Pennsylvania Gippers Sure Would Like To Help Trump Mount That Coup!
Donald Trump is still rattling the bars of his cage, trying to see if he can bring the whole American electoral system down to the ground around him. Last night the Washington Post reported the president is personally leaning on GOP Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler to disregard President-elect Joe Biden's 81,000-vote advantage in the state and hand the state's 20 electoral votes over to him.
He tried it with the Michigan certification authorities. And he's still trying it with Georgia GOP Governor Brian Kemp, despite Biden's win being confirmed in three recounts now. And twice this week Trump called Cutler to see if the gerrymandered Pennsylvania legislature can somehow subvert the will of the people.
Cutler spox Michael Straub acknowledged the calls but characterized them more as a fact-gathering mission by our famously information-loving leader.
"The president said, 'I'm hearing about all these issues in Philadelphia, and these issues with your law,'" Straub told the Post. "'What can we do to fix it?'"
In point of fact, there were no "issues in Philadelphia" unless you count black people voting as an "issue." So by "fix it," Trump clearly means override the vote based on the same gross, racist rhetoric that brought him to power in the first place. But that's not what Cutler told Trump. According to Straub, the House speaker said he'd sure like to help, but unfortunately his hands are tied, since the Pennsylvania legislature can neither overturn the state's chosen slate of electors, nor convene a special session without leave of the governor, Democrat Tom Wolf.
But Cutler was willing to throw a little more wood on the fire as Trump works to burn down American democracy. Cutler signed on to a letter sent to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation reminding it of its power to "reject electoral votes that are not 'regularly given' or 'lawfully certified'" and urging the members "to object, and vote to sustain such objection, to the Electoral College votes received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021."
Basically they want to deprive Joe Biden of the state's electoral votes based on lies about poll watchers being denied access and legal arguments about ballot cures, both of which have been rejected in multiple federal and state courts. For this gambit to work, they'd need both a senator and a representative to object, and then both the House and Senate would have to vote to sustain the objection.
So far all they've got is GOP Rep. Scott Perry, a Muslim-bashing rube from central Pennsylvania, who's ready to belly up to the bar and pour a warm Yuengling all over his state's voters. The state's two senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, have expressed no interest in joining Perry in the Keystone coup, and the Senate's Republican leadership seems disinclined to prolong the spectacle. But even if some jackass like Ted Cruz does hop on the bandwagon — and we wouldn't put it past him — this nonsense is doomed to get crushed under the heels of Nancy Pelosi's dainty pumps.
But even if this effort to toss out the votes of almost seven million Pennsylvanians fails, there is still a cost. It is a threat to democracy that Pennsylvania Republicans are in the Supreme Court today arguing that the mail-in balloting law they themselves passed violates the state constitution and thus 2.5 million absentee votes must be discarded. The vast majority of Republicans are treating this attempted coup as a legitimate exercise of the president's right to litigate to ensure an accurate election is also acid thrown in the face of America's body politic. That Trump will fail doesn't protect us next time from a politician equally heedless of democratic norms and ten percent smarter.
And before we start another round of debate on the semantics of calling it a coup, please check out this excellent piece in The Atlantic from Turkish-American writer Zeynep Tufekci, who has lived through multiple coups and knows whereof she speaks:
But ignoring a near catastrophe that was averted by the buffoonish, half-hearted efforts of its would-be perpetrator invites a real catastrophe brought on by someone more competent and ambitious. President Trump had already established a playbook for contesting elections in 2016 by casting doubt on the election process before he won, and insisting that he only lost the popular vote due to fraud. Now he's establishing a playbook for stealing elections by mobilizing executive, judicial, and legislative power to support the attempt. And worse, much worse, the playbook is being implicitly endorsed by the silence of some leading Republicans, and vocally endorsed by others, even as minority rule becomes increasingly entrenched in the American electoral system.
It's not enough to count on our institutions to resist such onslaughts. Our institutions do not operate via magic. They do not gain their power from names, buildings, desks, or even rules. Institutions rely on people collectively agreeing to act in a certain way. Human laws do not simply exert their power like the inexorable pull of gravity. Once people decide that the rules are different, the rules are different. The rules for electoral legitimacy have been under sustained assault, and they're changing right before our eyes.
Just because Trump is too stupid to mount a successful coup doesn't mean someone else won't figure out how to do it better. And the GOP has already told us that they'll happily go along with it to maintain their hold on power.
"Act like this is your first coup, if you want to be sure that it's also your last," writes Tufekci.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.