The story of the great Republican crackup

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"We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means." – C.S. Lewis, "On living in an atomic age," 1948.

It’s amazing to write, but the biggest political story in Georgia today is not about Tuesday’s white-knuckle, two-seat runoff election with control of the Senate on the line. 

Instead, it is a recording of President Trump badgering the state’s elections chief to swipe Georgia’s electoral votes for him.

Or, as Trump might characterize it, swipe them back.

In a leaked recording of a weekend call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the president tells Raffensperger to "find" just one more vote than needed to reverse President-elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote Georgia victory.

Trump told Raffensperger – who rejected the demand – that such corruption is merited because he really won the state by "hundreds of thousands of votes."

The claim is, of course, hogwash. But the fact that Trump is still trying so hard to filch a second term and the fact that so many Republicans are still playing along despite Trump’s conduct is one of the biggest stories of the century so far.

What Trump is doing with the help of many members of his party is certainly the most historically significant part of his presidency – more than an impeachment, more than judicial appointments or any piece of policy. It is unprecedented and deals with matters central to the survival of the republic

This is truly Trump’s legacy project, and its disposition will have a great deal to say about the future of a badly divided Republican Party and also our capacity as Americans for self-governance in the era of brain-dead partisanship and easy disinformation.

We’ve tried not to spend too much time on the flapdoodle of Trump’s attempts. They may be significant for history taken as a whole but they are crushingly boring and mostly irrelevant as a matter of day-to-day news.

Trump team: Everyone is ignoring the massive fraud that destroyed our democracy!!!!!!!!

Justices/judges/law enforcement/elections officials: Whoa! We’re all ears! Please show us the evidence!

Trump team: Trump was winning and then they kept counting votes and then he lost.

Justices/judges/law enforcement/elections officials: Ah! That’s because some states counted mail-in ballots last, and Democrats dominated among mail-in voters. Because of the pandemic, there were lots more mail-in votes this year. You’re claiming fraud. You need proof of fraud.

Trump team: *shuffles papers and mumbles* Your demand PROVES that you are part of the Chinese Communist effort to destroy America. Do what we want or we will destroy you!!!!

Justices/judges/law enforcement/elections officials: K bye. 

It has been the equivalent of a two-month-long Michael Avenatti interview and just as painful to endure. #basta 

But with Trump on tape trying to bully an elected official into fabricating an election result and senators falling all over themselves to join Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in turning Wednesday’s congressional certification of results into reality television, it seems like today is the time to slip on our hazmat suit and get into it.

Fox News has lots of great coverage of the Georgia runoffs ahead of Tuesday’s conclusion (though the actual counting may go on much longer – sorry) and we will be back before the polls close with our full analysis of the race. If you’d like some great context and deep background, Chris joined Abby Hornacek on her latest "Getting Schooled" podcast to talk about the peculiar history and details of this week’s runoffs.

The two subjects are certainly intertwined. If Republicans do manage to lose the Senate in Georgia, Trump’s desperate bid to cling to power and the efforts by Republicans to help him will be the main reason.

The key swing voters in Georgia are those mostly-affluent suburbanites who split their votes between Biden for president and the Republican Senate candidates. If the purpose of having a Republican Senate is to support Trump, even to the point of this absurdity, then those folks won’t really want a Republican Senate. In fact, they might want to send a message to the GOP about the way their senators have been behaving.

Add in those poor souls who really believe Trump’s claims of massive, uncorrected, systemic electoral fraud who decide not to vote and you have created the only conditions under which Republicans really could lose the Senate.

Trump has promised to bring lots of new allegations of misconduct against Georgia’s elections officials to his rally tonight in Dalton, a small city just across the border from Chattanooga in a county where Trump won 70 percent of the vote.  

We can imagine that in the wake of Sunday’s revelations, Trump’s attacks on the electoral system will be even more intense than in his December rally.

That’s a long way of saying: please enjoy the thread below which aims to trace the arc of the Republican meltdown and what it may portend. We think you’ll get something out of it and, hey, you can at least say it was worth the price.

See you Tuesday with the nitty gritty on Georgia. 

Backbone backfire - Pity poor James Lankford, the unlikeliest member of the Senate’s new election deflection brigade. His sudden and deep dive into the realm of the Kraken is quite reflective of how this mania spread in the GOP.

The junior senator from Oklahoma is up for re-election next year in a state Trump just carried by 33 points. But on Nov. 11, Republican Lankford did something the president very much did not like.  

While Lankford did not say the truth that Joe Biden had won the presidency, he did say that Biden needed to start receiving intelligence briefings immediately as part of a potential transition.

