History will record that two states faced formal challenges to their 2020 presidential election results. When the certification began last week, Arizona Republicans led the House objection against their state’s electors. Hours later, after the crowds and dead bodies were cleared out of the Capitol, most Pennsylvania Republicans did the same.
But those states were supposed to have company. And even as they’ve called for “unity” in the wake of the siege, Republican leaders have argued that serious questions remain about the 2020 election, the challenges meant to bring them to light, and how states conduct elections in the future.
“Once the thing is certified in Congress, then, of course, Biden is the winner,” said Steve Pearce, the reelected chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, which sent its own slate of electors to Washington. “But there are questions that were asked multiple times and never got addressed. And that’s unfortunate, because it leaves too many questions hanging in the air. Elections are not where you want questions hanging in the air.”
That attitude is reflected in conversations with party activists across the country. A number of high-profile Republicans have condemned the president, with a coalition of #NeverTrump conservatives promising $50 million to defend Republicans who vote to impeach. On Tuesday, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming became the first Republican in party leadership to support impeachment. This hasn’t trickled down to local Republican activists. They had questions about whether the election was fair, and now those asking those questions are being, in the already-tired terminology of 2021, canceled. They had questions about whether the election was fair, and now those asking those questions are being, in the already-tired terminology of 2021, canceled.
“The president didn’t make ‘baseless claims,’ he made claims based on affidavits from eyewitnesses,” said Tina Dziuk, a Republican National Committeewoman from New Mexico who previously led the party in rural Roosevelt County. “I supported allowing 10 days of investigation. If enough evidence of fraud had been committed, then there would have been a remedy for that by sending it back to the states.”
House Republicans knew this. When they said their constituents were demanding that they question the election results, they were telling the truth. The president exists in a seamless loop with conservative media, as displayed at his first rally in Georgia for two Senate runoffs that his party would lose. With thousands of voters watching, and hundreds of reporters, Trump repeatedly stepped back to watch allegations of election fraud, made on the pro-Trump network One America News, replace the names of the Senate candidates on the rally’s big screen.
Republicans would eventually (and anonymously) say the president’s electoral obsession weakened the campaigns of Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler. But the senators leaned into that strategy— both had called for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign without ever explaining what he allegedly did wrong.
But Republican voters listened to President Trump, and on the ground the anger at election officials for allowing a Democratic win was palpable. Decades of Republican fears that big cities produced fake Democratic votes blended easily with the president’s lifelong habit of suing until he got his way or exhausted his options. The fear of the steal ran so deep that this week, long after the Senate races were decided, one conservative Georgia county conducted its own audit of the vote to “restore public confidence in our election process.” And the state’s Republican-majority legislature is already considering whether to end no-excuse absentee voting for future elections, making ballot access slightly harder in the interest of calming angry voters.
A number of House and Senate Republicans who supported the Jan. 6 certification have urged their voters to move on. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who narrowly unseated a moderate Democrat to win her Charleston-area district, told the National Journal this week that the election challenges were ruses to “raise money for a super PAC or somebody’s future election.” And there are Republicans who voted the other way who quietly agree.
The president, however, has refused to say the election was conducted fairly, refused to concede, and will be the first president since Reconstruction not to attend the inauguration of his successor. This is what the Republican base plainly wants him to do. In public polling, even since Jan. 6, less than a third of self-identified Republicans have said that the election results were valid. New Mexico’s only Republican member of Congress, Rep. Yvette Herrell, used two of her first votes to reject the Arizona and Pennsylvania certifications, which was the state GOP’s position ahead of the vote.
“The unconstitutional election changes in numerous states disenfranchised my constituents in New Mexico,” Herrell said on Facebook, adding that the lack of a senator’s objection prevented a challenge to her own state’s electors. “I hope that by joining so many of my House colleagues in objecting we can shed light on the problems with the 2020 election and move towards solutions that restore integrity and confidence to our electoral system.”
As they charge toward impeachment, Democrats and a few Republicans hope that their actions can remove the president from political life. There is some demand for this from donors, but nearly none from rank-and-file Republicans. In New Mexico, where the current political alignment looks bad for Republicans, the president did help Herrell win a House seat. Asked whether they would want the president to help his party in 2022 or in special elections, Republicans here said that they would.
“The president brought many first-time and ‘walk away’ voters into the party,” Dziuk said. “I would like to see him work to encourage those voters to stay active and involved in the issues they care about.”
