Stop Saying This is a Coup
Joe Biden is highly likely to be the next president of the United States. For now, most media outlets are holding off on declaring a winner. Fox News’ premature Arizona call may not hold up and a recount is certain in Georgia. But Pennsylvania, accurately predicted by many to be the tipping point state, may be called for Biden by the time you read this. The former vice president could well end up with the exact same number of electoral votes (306) that Donald Trump won in 2016, albeit by larger national and state margins. Absent credible evidence of massive and unprecedented voter fraud, that will ultimately be that.
Yet with millions of votes nationwide still to be counted and America on edge, the conspiracy theorists are out in force—at presidential behest. In a scene straight out of the HBO political comedy Veep, the Trump campaign is demanding that some states “STOP THE COUNT!” while others continue counting. The president’s gormless son brought some potential 2024 presidential contenders to heel with one tweet, while the administration’s most blinkered defenders have already labeled the 2020 election a coup.
A strange coup, this. Biden will likely be president but Republicans seem a better bet to hold the Senate, pending a pair of early January runoff races in Georgia. The GOP has flipped 11 seats in the House so far, after being projected to lose at least that many. Democrats were eviscerated in Texas and Florida, two major states many pundits thought were poised to turn blue. Trump earned the highest percentage of nonwhite voters for a Republican presidential candidate in 60 years.
Recriminations have already begun among the supposed winners. The Democratic caucus’ post-mortem conference call was apparently filled with both rage and tears. As one of this magazine’s writers noted at TAC’s foreign policy conference, Biden is poised to be a WAP: Weak Assumptive President.
The stolen election charges, rumors, and innuendoes are in full flight, however. We have Sharpiegate, reports of pro-Trump poll watchers being barred from entering ballot-counting areas, and alleged armies of dead voters.
There is no credible evidence for any of this. Yes, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” but come on, man. Cursory online investigation dispels any charges of weight thus far. Suspicious numbers make good soundbites but collapse on closer examination. Three missing absentee ballots in Buffalo and quickly corrected TV typos do not a conspiracy make. Even the New York Post couldn’t gin up a sympathetic headline for the president’s tired accusations last night.
The legal challenges mounted by the Trump team are already being dismissed by courts around the country—a reasonable facsimile of James Baker apparently couldn’t be found on short notice. The last major investigation into voter fraud, just two years ago, yielded paltry results. Nothing we have seen so far suggests anything different this election.
Many longtime GOP operatives and officeholders have tried to pour cold water on this stolen election delusion. Biden is ahead by 20,000 votes in Wisconsin; former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker noted that the 2016 presidential election recount in the Badger State yielded 131 extra votes for Trump. Karl Rove put it plainly yesterday: “stealing hundreds of thousands of votes would require a conspiracy on the scale of a James Bond movie. That isn’t going to happen.”
At an event at the late Newseum two years ago, I watched a 9/11 Truther tell a panel of visibly uncomfortable New York Times journalists that the term “conspiracy theorist” was pejorative and delegitimizing—he wanted to be known as an “evidence advocate.” The 2020 coup crowd has the same energy.
Actual reporters and election experts predicted this “Red Mirage” weeks ago. Because the (GOP-controlled) legislatures in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona refused to allow the counting of early and absentee ballots to begin prior to election night, it was always very likely that an initial Trump lead would be whittled down and erased by the slow, steady addition of mailed ballots. None of these ballots were “found”: they were sitting in boxes and bags, awaiting the (bipartisan) eyes of ballot counters. That they are disproportionately going to Biden is also unsurprising, for reasons of both campaign strategy and political geography.
The most significant political divide in America may not be between Right and Left, young and old, rich and poor, or urban and rural. Perhaps unionism is the real issue of our time. There are those—in both parties and in neither—who accept the rules of the game and will ultimately put principle over party and nation over faction. We had better hope they are a majority of both the elites and the American population.
Republicans proudly remind America at every opportunity that they are the party of Lincoln. One hopes the GOP will overcome this latest psychosis and remain the party of unionism and federalism.
America isn’t going to spiral into civil war over this election; the Boogaloo is not upon us. A man reputedly unwilling to even fire subordinates in person is not going to lead legions of modern minutemen into the streets. But coming on the heels of decades of bipartisan bloodsport, from impeachment to birtherism to Russiagate and back again, baseless delegitimization of election results is dangerous.
The legal fight may grind on for a while before petering out, President Trump may refuse to ever publicly concede that he lost, but the result will stand. If we have a shadow government for weeks or even years, it will be a sorry grift of incoherent speeches and trash TV.
There are keyboard Falangists, Boomer and Zoomer alike, who say that they will not recognize the legitimacy of the new “regime.” One wishes them luck in what will doubtless be a brave campaign of civil disobedience and bearing witness. But if these dead-enders are keeping a tally of confederates who wouldn’t “stop the steal,” the rest of us should just as readily remember those who were too corrupt or too credulous to truly put America first.
Gil Barndollar is a senior research fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Center for the Study of Statesmanship.