Trump’s grip on Republican party not loosening any time soon
America Letter: Most Republicans in Congress will still not refer to Joe Biden as president-elect
Donald Trump posted a 46-minute video to Facebook on Wednesday making unfounded claims of voter fraud, but it got little traction from most media outlets. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
One month on from the US presidential election, two parallel realities have taken root in Washington.
On the one hand, Joe Biden is preparing to become the 46th president on January 20th. The president-elect is holding calls with world leaders, meeting with federal officials like Dr Anthony Fauci as part of the transition process, and appointing his cabinet and senior advisers.
But in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is refusing to accept he lost the election, even as proof of his opponent’s victory takes shape around him. Outside the gates of the White House, construction workers are busy building a viewing platform as the city prepares for an inauguration parade.
Biden’s response to Trump’s refusal to concede has been a masterclass in restraint. Like a parent who decides that the best strategy is to ignore an unruly child having a tantrum in the corner, Biden is giving Trump’s petulance very little air time, simply calling it “embarrassing” and getting on with his job.
Similarly, much of the media – and the rest of the world – have moved on.
Trump’s extraordinary 46-minute video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, which he introduced as “possibly the most important” speech of his career as he made unfounded claims of voter fraud, got little traction from most media outlets.
Reality dictates that Biden will become president on January 20th, come what may. But simply ignoring Trump’s denialism underestimates the sway he still holds over millions of Americans.
Conservative media outlets are continuing to air unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, and the internet is awash with baseless reports of fraud, including misleading videos alleging the miscounting of ballots.
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 52 per cent of Republicans believe that Trump won the election – an astonishingly high number given Biden’s decisive win.
Michael Flynn, who was pardoned by Trump last month, has called for martial law to be imposed and said that a new election overseen by the military should be held.
More disturbingly, it appears that Trump’s undermining of the US electoral system is helping to stoke threats of violence against election workers. In a widely-shared speech this week, Gabriel Sterling, an election official in Georgia, directly appealed to the president to speak out against those intimidating his staff.
He said that a young election worker had been sent a noose, while he also had security protection outside his own house. “Death threats, physical threats, intimidation, it’s too much. It’s not right,” he said, with barely suppressed anger.
“Mr President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating, there’s always a possibility, I get it. You have the right to go to the courts. What you don’t have the ability to do – and you need to step up and say this – is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed, and it’s not right . . . all of this is wrong.”
The civil war in the Republican party in Georgia is a telling example of the difficulties Trump’s grip over the party is generating for his adopted party.
Sterling – like many of the election officials in the state – is a Republican. But like many others, he has been the target of attacks from some of the state’s top elected representatives, including the two Republican senators running in January’s run-off elections, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who have echoed Trump’s attacks on the election process in the state.
Most of the state officials have held their ground against Trump’s attacks. Republican governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger have stood over the integrity of their election system. But both are up for re-election in 2022.
Kemp has already felt the wrath of Trump on Twitter, who said he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp in 2018. It is very likely that both men could pay the price for breaking with Trump when they go to the electorate in two years’ time.
The importance of not alienating Trump and his supporters is an issue many Republican politicians across the country are confronting post-election. It explains why most Republicans in Congress will still not refer to Biden as president-elect.
With Trump considering a run in 2024, the reality for the Republican party is that Trump may continue to exert control over the GOP long after he leaves office.