have real impact on the trajectory of the looming crisis. The efforts are welcome, but ultimately inadequate, in part because too few other Republicans have followed a similar course, and in part because Trump will treat their statements as annoying speed-bumps.

Steven Strauss, a Princeton professor, imagined this morning what would happen if a group of GOP senators, including folks like Romney and Sasse, sat down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). At the meeting, the Republicans could say they would block the rest of the party's agenda during the lame-duck session until the transition process to the incoming Biden administration began in earnest.

Would this produce meaningful results? Probably, yes.

And so we're left with a question: what are troubled GOP lawmakers prepared to do about their dissatisfaction with Trump's autocratic tactics? Brief statements are a welcome first step, but what's the second?