Election 2020

Trump Promotes a Doomed Electoral Vote Challenge As Even Diehard Supporters Admit He Lost

The strategy of lodging objections under the Electoral Count Act has been tried before, but it has never succeeded.


It's "too soon to give up," says President Donald Trump, slamming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) for finally admitting that Joe Biden won last month's election. Why too soon? Trump's last-gasp attempt to pull an election-reversing rabbit out of his hat involves a doomed plan to challenge Electoral College votes from five battleground states on January 6, when a joint session of Congress will meet to officially tabulate those results.

Under the 12th Amendment, "the electors shall meet in their respective states" and "vote by ballot for President and Vice President," which happened on Monday. Those signed and certified results are then sent to the president of the Senate (in this case, Vice President Mike Pence), who "shall, in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives, open all the certificates." The votes "shall then be counted."

Under the Electoral Count Act, any member of Congress can object to the results from a particular state, but such objections are considered only if they are backed by at least one member from each chamber. If that happens, the House and the Senate meet separately to vote on the objection, which has to be approved by a majority in both chambers to reject the challenged electoral votes.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R–Ala.) intends to challenge the electoral votes from "various states that, in my judgment, have such flawed election systems that their vote counts are unworthy of our ratification." During an interview with Fox Business host Lou Dobbs on Monday, Brooks presented his Trump-endorsed plan as consistent with historical practice.

"It's happened many times in the past," Brooks said. "Apparently, some folks have not done their history. By way of example, the Democrats in the House tried it in 2017 when they tried to strike Alabama's votes for Donald Trump. Georgia, the same way, the House Democrats tried to strike it. Barbara Boxer tried to strike Ohio for George Bush back in 2005, so this is not unusual."

The operative word here is tried. Congress has not actually rejected any electoral votes since it approved the Electoral Count Act in 1887. So far no senator has come forward to support Brooks' effort, and during a conference call yesterday McConnell implored his Republican colleagues not to do so. Sen. Ron Johnson (R–Wis.), who had toyed with the idea, yesterday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he does not plan to lodge any objections. "Something would have to surface that would call into question the legitimacy of the election," Johnson said.

That's a pretty striking statement from a diehard Trump supporter who is today holding a hearing about election "irregularities." Johnson distinguished between those concerns and the idea, tirelessly promoted by the president, that systematic fraud enabled Joe Biden to steal the election. "All I'm trying to do is hold a very upfront, straightforward hearing talking about what controls there are in place, what fraud does occur, what can we do to prevent fraud in the future," Johnson said. "I haven't seen anything that would convince me that the results—the overall national result—would be overturned."

Even if Brooks could persuade a senator to support his objections, the results of votes on them are a foregone conclusion, since Democrats control the House and at least 18 Republican senators (including Johnson) have acknowledged Biden's victory. The New York Times reports that McConnell is keen to "stave off a messy partisan spectacle on the floor of the House that could divide Republicans at the start of the new Congress, forcing them to choose between showing loyalty to Mr. Trump and protecting the sanctity of the electoral process."

Evidently that is exactly what Trump wants to see, which illustrates once again how his interests diverge from those of the party he continues to dominate. The GOP "must finally learn to fight," he tweeted last night. "People are angry!"

Republicans are angry, of course, largely because of Trump's insistence that he actually won the presidential election by a landslide, a fact that would be apparent but for a vast criminal conspiracy that denied him his rightful victory. In the six weeks since the election, Trump has not provided any credible evidence to back up that fanciful charge, as even Johnson has finally acknowledged. Yet polls indicate that most Trump supporters still believe the election was stolen.

Even as he vowed to continue his vain attempt to overturn the election, Trump retweeted a statement from evangelist Franklin Graham that conceded his defeat. Graham's comments, which he posted on Facebook, no doubt appealed to Trump because they were full of praise for him. But they ended this way: "President Trump will go down in history as one of the great presidents of our nation, bringing peace and prosperity to millions here in the U.S. and around the world. May God bless him, Melania, and their family, as God leads him to the next chapter in his life."

Next chapter? According to Trump, he won reelection by a landslide, and he has "tremendous evidence" to prove it. Why is Franklin Graham ready to give up and join the "surrender caucus"?