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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Thursday, December 8, 2016
What’s really behind the recounts and petitions.
If the Jill Stein recount were a car, it would be on fire in a ditch while being swarmed by angry snakes.
The failed Green Party candidate raised $7.2 million for presidential recounts that have so far increased Trump’s lead in Wisconsin and made a convincing argument why Detroit shouldn’t be allowed to participate in elections after the ballots on the books didn’t match voting machine printouts in 59% of the precincts. Stein may end up having to pay the entire cost of the Michigan recount and is struggling in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile 42% of Clinton voters believe the recount will show she won.
They’re going to be very disappointed.
The recount follies are just one of a number of clumsy efforts to deny Trump the White House.
There’s the faithless elector drive which has so far signed up one Republican faithless elector who immediately got a New York Times op-ed. That’s something McCain couldn’t even swing when he was running for president. Too bad the Electoral College has 538 members. And so far the tactic of harassing electors with phone calls, emails and death threats isn’t getting Hillary Clinton any closer to victory.
4.6 million people, who have never read the Constitution or anything longer than a Tweet, signed a Change.org petition titled, “Electoral College: Make Hillary Clinton President.” It’s easy to mock these desperate outbreaks of soreloserdom. But the larger agenda isn’t to find 50 million ballots in a dumpster to make Jill Stein president or to have a bunch of faithless electors take John Kasich to the White House.
It’s about delegitimizing Trump.
The left doesn’t begin with policy critiques of Republican presidential candidates. Instead it accuses them of being temperamentally unfit for the office and illegitimately elected. The anti-Trump playbook is just the anti-Bush playbook with a little dust on the cover and a few more page creases. Bush was a cowboy who stole the election. Trump is erratic and stole the election. The rest is just elaboration.
The temperamental accusation is an old one. Trump is far from the first Republican to have it hurled at him. Indeed most of the anti-Trump election tactics, from Republican turncoats to manipulating voter turnout with polls, came out of the “In your guts, you know he's nuts” Goldwater playbook. Hillary even brushed off LBJ’s Daisy ad. But the internet didn’t exist in 1964. It does today and it destroyed Hillary.
Questioning presidential legitimacy is a much more damaging attack. Reagan and Bush II were both written off as erratic cowboys trashing the fragile infrastructure of international relations while waving nuclear weapons around, much as Trump is. But legitimacy attacks are more than just another smear. They deny the legal authority of an elected president to hold office. They’re not merely an insult, they’re doing more than just pouring money into Jill Stein’s slush fund, and they’re practicing political secession.
CalExit, like talk of moving to Canada, is a bad joke. But it’s a bad joke with a worse punchline. Mainstream voices within the Democrats and on the left have argued that Trump lacks a mandate and even legitimacy based on the popular vote. If Trump is illegitimate, then his policies shouldn’t just be criticized, but actively disobeyed and resisted. The election was stolen. All that’s left is to fight.
The recount follies won’t succeed at their stated purpose, but their real aim is to continue casting doubt on Trump’s victory. The next stage will take place in D.C. where Congressional Black Caucus members can be expected to repeat their efforts to block certification of the Electoral College vote from 2000 and 2004. The first time around they couldn’t get a single Senator to join them and were gaveled down by Gore. In the next election, Barbara Boxer joined the fun to drag out the certification a little longer.
Like Jill Stein, Boxer insisted that she was only interested in the abstract matter of electoral justice. And it’s a good bet that this time there will be no shortage of Democrats dragging out certification. What was once a rare phenomenon, a twice in a century event, is likely to become routine when Republicans win.
Recounts won’t give Hillary or Jill the big chair in the Oval Office. But each step in the process will fatten up the legitimacy conspiracy theory. Stein and many of her donors understand that. The goal is to taint Trump’s legitimacy and keep a cloud of suspicion hanging over his win. The conspiracy theories, including the ones that Stein has used to raise millions, are hollow and empty. But they will become part of the narrative. Trump only won because polling places closed early. Trump only won because all the voting machines were hacked. Someone cheated. Trump didn’t really win. He isn’t the president.
Before the election, the media was sonorously lecturing us on the threat to democracy posed by Trump challenging the results. But that was before he won and the threat to democracy became… democracy.
Challenging the legitimacy of the man in the White House is a dangerous tactic because it casts doubt on the entire system of government. Nixon refused to go that route after losing to JFK because he feared a Constitutional crisis that would “tear the country apart”. But many Democrats today not only don’t fear tearing the country apart, they welcome it. They don’t just believe that Trump is illegitimate, but that America is. Raising doubts about the election outcome undermines both Trump and America.
This isn’t really about the numbers. It’s about the narrative. The election controversies shape the expectations of the Democrat base. And those will shape how elected Democrats will deal with Trump.
Election controversies hijack a space that would normally be used to promote unity and bipartisanship soon after an election. And preventing cooperation between Trump and Democrats is one of the goals. Convincing a sizable percentage of the Democrat base that the election was stolen will keep their focus on fighting Trump. And that will make it much harder for Democrats to be able to cooperate with him.
The left hijacked the Democrats, drove their campaign car into a ditch and left it burning there surrounded by angry left-wing snakes. And it doesn’t want to allow the Dems any possibility of retreat. It sees Trump’s victory as an opportunity to further radicalize new recruits and tear the country apart.
That is what all the efforts to deny Trump the White House, from recounts to petitions, are really about. After presiding over two terms of unprecedented national division, they aren’t through tearing America apart.