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Why Trump's anti-election calls to Republican officials matter

As he calls state GOP officials, demanding election "help," Trump is the first president to actively try to hold onto power through illegitimate means.
Image: Donald Trump in Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on Aug. 27, 2018.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

The first sign of trouble came on Nov. 20, about two weeks after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. At Donald Trump's request, the top Republican lawmakers from Michigan's state legislature arrived at the White House for an outlandish reason: the sitting American president wanted their help trying to subvert election results he didn't like.

A couple of weeks later, Trump was on the phone with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), lobbying the governor to ignore his state's election results and help execute a scheme in which Georgia would send pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, voters be damned.

Overnight, the Washington Post reported overnight on a third such example.

President Trump called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives twice during the past week to make an extraordinary request for help reversing his loss in the state, reflecting a broadening pressure campaign by the president and his allies to try to subvert the 2020 election result. The calls, confirmed by House Speaker Bryan Cutler's office, make Pennsylvania the third state where Trump has directly attempted to overturn a result since he lost the election to former vice president Joe Biden.

In theory, revelations like these would spark a scandal so intense, the outgoing president would have no choice but to back off. In 2020, however, Trump doesn't seem to care at all about the controversy. The Post's report added that he's asked his campaign lawyers "for more names" of GOP lawmakers whose arms he might try to twist.

"He's going to keep doing this until the 14th [of December] at the least," one Republican involved in the operation said. "The president sees no advantage to stopping this."

This matters for a variety of reasons. Let's start with the most obvious: Trump is the first American president to actively try to hold onto power through illegitimate means.

Writing in The Atlantic yesterday, Zeynep Tufekci explained, "The U.S. president is trying to steal the election, and, crucially, his party either tacitly approves or is pretending not to see it. This is a particularly dangerous combination, and makes it much more than just typical Trumpian bluster or norm shattering."

A month ago today, a senior Republican official said Trump's anti-election antics were largely meaningless, arguing, "It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20." It's painfully obvious that Trump is absolutely plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20.

Yes, those efforts are clumsy and ridiculous. Yes, his gambit is failing and will continue to fail. But that doesn't negate the fact that this is one of the most momentous presidential disgraces Americans have ever seen.

What's more, Trump's antics may not be legal. As Rachel noted on the show last night, if you or I called election officials, and lobbied them to produce deliberately bogus election results, there's a pretty good chance we'd face an indictment.

Andrew Weissman, a longtime Justice Department official who helped lead Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, explained in more detail last night how Trump's election interference may very well run afoul of federal law.

NBC News' First Read team recently framed the larger story in a compelling way: "Forget Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Or Trump's impeachment for asking Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Arguably the biggest political scandal we've ever seen in this country is playing right before our eyes: President Trump and his allies are trying to reverse the election results of a contest he lost."

That was on Nov. 18. It's an even bigger scandal now.