Evidently, in Republican circles, Monday's electoral college vote was something of a tipping point. The number of GOP lawmakers acknowledging Joe Biden as the president-elect jumped, at least a little, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), six weeks after Election Day, grudgingly spoke on his chamber's floor, congratulating the winner of the 2020 election.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't have been an especially provocative step, but in the waning weeks of Donald Trump's presidency, nothing is normal. With this in mind, McConnell took great care yesterday, alerting the White House to his intentions in advance. Politico reported, "What might have been a pro forma congratulatory speech had morphed into an exceedingly delicate issue in GOP politics: finally admitting that Biden won."
The efforts apparently went unappreciated in the Oval Office.
After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally acknowledged on Tuesday that Joe Biden is the president-elect, President Trump publicly pleaded with him to support his continued efforts to upend the election with baseless claims of mass electoral fraud. "Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up," the president tweeted at nearly 1 a.m. Wednesday. "Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!"
The individual elements are notable in their own right. For example, if some people are "angry" about the election results, it's because Trump has spent a ridiculous amount of time lying to them. What's more, the outgoing president may be impressed by the 74.2 million votes he received, but the tally would be more impressive if Joe Biden hadn't earned 81.2 million votes.
But stepping back, it's the bigger picture that's more notable.
First, it was on Thanksgiving when a reporter asked Trump whether he'd prepare to exit the White House if members of the electoral college backed Biden. "Certainly, I will," the Republican replied. "Certainly, I will. And you know that." The outgoing president's perspective has clearly changed: "Too soon to give up" suggests Trump intends to keep his crusade going, through efforts unknown, on a timetable only he's aware of.
Second, while McConnell probably isn't pleased to be on the receiving end of another Trump tantrum, the Senate Republican leader needs to know he's partially responsible for helping create this mess. The GOP leader spent six weeks indulging the outgoing president's fantasy, playing along with the dangerous charade, refusing to honor the will of his own country's voters.
Maybe McConnell saw a fundraising opportunity for his party. Perhaps he thought agitating far-right voters would help give Republicans a better chance in Georgia's Senate runoff elections. Maybe he simply lacked the courage to do the right thing.
Whatever the motivation, McConnell had ample opportunity to steer the GOP away from its anti-democracy campaign, and he chose not to. He shouldn't be too surprised when Trump, in effect, demands that the Kentuckian keep playing the same game McConnell willingly embraced for six weeks.
As for the road ahead, Senate Republican leaders, including McConnell, urged their members yesterday not to object to the election results in early January, when lawmakers formally ratify the election results. GOP leaders were not, however, principally concerned with propriety: the argument was, Republican members shouldn't object because it would force GOP senators into casting an anti-Trump vote that would only further divide the party.
It's against this backdrop that the outgoing president is telling McConnell, "Republican Party must finally learn to fight." Watch this space.
Update: Greg Sargent had a good piece along these lines, explaining, "McConnell is trying to prevent any and all Senate Republicans from endorsing the idea that Trump actually won the election, but not because he thinks GOP voters deserve the basic respect of being told the truth. With some notable exceptions, most Republicans, McConnell included, treated it as simply unthinkable that they would tell their voters the truth about Trump’s loss until they absolutely had to. After cynically feeding the lie that Biden wasn’t the clear winner for as long as he personally could, McConnell is only trying to get fellow Republicans to refrain from further feeding that beast because the alternative will give birth to a beast that’s even worse. Their contempt for their own voters is bottomless."