Donald Trump is the kind of populist who hates the people: specifically, the clear majority of the people who voted him out of office.
So he has set about one last gambit – what Dick Cheney liked to call “the last throes” – to steal the election he lost by gumming up the electoral college.
He will fail in his crass attempts to corrupt the election, just as he has failed in his crass lawsuits to challenge the vote counts. Just as he has failed in his entire presidency.
But let’s not brush aside this moment because of its grotesque ineptitude and corruption. It’s not just another Trump tantrum. It may not be a coup, but it is an attempt to destroy American democracy forever.
So let us count the ways this loser of a president has tried to Trumpify America’s elections.
And let us never forget that he did so in cahoots with the formerly Grand Old Party that used to belong to Republicans but now belongs to the Trumpistas.
Here are some of the most slimy steps down the slippery slope towards The End of America As We Know It.
1 The founding myth of election night
It started in the bunker, with a few dozen of his closest cronies, watching the voters overrun every defensive position across a country he thought he knew well. When Trump finally spoke to the cameras in the East Room of the White House on election night, he declared that he was on track to win in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. He claimed it would be “nice” to win Arizona, but he didn’t even need it.
In fact, he lost all four states, and the presidency. But he set in motion the narrative that the fraud was not perpetrated by him, the brave defender of democracy. He was the victim, not the wannabe autocrat.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” he said. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US supreme court. We want all voting to stop.”
2 The solemn gravitas of spineless senators
Marco Rubio could see this coming. He warned us to be prepared. Sadly he couldn’t warn himself to do anything about it.
But that’s the Florida senator – and Trump’s Republican party – for you.
Writing in Medium in August, he forecast a close election with delayed vote counting. The kind of delayed counting that would be manipulated by the most un-American forces imaginable.
“Beijing and other hostile foreign actors would throw their full weight behind a misinformation campaign, complete with falsified evidence, asserting that the results are rife with fraud and the election is in the process of being ‘stolen’. They would use unassuming, but fake social media accounts to spread and magnify allegations that some mail-in ballots are being removed from the post office and destroyed, while others are falsified,” he wrote.
“By the time the election officials would be ready to announce the results, there would already be widespread doubt cast on the election’s legitimacy. It is a nightmare scenario for our nation, which was founded on a revolutionary promise of peaceful transitions of civilian leadership.”
What a nightmare. Especially when the hostile foreign actor is your own party leader.
Never fear! Rubio was here with some wise words of advice.
“Every single American has a role to play in preserving the integrity of our elections and securing yet another peaceful transition of power,” he wrote, stirringly. “Your country needs you. Are you prepared to rise to the occasion?”
In Rubio’s case, the answer was: no.
3 The solemn gravitas of spineless senators part deux
The Oklahoma senator James Lankford likes to think of himself as a smart, independent conservative with a deep concern for the nation’s security.
So when he appeared on Oklahoma radio a couple of weeks ago, it seemed pretty safe to insist that the president-elect, Joe Biden, should get intelligence briefings by the end of the week – some 10 days after the election. Otherwise the mighty Lankford would intervene to protect America.
“There is no loss from him getting the briefings and to be able to do that,” he said.
Wrong! There is a loss – to the ego of one Donald Trump.
Normally actions speak louder than words. But in the dying days of the Trump era, nothing speaks louder than Trump.
4 Everything Rudy Giuliani does
There are times when this former US attorney is astonishingly incompetent. There are other times when he is just bizarrely incoherent. As the Biden team’s Bob Bauer likes to point out, Giuliani and company are not just losing cases, they are losing lawyers.
In their own minds, they are “an elite strike force team” of lawyers. That’s on the alternate planet Earth where “elite strike force” is what they call a bunch of geezers playing soccer on a Sunday morning.
If you thought that Four Seasons Total Landscaping was the greatest metaphor for all their legal woes, you didn’t tune into the sequel at the Republican National Committee on Thursday.
At the landscaping joint last week, Giuliani was arguing about poll watching. So what if his leading witness was a sex offender and perennial candidate in a different state?
This week, he was arguing about a global conspiracy involving a couple of dead socialists, a live philanthropist and some voting software. The effort caused his hair dye, or possibly mascara, to dribble down his cheeks. It was pretty emotional.
Beyond the cosmetics, the challenge comes in the place they call the courts, where things like facts and details matter. Including whether you know the difference between Michigan and Minnesota, when you file affidavits that purport to prove voter fraud.
There are so many states, but so little time.
5 Everything Lindsey Graham does
This much we know: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Georgia’s secretary of state to talk about throwing out ballots in the closely-contested state that he has nothing to do with. The state official – a Republican, who has received death threats for defending democracy – said he was stunned by the effort to throw out legally cast votes.
Graham said he was just concerned about the integrity of the election in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Which is reassuring, unless you remember that the only votes being questioned are the ones for president. Not the ones for the successful Republican congressional candidates in the same election that has so many questions about its integrity.
Lindsey Graham is a former military lawyer who currently chairs the Senate judiciary committee. He is also the Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter walk of shame.
6 The president of the United States browbeats state officials
This kind of thing might be expected in some parts of the world where American election observers would shake their heads in disbelief. But coming from a losing American president, it’s something close to a complete rupture with the founding principles and culture of the last couple of hundred years.
Trump is plainly trying to stop Michigan’s election officials from certifying his drubbing at the polls, in the hope of throwing the electoral college into disarray.
He first called two Republican officials in Wayne county, Michigan, to get them to disavow their vote to certify the election results. Then he met with Michigan’s statehouse leaders on Friday to press his case.
Both are Republicans. Both have also said the law does not allow them to overturn the will of the people and select their own electors. The Democratic governor agrees.
Of course this is just a flesh wound to Trump, whose next threat involves biting their legs off.
7 The deep state of Trump lackeys
For a man whose every turn has been blocked by his own incompetence – if not his own bureaucracy – there are a remarkable number of well-placed Trumpistas doing their best to stymy the incoming Biden administration.
There’s the obscure administrator Emily Murphy, who leads the General Service Administration, and has the power to trigger government support for the transition. Murphy refuses to do so, and apparently feels really bad about this.
Not as bad as the Biden team, who can’t get access to federal officials or national security briefings. But still bad.
There’s the less obscure, but no less sincere, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whose department has been hoarding foreign leader messages for Biden. These pesky foreigners still find a way to reach Biden, so the move is as pointless as it is petty. But nobody accuses Pompeo of being a big thinker.
And then there’s the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin who has decided – against the wishes of the Federal Reserve – to end several emergency lending programs. Whatever Mnuchin’s motive, his sneaky move will stop his successor from supporting the economy early next year.
Because if you can’t stop the next president in the courts or the electoral college, you can surely overturn it by nobbling the next president in office.
Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist