So, Donald Trump, occupant of the White House, made another stupidly self-destructive phone call, this one to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results. Regardless of what was going on in Trump’s head, whether he truly believes the crap he talked or was trying to cynically strongarm Raffensperger to fraudulently change Georgia’s election results, what Trump did was wrong and potentially illegal. Any rational interpretation of what went down must start there.
It is remarkable but not surprising that in his four years in office, Trump has absolutely no idea how the system works, if he did, he wouldn’t have made that phone call. Georgia certified their election results after three counts, and sent the results to Congress. As far as Georgia is concerned, game over.
Trump also seems to have a problem with basic math. Georgia has 16 electoral votes. Biden beat Trump by 74 electoral votes. Trump could steal Georgia and he still loses the presidency. If Trump has any chance of staying in power, he has to work Congress or tap the military.
The military won’t throw in with Trump, something that anyone who served does not doubt. All members of the armed forces pledge their loyalty to the country and Constitution, not the president or Congress. They swear to uphold the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UMCJ). And they are trained to disobey an unlawful order. Being directed to stage a coup is an unlawful order.
In the military, culturally, there’s tension between the enlisted and officer classes. There is even more tension between members of the military and their civilian overseers, especially those who have not served, and especially especially especially those who used privilege to dodge an obligation to serve. This friction sharpens many servicemembers commitment to the Constitution and the UMCJ. Worse for Trump, he treats the military like a private toy, constantly degrades those who serve as “suckers,” and makes a fool of those who serve honorably with pardons of mercenary mass murderers. Trump has not endeared himself to the armed forces.
Trump is completely incapable of working Congress, not in the way past presidents have done. To have Congress overturn the election, he’d have to work them harder and more skillfully than Lydon Johnson did Democrats and Republicans to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Anything short of that means he gets a ragtag group of rookies and outcasts, led by the odious Ted Cruz, putting on a cynical show to enhance their national profile. As usual, all Trump has is an empty threat and some song & dance.
As far as the Republican rump who claim that they will challenge the election: In politics, ambition is a tricky thing. Every single politician has ambitions and many of them have grand ambitions. All elected officials accept their colleagues’ ambitions, however most frown on obvious displays of ambition, especially when those displays buck up against their own ambition.
“Reluctantly” running for president is fine, so is trying to nab a leadership role or a committee chair. It is okay to lobby and backstab behind closed doors to advance yourself. But, man, push to the front like you are Trump sensing a camera present – as Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, and the rookies did – and you set yourself up for backlash within your party. Cruz has made a career of doing this – and became the most hated man in the Senate because of it – but Hawley and the rookies haven’t. They are taking a calculated risk.
The risk is calculated because, despite what we read in the headlines, the GOP is not firmly in Trump’s hands. Yes, Trump enjoys support of the majority of Republican voters, but, as I’ve written elsewhere, with Republican elected officials, Trump’s relationship is more that of allies. Allyship is transactional and, thus, contingent on how much institutional power Trump possesses. Without the presidency, Trump’s institutional power is limited to his active role in the GOP.
As for his supporters, we too often make the mistake of lumping them all together. Let’s break it down:
There is a sizable faction of supporters who are hardcore Republicans, rather than hardcore Trumpies. They will back whomever is at the top of the party. There are the moneymen, who are closer to allies than supporters. They support Trump as long as the money flows. These two camps of supporters will move on to whomever proves themselves to be the most functionally powerful person or people in the party.
There are the ideologues – a dozen different mobs of people who are not in lockstep with each other and whose only unifier is Trump. The mob is composed of Christian fundamentalists, street thugs, Nazis, Libertarians, incels, militia, and a peanut gallery of scum. As long as Trump remains a powerful symbol – in life or death – they will rally behind him. If Trump fades as a symbol (before he dies), they will break away. And then there are the hardcore.
In my reading, the hardcore are super fans. These folks adore Trump, not for his politics, but for his fame and wealth. Like many Americans, they are enthralled with celebrity, specifically Trump’s. Trump-life for them started before the presidency. President Trump is the sequel to The Apprentice Trump which is a sequel to The Art of the Deal Trump. These super fans do not act like “normal” political supporters. Hardcore political supporters tend to be pretty informed on issues and on how things work. They possess above average political IQs. They work hard at the nitty gritty. And while Trump does have some of these kind of people behind him, this is not the super fan, which seem to make up the bulk of his supporters.
Observe the Trump super fan – Trumpies – and you what you see are people who are much more like Swifties (Taylor Swift) or the Beyhive (Beyonce) than supporters of Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, or even Bernie Sanders. Trumpie outbursts are as verbally violent and irrational as a scorned Swiftie, their indignation and tantrums as intense as a pissed off Beyhiver.
