Opinion: If there’s any decency left in the GOP, now would be a good time to exercise it
As the electoral tide was turning against him, President Trump went on television Thursday evening to do a passable imitation of Captain Queeg, the paranoid naval commander played by Humphrey Bogart in “The Caine Mutiny.” Trump’s rant included characteristically unsupported allegations about election fraud and this assertion: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win.”
For good measure, Trump made insinuations about vote counting in Detroit and Philadelphia, cities with large African American populations that he called “two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country.”
It was a performance both outrageous and pathetic. So how did prominent Republicans respond?
A few rose to the occasion.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland called out Trump in a tweet: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process.”
Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who is retiring from the House, tweeted: “A sitting president undermining our political process & questioning the legality of the voices of countless Americans without evidence is not only dangerous & wrong, it undermines the very foundation this nation was built upon. Every American should have his or her vote counted.”
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote to convict Trump at his impeachment trial, was initially veiled in his criticism, tweeting on Thursday: “Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy.” But Romney followed up Friday with a more pointed comment, saying that Trump was “wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen.”
No such clear criticism has come Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In what might be the ultimate subtweet, McConnell on Friday morning tweeted: “Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes.”
Imagine if that statement had been preceded by: “Don’t listen to President Trump.”
But for too many Republican leaders, even now, Trump is the Lord Voldemort of politics: He who must not be named.
At least McConnell didn’t endorse Trump’s conspiracy theories or his claim that he had won the election. By contrast, McConnell’s counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, said on Fox News: “President Trump won this election. So everyone who is listening, do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.” (A political analyst tweeted that McCarthy clarified that comment later, saying that he didn’t intend to declare Trump the victor but rather was crediting the president with Republican wins in House races.)
On Friday the White House issued a statement by Trump that was less unhinged than his televised monologue, but essentially floated the same false narrative about widespread election mischief and attempts by Democrats to count illegal ballots. Republicans still need to call him on this disinformation.
The president may have lost the election, but he still casts a sinister spell over too many Republican leaders. The problem for Joe Biden is that Trump might continue to exercise that influence even after leaving the White House.
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