Pearce, who was a member of Congress for the first two years of Trump’s term, also suggested that the president could continue to help his party. He rattled off a list of accomplishments, from a growing pre-coronavirus economy, to the 2017 tax cut, to “holding our trading partners accountable.”
“I know that the people who support the president support him 100 percent,” Pearce said. “The president did a remarkable job of bringing new people into the party. I mean, millions of new people.”
The president’s role in putting Democrats in charge of the Senate.
The long story of election paranoia getting mainstreamed inside the GOP.
Censure, expulsion and whatever else sounds good.
What the talkers who say anything won’t be allowed to say.
What members of Congress are worried about.
Calculating the damage to the president’s reputation.
The forced conclusion of a campaign to save Trump.
The latest intra-Republican fight, the first in a long time with anti-Trump voices holding sway.
Dems in… array
By this time tomorrow, the president may have been impeached a second time. The president’s first impeachment was a drawn-out saga, with Republicans rallying behind him, Democrats agonizing over their choice and national Republicans watching donations fly in from angry Trump voters.
That’s not how this is unfolding, at least so far. Take the Trump/Republican money chase, which was relentless even after the president lost reelection. One week ago, the day of Georgia’s runoffs, the Trump campaign texted supporters three times asking for help. Shortly after 11 a.m. on Jan. 6, it once again asked for donations to help the president overturn his defeat.
“Pres Trump: TODAY is critical in our efforts to DEFEND the Election!” the text read. “I need YOU to be 1 of the Patriots who FOUGHT BACK! 1000% IMPACT! Act NOW.” Six days later, that remains the last fundraising text from the Trump campaign.
House Republicans are also far less certain about how to handle an impeachment focused on something specific and lived-through: The president’s role in the riots. Officially, the House GOP’s leadership team is not whipping amid expectations that some members will vote with the Democrats. Around a third of their membership opposed decertifying the electors from Pennsylvania and Arizona; a smaller subset of those Republicans have not ruled out impeachment.
Democrats are also proceeding as if they have the votes to impeach, which they likely do. In 2019, just three Democrats balked at the two articles of impeachment that grew out of the president’s effort to get political dirt on Joe Biden by pressuring Ukraine’s new president. One of those Democrats, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, lost reelection last year. Another, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, voted “present” on both articles, easing their passage without supporting them; she retired at the end of the last Congress. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine supported just one of the two articles, obstruction of justice.
Gabbard was a gadfly; Golden had specific reasons for his vote that don’t apply to a vote tomorrow. And as this newsletter has pointed out before, the 2020 elections put Republicans back in power across the reddest districts held by Republicans. No incumbent Democrat has as many Trump voters in his district as Peterson did.
Most national pollsters had a rough 2020. Quinnipiac was among them, finding rosier-than-reality numbers for Joe Biden in key states, missing some of the trends that held the president’s base together. But Quinnipiac never found Trump as low as it does here, with 33 percent approval, easily the worst rating of his presidency. It’s still better than George W. Bush fared on his way into retirement, because most of the president’s supporters have stuck with him; 73 percent of Republicans say the president was trying to uphold democracy last week, along with 47 percent of White voters with college degrees.
A great deal: 51%
A good amount: 13%
Not very much: 10%
Not at all: 25%
Here’s another way of looking at the president’s most dogged supporters and how they’re processing last week’s attack on the Capitol. Overwhelmingly, but not entirely, Republicans oppose the aftermath of the “Stop the Steal” rally, but 18 percent of them say they supported it. A majority of Republicans, 51 percent, say the president is “not at all” responsible for what happened on Jan. 6; that number rises to 67 percent among adults who say they do not trust the results of the 2020 president election. By a 45-point margin, voters in big cities say that Trump is definitely to blame for the riots; by a 6-point margin, rural voters say he isn’t.
Approve: 40% (-2)
Disapprove: 58% (+2)
Republicans arguing that another presidential impeachment would divide the country have one advantage: The president’s support remains largely unmovable, and he is set to end his presidency with an average approval rating in the high 30s. But if that was enough to win an election, the president would be starting a second term next week. It isn’t. While upward of 90 percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s transition and about the same percentage of Republicans approve of Trump, just 9 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents approve of the exiting administration. Biden will begin his term with broader support, with 21 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents backing Biden’s performance in the ill-defined role of “president-elect.”
In the states
Two of Bernie Sanders’s best-known swing state endorsers have gotten a boost in their races for congressional seats.
Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who co-chaired Sanders’s 2020 campaign, was one of the first Democrats to enter the race to replace Rep. Marcia Fudge. She got a boost Monday with the official endorsement of Justice Democrats, the group founded after 2016 to elect more left-wing members of Congress.
“We know Senator Turner will help create a mission-driven team in Congress to deliver relief during this pandemic and fight for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, racial justice, and getting big money out of politics,” Justice Democrats wrote in a fundraising message to its supporters. “Nina Turner will join the Squad in fighting for policies that match the scale of the crises we face.”
Turner has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her campaign. According to Justice Democrats, the endorsement netted her $23,000 in 24 hours, surpassing their initial $20,000 goal. The race does not begin in earnest until Fudge resigns her seat to become HUD secretary in the Biden administration.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who had a smaller role than Turner in the last Sanders campaign, launched an exploratory committee for a Senate bid this week, quickly raising $500,000 — including, he claimed, donations from all but four of Pennsylvania’s counties.
“You responded in a way that I just couldn’t have ever possibly imagined,” Fetterman said in a video message, alongside his wife Gisele. That likely wasn’t hyperbole: Fetterman ran for the party’s Senate nomination in 2016 and raised less than $760,000 for his entire primary. He was the odd man out in that race, as national Democrats poured in help for Katie McGinty, who would go on to lose narrowly to Sen. Pat Toomey.
Fetterman and Pennsylvania Democrats got more good news on Tuesday when a federal judge sided with them, allowing ballots in a razor-thin state Senate race near Pittsburgh to be counted. Republicans, who had lost at state court, argued that ballots that were not dated properly by Westmoreland County officials should be tossed; had they been, Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster would have been denied another term.
Their refusal to seat Brewster last week led to a vote to remove Fetterman, the Senate’s president, during the swearing-in of new members. That incident helped boost Fetterman’s profile with state and national Democrats, who had already begun to treat the lieutenant governor like a star after his punditry and updates during the challenges to Pennsylvania’s presidential vote.
In the states
After the 2012 election, Republican legislators in swing states debated whether to split up their electoral votes, arguing the winner-take-all system unfairly advantaged Democrats in big cities. After 2016, when Donald Trump narrowly carried Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the push to divvy up electoral votes was halted.
You’ll never guess what happened after 2020.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, prominent Republicans have again suggested moving to a congressional district-based system of assigning electoral votes, arguing that it would end the tyranny of big-city voters.
“If Michigan were to end the winner take all system of electoral college votes and instead break it up by congressional district, it would make campaigning in our state much more balanced,” Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga wrote on Facebook. “This would remove Detroit’s outsized influence and encourage candidates to compete for votes in each congressional district across the entire state, not just the big cities.” Separately, in Wisconsin, a Republican state legislator has resurrected an old effort to split up the state’s eight electors by the winner of each district.
Right now, just Maine and Nebraska split up their electors this way, affecting five total votes in the electoral college. (Each state also assigns two electors to the statewide winner.) And the chatter about splitting up electors to help rural Republicans had advantages after 2012 that it lacks now.
At that time, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had Republican governors who could have signed off on these changes. In 2021, all three states have veto-happy Democratic governors, and Michigan is about to undergo its first redistricting with a voter-approved independent commission. In 2013, it had been more than two decades since Republicans were able to win any of these states; in 2021, their memories of watching each state go red remain fresh. What looked in 2013 like an insurmountable Democratic lead from Detroit or Milwaukee or Pennsylvania now looks like a lead that can be overwhelmed with a big enough rural vote for the GOP.
But the mythology of the elector split hasn’t changed. Huizenga, who represents a deep red slice of western Michigan, is only the latest Republican to argue that the winner-take-all system discourages candidates from stumping outside metro Detroit. Leave aside the uniqueness of 2020 — Joe Biden barely set foot in Michigan — and the argument is still waylaid by reality. Under the winner-take-all arrangement, investing in Michigan netted Biden 16 electoral votes. Had the electors been split up by district, he’d have netted zero: Six for the districts he carried, and two for winning statewide, a function of a Republican-drawn map that packed most Democratic voters into a smaller number of seats.
Republicans don’t have the numbers to change the electoral vote laws in any of these states. But Trump’s own victories outside of cities and suburbs, and his obsession with the amount of red on a county-by-county map, have recharged some of the Republican enthusiasm for taking lean-Democratic states off the map by splitting their electors.
… eight days until the inauguration
… 147 days until New Jersey’s and Virginia’s primaries
… 161 days until New York’s primary