Another thing that Trumpies, Swifties, and the Beyhive share is a lack of understand of how things work in the real world. A Trumpie can’t tell you about how Congress or elections really, legally work, because they are invested in that knowledge. But they can tell you about how Trump thinks that they work. Similarly, a Swiftie is generally ignorant of how the music industry works or the economics of digital, but they know Swift’s take on it.
Because Trump and the Trumpies understand little to nothing real world politics and institutions they get their asses handed to them when they venture out in the real world. As we’ve seen with Trump’s election challenge, in the neutral ground of a courtroom, Trumpie attorney get smashed. As we saw in Georgia, Trump makes a stupid unnecessary phone call (after trying to connect 18 times!) and constantly fights the wrong battles with the wrong tactics. Trump and Trumpies don’t understand the dynamics of power or how difficult it is to maintain power over time. They see a big crowd and think SUCCESS, but never take the time to read the event contract. And they constantly misread people.
Brad Raffensperger is a conservative Republican who has his own ambitions. He wants to maintain a political career. He doesn’t want to flame out or go to jail for someone else. Raffensperger is and always has been a Republican team player, but he is not a Trumpie. Trump’s whining about Georgia voters respecting Raffensperger for overthrowing an election doesn’t move Raffensperger. It piss him off. Hence, when Trump tries to cut Raffensperger’s legs from under him, Raffensperger releases the tapes. My guess is that he did so after having talked it over with Gov Brian Kemp, who said “Fuck that guy,” and perhaps even Mitch McConnell, who is in the process of consolidating his power post-Trump, while trying to hold onto the Senate.
On Tuesday, Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell “resigned” from the white shoes DC law firm that she practiced at. This came after her name was mentioned in “the phone call” (she was on the line, with Trump). When the press contacted her firm, they were none to pleased. Good guess that she was given a choice to resign or get shoved out.
On Monday, every living former Secretary of Defense, including Cheney and Rumsfeld, signed a letter urging Trump stop being a dick. The Business Roundtable, a pretty conservative mob of capitalists, as well as hundreds of Fortune 500 companies also issued letters telling the GOP to act like adults. They didn’t even bother with Trump. None of this happens when a person has true power.
When we think about the future of politics and the fate of the GOP, it is wise to look at this phone call and all the politics around it. If Trump, as president, cannot keep Raffensperger from defying him and then releasing damaging tapes, how can he control the Republican Party, let alone the future of American politics. If the Trumpies do not understand how the system works, what real influence do they have?
Yes, Trumpies vote, but that is just one part of politics. They don’t know the rules. They don’t know procedure. They can’t even wage a semi-competent legal fight. All they can do is get as pissy as a Swiftie when their feeling get hurt. That is the limit to their political acumen. Plus, the minute Trump started waving Trumpie votes around, they started to lose their value. Why? Because the Republican establishment finally realized that Trumpie votes were Trump votes not necessarily Republican votes. Why sacrifice everything for votes that might not ever come your way, especially when the broker of the votes will turn on you in a second.
Similarly, Trump screwed himself by being so damn greedy. The Republican Party totally loved it that Trump could raise tons of money, but they expect that money to be spread around to Trump, to the party, and to other campaigns. That is how politics works. And, while there are always politicians that horde money for their own campaigns, Trump went beyond that. He not only created a PAC that will serve as a slush fund, but he engaged in some pretty skeazy fundraising even by Trump standards. Not only did he use his “election fraud” fight to line his pockets, he did the same with the Georgia Senate run-off! That finally woke the GOP up. Now they know that all they are to Trump is another mark to fleece.
It is unfortunately that these realizations come to Republicans now that Trump is on his way out, but that is often the way power works. There is a reason for the cliché “rats fleeing from a sinking ship.” But, let’s not gaze at the running rats. Instead, take a while to watch SS Trump start to sink.
No doubt that Trump’s death spasms are damage democracy. Know that the damage is not what we see right now – the chaos and tantrums and uncertainty. Trump and the Trumpies will run around with their asses on fire and, we should take notice, but only because they might trip into something and inadvertently set themselves (see the phone call) and others on fire. What we must be concerned about is the corrosive affect that this has, not on Trumpies or those “on the other side of the aisle”, but on us.
We are just as capable of falling into cynicism staring at this shitshow as “they” are because they can’t get their way. The danger is in us throwing up our hands and saying “Pox on you and you and you and you!” It is when we walk away and go to sleep that bad stuff happens. That is when the moneymen assert themselves and change the rules to benefit themselves. That is when the power freaks stride in and claim power. We worry that a smarter Trump will come someday, and that might be so, but they can only succeed if we are not there to beat them back.
Tubby the Tyrant and his legion of super fans are on the way out. No matter how much noise they make or how much they flail, they lost. Come January 20, they will have no formal power. It is up to us to make sure that they never come back.