"The numbers are the numbers. There is no legal or legitimate way to rearrange the result they report."
"Whatever Pompeo says to the contrary, whatever unreality Republican lawmakers are living in, Biden will take office on January 20, 2021. As for Donald Trump, he has finished the 2020 election as a loser."
—John Nichols, The Nation
So writes The Nation's political correspondent John Nichols in a piece published early Thursday morning—nearly five full days since the decision desks at major U.S. news outlets, based on the actual results reported by state election boards nationwide, determined that Joe Biden is the clear winner of the 2020 presidential election and President Donald Trump, though he still refuses to concede, is the very clear loser.
As ABC News reported Wednesday, "There is no truth to the claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the election, yet the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are pursuing lawsuits in several states claiming that there was. Despite their complaints, they have not provided any evidence of fraud or corroborated any of the president's claims."
Thursday reporting by the Associated Press says that while Trump's legal team and GOP allies have been scouring the country for election shenanigans and filing lawsuits, so far there have been "few legal wins" and the hunt for "proof of fraud" have turned up nothing of substance.
"Experts doubt the suits can reverse the outcome in a single state, let alone the election," reports the AP, adding that "Trump aides and allies have privately admitted as much, suggesting the challenges are designed more to stoke his base."
As Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a CNN interview Wednesday night that Trump's behavior—and that of the GOP going along with it—is an "outrage" against democratic integrity and the American people. Asked if he'd ever seen anything like what the president is now doing, Sanders said: "No. It's not that I have not seen. Nobody has ever seen this."
What Trump is doing right now is delegitimizing our electoral process and American democracy. pic.twitter.com/RRbfoAcJSn— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 12, 2020
According to Nichols' analysis, just because Trump "is a major loser does not sit well with this egomaniacal president," the existence of these "feelings can't change the facts." And here, as Nichols notes, are some of the facts as they currently stand:
Biden has not merely received more votes than any candidate for the presidency in American history—77,400,000 and counting—he has finished the 2020 competition with a higher level of popular support than most of the winners of most of the presidential elections since the end of World War II.
What's especially striking is the scope of Biden's win as a challenger to a sitting president. Now that he has surpassed Reagan's 1980 percentage in the race with Carter, Biden's getting a higher percentage of the vote than any rival to a incumbent since Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt upended Republican Herbert Hoover in 1932.
While Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980 by winning 50.7% of the vote in 1980, Nichols notes, Biden has currently captured 50.8% of the popular vote—a number certain to rise as ballots in large states that Biden won like California continue to tabulate final results. Trump can falsely claim he won as much as we wants, writes Nichols, but that doesn't change that he has "already lost. Bigly."
As many observers have noted, Trump's ongoing refusal to concede the election—and with his campaign lawyers and the GOP continuing to file lawsuits that experts say have no chance of overturning results in any meaningful—looks a lot like a grift with two material aims: first, undermining the legitimacy of Biden's victory to a degree that makes it difficult for him to govern the nation effectively in January; and second, lining his own pockets by raising more money to pay off existing campaign debt.
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"Trump isn't really trying to overturn the election," wrote the Washington Post's Dana Milbank on Wednesday. "He's simply running one more scam before he leaves office that would enable him to enrich himself."
"That's the way it appears, at least, from the scores of fundraising emails his campaign has sent out since the election," Milbank continued. "He seems to be asking for funds to challenge the election, but the fine print shows that the money could let him line his own coffers. The tin-pot-dictator routine looks more as if it's about passing the tin cup."
As Common Dreams reported last week, the fine print of ongoing fundraising messages promoting the idea of election fraud and legal challenges to donors indicates that up to half of each contribution could go toward retiring Trump's pre-existing campaign debt.
And as Trump maintains his refusel to concede, warn experts, the danger of lasting negative impacts only grows.
"What we have witnessed since the election is the worst moment in presidential history," Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, told The Hill on Thursday. "No losing president—indeed no losing candidate—has so falsely and dangerously undermined the integrity of our democracy and our elections."
Meanwhile, how to even do the reporting on whether Trump and his GOP allies should be indulged as he refuses to concede has itself become a story for journalists trying to navigate the up-is-down, 2+2=5 reality that the president has tried to create for the country.
In an analysis piece titled, "Republican election denialism isn't scary or funny or pathetic. It's all of the above" published Wednesday at the Columbia Journalism Review, Jon Allsop acknowledged the inherent challenge of covering an individual—who happens to be the president—who lies and misdirects nearly constantly. Allsop writes:
Time and again in the Trump era, we’ve had to cover stories—the Bible photo op, Sharpiegate, and so on—that are at once funny, and eye-rollingly pathetic, and extremely harmful; now such stories are coming thick and fast, as satirically amateurish lawsuits vie for our attention with abuses of federal power. On Saturday, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, spread conspiracies about fraud at a press conference outside the Four Seasons in Philadelphia—not the hotel, but a landscaping business adjacent to an adult bookstore and a crematorium. Hilarious? Yes. Really actually not funny? Also yes. The traditional press, which tends to privilege clarity of narrative and flatness of tone, has never really been equipped to handle such jarring contradictions.
The Trump-era debate over whether and how to amplify lies and other forms of bad-faith engagement has circled so endlessly because it's impossible to settle. Allowing bad actors to use you to sow confusion and contradiction has unsustainable costs, but so, often, does failing to raise the alarm about the attempt, particularly when it comes to something as fundamental as election integrity. The joke/not-a-joke phenomenon drives at the same media weakness: if we rise to it, we're "triggered"; if we don't, bad actors use our silence to expand the boundaries of what they can get away with.
The voter-fraud myth has been one such story: the president pushed it in 2016, which seemed ridiculous to many in the press because he’d won, but it had the effect of buttressing his present lies, which are impeding a proper transition of power. Many of the present lies, too, seem ridiculous and futile—but they've now spread throughout the Republican Party, and could buttress any number of dark actions in future elections that are closer than this one. At some point, the reality-based press has to intervene as strongly as it can—no exceptions—and call this out for what it is. That doesn't mean we can't find Giuliani funny; joking about authoritarianism is its own form of power. But it requires recognizing authoritarianism first.
As Nichols writes in his latest assessment, President-elect Jo Biden "has every right to claim his mandate at this point"—and that is based on the facts before the American people, and the world.
"Whatever Pompeo says to the contrary, whatever unreality Republican lawmakers are living in, Biden will take office on January 20, 2021," he notes. "As for Donald Trump, he has finished the 2020 election as a loser."