Republicans and their allies are still circling the wagons around Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, after the former president was indicted (again) on Tuesday, this time for conspiring to steal the 2020 election.
“President Trump did nothing wrong!” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who voted to overturn the legitimate election results on Jan. 6, 2021, posted online.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who played a key role on Jan. 6 in supporting Trump’s effort to steal the election, called the indictment “the latest effort to stop Trump from running against Biden.”
Declaring that she would vote for Trump “even if he’s in jail,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), in her usual glossomanic paranoid style, called Trump’s indictment “a communist attack on America’s first amendment to vote for who THE PEOPLE want for President.”
Did Trump really do “nothing wrong?” Is this all just an effort “to stop Trump from running against Biden”? Have the communists attacked the First Amendment right to vote? (Don’t ask about that last one.) These arguments all have the same premise: that what Trump did in the run-up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, was totally legal and fine.
Let’s take that to its logical end point.
Let’s assume that come Nov. 5, 2024, Trump has defeated President Joe Biden to reclaim the presidency by a slim margin across a number of swing states. Biden, as it is in his right, challenges the outcome in the courts. He also invents a complicated series of lies to explain how the election was stolen from him.
Biden, in this hypothetical, has “a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won,” to quote the indictment of Trump.
Similarly, according to Trump’s indictment, he is “also entitled to formally challenge the results of the election through lawful and appropriate means, such as by seeking recounts or audits of the popular vote in states or filing lawsuits challenging ballots and procedures.”
But what Republicans also find to be legal and fine is, apparently, if Biden then conspired to overturn the election by using those lies about election fraud to pressure elected officials and Electoral College representatives to change popular vote totals, decertify election results and submit fraudulent documents to Congress that claim the loser of the election actually won.
It would be legal, according to Republicans, for a high-profile Democrat working as a lawyer at Biden’s behest to promote false information about election fraud to, say, the Michigan state legislature in an effort to get them to certify the election for Biden even if he, hypothetically, lost the state in 2024.
“They seem to think that it would be legal and fine for Biden to pressure elected officials to change vote totals, organize phony electors and for Harris to unilaterally steal the election for Biden.”
Let’s say that Biden lost Michigan by, I don’t know, 11,779 votes. While his lawyer presented lies to the state legislature with the aim of tricking them into certifying the election for Biden, the president called up Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, and presented those same lies while pressuring her to “find” exactly 11,780 votes. This is totally legal, Republicans would say, since Trump did exactly this to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
And if Benson, or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, didn’t go along with this, Biden could then summon the speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives to the White House to pressure them to open an investigation into invented election fraud theories. He and his lawyer could then continue to push the Michigan state legislature to investigate fraud as part of a campaign to decertify the election results. Biden’s lawyer could push the legislature to “pass a joint resolution” that says that “the election is in dispute.” After all, Trump did this to the Michigan state legislature leadership in 2020.
At the same time, if Biden lost Arizona by around 10,000 votes, both he and his lawyer could also pressure, say, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to refuse to certify the election. They would present all of their lies, even if they conceded that: “We don’t have the evidence, but we have lots of theories.” This would be fine, as Trump did something similar to Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
Biden could also, through a series of lawyers and political consultants, organize electors in select states that he lost to submit false certifications to Congress claiming that he was the actual winner of the Electoral College votes in those states.
He could then tell Vice President Kamala Harris to cite these fake elector certifications as reason to not count the Electoral College votes of enough states to provide himself the victory.
Since Republicans do not believe that any of this rises to an illegal conspiracy, it would therefore be legal for Harris to do as Biden says and unilaterally declare him the winner — even though he lost.
Now, none of this is actually possible because Democrats, including Biden, and a small group of Republicans voted in 2022 to reform the Electoral Count Act to prevent the submission of phony elector slates and specify the vice president’s role as solely ceremonial. Most Republicans, however, opposed this reform. And in defending Trump today, they seem to think that it would be legal and fine for Biden to pressure elected officials to change vote totals, organize phony electors and for Harris to unilaterally steal the election for Biden.
This is the logic that Republicans defending Trump have laid out.