Lankford, a member of the committee with oversight of the agency that facilitates presidential transitions, said on Tulsa talk radio: "I will step in as well to be able to push to say: ‘This needs to occur.’ So that regardless of the outcome of the election — whichever way that it goes — people can be ready for that actual task."

Despite having been in the Senate for only five years, Lankford was esteemed among his colleagues. He replaced the legendary Tom Coburn and seemed to be growing into the job. In addition to his perch on Homeland Security and other high-profile committees, Lankford was chosen to be the chairman of the ethics committee.

So perhaps he didn’t think it would be such a big deal that he would say Biden should be briefed. After all, Lankford had gently criticized Trump’s Lafayette Park Bible brandishing photo-op in June and seemed to have suffered little for the president’s rebuke.

Lankford was unlucky, this time, though. While other Republican senators would soon make less ambiguous statements about the need to get on with an orderly transition, Lankford’s hit just before the wave crested and so got lots of coverage from reporters looking for evidence of a Trump-Senate GOP split.

Like many Republicans, Lankford may have assumed that after Trump had used up his legal options for contesting the election that things would die down. What they did not know was that Trump was not running a legal effort, but rather another campaign.

The brunt of that campaign came down on Lankford and the senator soon buckled. Five days after saying that the matter needed to be resolved immediately, Lankford said he was "not in a hurry" to get Biden briefed.  


Lankford must have heard the drooling of his potential primary challengers. If a major question for primaries in states like Oklahoma next year will be how abject one’s support for the former president has been, Lankford has trouble. Rep. Markwayne Mullinfor example, is about as abject as they come.

By allowing that Biden might win and saying that he would "push" the Trump administration, Lankford plopped himself in the prone position before the onrushing mass hysteria that grips the populist right.

And that is how Lankford, once the boy wonder of the Boehnerite faction of the House GOP and up-and-comer of Mitch McConnell’s Senate squad, ended up signing on to Cruz’s radical effort to subvert the election.

Failing forward - Not that it will succeed. Like a lot of the chicanery we’ve seen in Trump’s effort to cling to power, Cruz’s bid relies on the knowledge of its participants that it will fail.  

It’s one thing to attempt to overturn an election for the sake of staging a made-for-TV spectacle on Wednesday, but neither Lankford nor any of the notorious self-promoters on Team Cruz would do it if it might actually work. None would want to be remembered by history as having precipitated what would surely be the worst crisis since the Civil War.

This is only par for Cruz, whom many Americans first got to know as the architect of the bogus 2013 "defund ObamaCare" government shutdown. Then he succored Trump’s 2016 candidacy when he thought it would benefit him but concluded his doomed run lashed up with John Kasich and Carly Fiorina in a desperate, goofball bid to block Trump. The guy who told delegates in Cleveland that year to "vote your conscience" may have abrogated his former views, but never his ambition.

Cruz, six other senators and four senators-elect have joined together to demand that Congress select a commission to perform a 10-day "emergency audit" of the election results and present its findings to state legislatures just a few days before the Jan. 20 inauguration so they could select new electors and strip Biden of the presidency.  

Unless their demands are met (which they won’t be) Cruz, & Co. say they will vote against certifying the votes of "disputed" electors (of which there are none).

By procedural rules, though, their votes will trigger two hours of debate per contested state. That will allow Trump’s supporters to repeat their thoroughly debunked claims.

But, like Cruz’s "Green Eggs and Ham" quasi-filibuster, the content is almost immaterial. The platform is the point. And for, say, a senator thinking of a presidential comeback or one being hounded by a mob back home, it would be invaluable.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this bit of keister covering will far outlast the fears and desires of its perpetrators. 

Civil War re-enactors - Unlike his possible 2024 presidential rival, Hawley, Cruz did not want to be so obvious in declaring his move a publicity stunt. So Cruz dressed it up with a proposal based on the electoral crisis of the fall and winter of 1876-1877. 

In the election of 1876, former Confederates finally had enough power to brutally crack down on the Black voters in the South – the beginning of a nearly century-long effort to deny African-Americans the vote. That year, in three states – Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina – Republican elections boards threw out results they said were de-legitimated by terrorism.

As a result, officials in the three states each sent two slates of electoral votes to Congress: One intentionally inaccurate, the other accurate but the result of brutal coercion. Lawmakers deadlocked. The Democrat-controlled House backed their man, New York Gov. Samuel Tilden, and the Republican Senate stood strong for theirs, Ohio Gov. Rutherford Hayes. That left 20 electoral votes in limbo and the presidency dangling by a thread.

