State of play: A new Morning Consult consumer research survey reports that 7 of 10 Republicans believe the 2020 election was “not free and fair.”
It's the first data to show Donald Trump’s bid to construct an alternative reality, in which Joe Biden’s election and presidency are illegitimate, succeeding with his base.
Despite a lack of evidence to support his false charges of widespread voter fraud, Trump not only is pursuing a deadender legal fight but also has begun to use the levers of power of the federal government in his bid to reject the substantial nationwide electoral victory of President-Elect Joe Biden.
That effort began at 2:30 a.m. last Wednesday, when Trump spoke before a group gathered at the White House for an election watch party and falsely declared victory, terming pro-Biden election results a "fraud" on the country. Since then he has repeatedly tweeted and stated that he won the election based on "LEGAL VOTES."
The strategy clearly is sinking in, according to the Morning Consult survey, based on interviews conducted Nov. 6-9 with 1,987 registered voters:
70 percent of Republicans said the election was not "free and fair" – 48 percent said it “definitely” was not on the level and 22 percent said it “probabaly” was not; significantly, this represents twice the share of Republicans who expressed that view about the election before results were announced.
Two-thirds of Republicans said they do not have trust in the U.S. election process while only 34 percent said they trust the system; the numbers are the reverse of what Republicans said before the results, when 68 percent said they trusted the process.
80 percent among those who said the election was not free and fair believe there was widespread voter fraud because of mail-in ballots, a false claim that Trump began trumpeting months ago, when he first insisted that any outcome except his re-election would be the result of a "rigged" election.
Why it matters. The survey is significant as a demonstration of how Trump, if not stealing the election, is trying to steal the narrative of the election. By creating the false belief among his 71 million supporters that he is being wrongly removed from office, he is setting up a new loyalty test in the Republican Party - who really won the election? - while also hardening the lines of bitter political division in the country, months before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
"If we saw the head of the ruling regime, and his party, react to the election results this way in any other country, we'd know exactly what we are looking at," Ezra Klein, editor-at-large of Vox, tweeted in sending out a must-read piece headlined "Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight."
"That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. Millions will believe Trump, will see the election as stolen. The Trump family’s Twitter feeds, and those of associated outlets and allies, are filled with allegations of fraud and lies about the process...It’s the construction of a confusing, but immersive, alternative reality in which the election has been stolen from Trump and weak-kneed Republicans are letting the thieves escape."
Klein references the work of Hungarian political theorist Balint Magyar; based on research and study of what happened to Eastern Bloc countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Magyar posits three phases of autocratic takeovers of liberal democracies - an autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough and autocratic consolidation:
"This is...'an autocratic attempt.' That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs.
"In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.
“'Democracy works only when losers recognize that they have lost,'” writes political scientist Henry Farrell. That will not happen here."
Republican leaders fall in line. In 1974, a delegation of Republican Senators, led by Barry Goldwater, famously went to the White House to inform President Richard Nixon that he had lost his political support in the GOP amid the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned soon after.
Nothing remotely like that will happen today: Congressional Republicans who have spent the last four years ignoring, enabling and empowering Trump's corruption, misconduct and failures, remain terrified of his personal hold over the GOP political base, are falling in line behind his reckless attacks on the integrity of the election.
Trump's lawyers have produced scant evidence of any election improprieties , much less widespread fraud that could affect the result in the thumping Biden delivered in both the popular and the Electoral College votes.
Nevertheless both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have refused to acknowledge the result of the election, joined by most GOP members of Congress, with the notable exceptions of Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, who reached out to congratulate the winner.
Attorney General William Barr abruptly changed a longstanding policy of the Department of Justice and authorized federal investigations of alleged voter fraud before votes are certified;
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired by a Trump tweet, the White House suddenly removed the scientist in charge of producing the government's authoritative reports on climate change and the top political appointee at the U.S. Agency for International Development told department officials not to cooperate with the Biden transition, as Trump made multiple moves to politicize and weaponize the government.
CNN pundit Chris Cillizza summed up:
"So losing will make Trump very angry. And embittered. And vengeful. And less willing to even attempt to paint within the lines of acceptable behavior.
Which means that the firing of Esper is the tip of the spear when it comes to what we should expect from Trump between now and January 20, 2021. If you thought the President was unconstrained up until now, well, in the words of the Joker, you ain't seen nothing yet."
When narcissists lose. Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on how Trump's behavior fits the criteria of narcissistic personality disorder, said in an interview with Salon's Matthew Rozsa that the reaction to failure of such a person can be "frightening."
"But when there is an all-encompassing loss, such as the loss of an election, it can trigger a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him."
Meanwhile there now are 10 million confirmed cases of Covid in the U.S., with more than 100,000 new cases a day. Nearly 250,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, which now is raging in many states, killing about 1,000 people each day.
On Monday Joe Biden announced formation of an expert public health task force on the pandemic, as it also was learned that David Bossie, who has been leading Trump's legal effort, tested positive for coronavirus.
Bottom line: Joe Biden won the election. Donald Trump lost. But he will be president for 72 more days.
Images: Trump sketch (The Atlantic); Chart (Morning Consult survey); New Yorker cartoon by Barry Blitt.