This is the big difference between then and now. All of the states have submitted their electoral votes and there is no dispute. That is not to say that there is no disagreement about the results, but there is no dispute in terms of the findings of the states.  

Private citizens have opinions. Individual lawmakers have opinions. But in America, the states conduct elections, the results of which are confirmed by designated officials. Congress has no role in conducting elections, only in verifying that the results are official.

The official findings are complete and Biden won with 306 electoral votes. Congress has no power to change that. 

In fact, rules like the "safe harbor" provision that helped conscientious lawmakers, officials and judges get to this point despite unprecedented efforts to subvert the results are the product of a law passed in the wake of the 1876 nightmare to prevent a repeat.  

Playing with fire - "Tilden or blood" was the cry of the Democrats that year. If Congress did not give the presidency to Tilden, who had also won the popular vote, then Democrats said the sons of the South would be ready to resume hostilities against the Union.  

It may have been a hollow threat given the devastated condition of the former Confederacy, but for a nation still traumatized by war in ways we can’t imagine, it was enough.

The commission that Cruz & Co. say they would like to emulate was not for election investigation but rather for trying to find a solution for the deadlock and save a country splitting at the seams. Its members eventually voted eight to seven to award the disputed votes, and the presidency, to Hayes.

But Democrats had only dropped their threat to blockade the result after Hayes had agreed to pull the remaining federal troops out of the South. By then, there were just two significant garrisons in the former Confederacy. They were there to protect the duly elected governments of South Carolina and Louisiana from terrorists.

But, knowing that he would not have the power in a divided government to do much more to protect Black Americans in the South anyway, Hayes capitulated and agreed to pull the troops out and let the terrorists drive Black lawmakers from power. So began a decades-long reign of terror and its lasting shame.

The resolution of the 1876 election was a disaster and the start of a dreadful period of American history. That Cruz would invoke it now as a model would be shabby enough even without his attack on one of the central pillars of federalism: state control of elections. These new nationalists really do mean business. 

Leaders 144 years ago were trying to find a way to resolve an inconclusive election without setting off another civil war. If these senators really were sincere in trying to do more than play political games, this would be the reverse.

That’s what you get - What Trump and his posse are hoping for on Wednesday is to have two mobs protesting the results: one in Congress and one outside in a promised "wild" rally of Trump supporters.

This will be the second consecutive transition that will be marked by mass protests. Like their pussycat-hat-wearing counterparts in the anti-Trump march of 2017, the red hats of 2021 want the world to know that the new president is not legitimate.

These kinds of mass demonstrations around the outcomes of elections are out of character for Americans. This is what you get in places where elections are not free and fair or where strongmen rule.

In historical terms, elections in our era are cleaner than they have ever been. Fraud is much, much harder than it was in the bad old days of political machines and stuffed ballot boxes. The degree of scrutiny and oversight far, far surpasses anything our parents or grandparents would have known. 

And yet, voters increasingly believe they are rigged. That inverse correlation is the work of Trump, yes, but also of a coterie of folks across the political spectrum willing to exploit ignorance and fear for the sake of immediate gains – to survive a primary, to get clicks, to gain an advantage on rivals.

The American system survives because most citizens and most elected officials are holding the line. But it is reasonable to expect that work is going to get harder because of the recklessness of radicals. 

If we have to repeat this misery in 2024, can we count on so many lawmakers, officials and judges to stand up to the threats of a sore loser of their own party? One would hope, but one would also assume that intervening primary elections will continue to punish individuals that prize propriety over party.

Like Lankford, many will find that no resistance will be tolerated. Like Cruz, many others will find that there are significant advantages to be had in not just joining, but seeming to lead the parade.

Will some future Congress cross the line from crass pandering and into the actual work of stealing an election? Will the results of some future election be decided not by counting ballots but by the partisan composition of statehouses? Will courts one day cower from angry mobs outside their chambers?

Those things are not the likely outcomes in our near future. We hold fast to our belief that Americans tend to reject excesses in our leaders and that the pendulum will swing away from angry populism of the left and right. But it is certainly a possible future that could unfold in our lifetimes.

Two decades from now, those of us still on this side of the sod will have a chance to reflect on the events of the fall and winter of 2020-2021. Will we say that Trump set a precedent that his successors followed? Will we say that the backlash against such efforts activated our small-r republican immune system against demagoguery?

The answers to those questions won’t come on Wednesday or on Jan. 20. But how we as a people answer them in the years to come will determine whether America can endure in the Founders’ vision and meet the duties that come with our privileged place in history.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." – President Abraham Lincoln in a message to Congress, Dec. 1, 1862  

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.