The erratic last days of Donald Trump

By Cameron Spencer |

Donald Trump will leave office on the 20th of January, the end to a contentious four years. While convention dictates that Trump would become a lame-duck, gracefully preparing the incoming Biden Administration, reflecting on the honour of serving his country, he has continued to dominate the news with actions ranging from outlandish, to petty, to destructive.

Donald Trump speaks for supporters at a conservative event | Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

On January 6th, Congress will meet to finalize the results of the Electoral College, the last step in the two-year long process to choose the next president. Vice President Mike Pence will preside over a process in which 538 certificates, signed by electors from across the country, will be counted and verified by the House and Senate. Normally, this would be a purely ceremonial procedure, however, 140 Republican members led by Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley will seek to challenge the election results in a number of key swing-states pointing to unfounded claims relating to voter fraud. This plan appears more performative than functional as Democrats control enough votes to end the rebellion, yet the conundrum still remains; can loyalty to the leader of the Republican Party be worth upholding if shattering democratic conventions is the cost?

Trump has routinely worked to spread misinformation about the security of November’s election, continuing to contest results that led to his defeat. The Justice Department investigation into the election stated ’to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election’. Furthermore, the Trump’s legal team have taken over sixty cases to various courts in the hope of revealing voting irregularities, although only a handful of votes have been thrown out, having little to no effect on the election.

A lawsuit described as ‘extreme’ was brought by the State of Texas, hoping to throw out ballots from several states, again with no credible evidence of widespread irregularities, but this effort was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court. Republican Senator Ben Sasse later wrote, ‘Every American who cares about the rule of law should take comfort that the Supreme Court – closed the book on this nonsense’. Representatives of the President have posited theories of electoral corruption ranging from malware glitches that flipped votes from Trump to Biden, long-dead voters supposedly casting mail-in ballots, and ‘communist money under the direction of Hugo Chavez’ (who has been dead for seven years).

‘I value loyalty above everything else—more than brains, more than drive and more than energy’

While numerous conspiracies have been debunked, an alarming 70% of registered Republicans believe that the election was not ‘free and fair’. Therefore, it is not surprising that elected Republicans would seek to symbolically delay the certification of the election. Both Cruz and Hawley are expected to run for president in 2024, to stand against the aggrieved, but deeply loyal, coalition enthralled by Trump could quickly lead to their political demise. Democrats have loudly voiced concerns about the actions of their opponents. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the move ‘patently undemocratic and ludicrous’, while other Democrats have gone as far to claim that these actions could be ruled as ‘seditious’, a violation of their constitutional oath and worthy of expulsion. Similarly, many Republicans have voiced strong opposition. Senator Mitt Romney called the actions of his colleagues an ‘egregious ploy’ that ‘dangerously threatens’ the country and former Speaker Paul Ryan wrote in a statement ‘it is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. Joe Biden’s victory is entirely legitimate’. Donald Trump’s actions have frequently divided the nation, but now it seems that his own party could be the next to split.

The President placed himself in further jeopardy after the Washington Post released an hour-long leaked phone conversation between Trump and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the call, the President pushed Raffensperger, who oversaw his state’s election which narrowly voted for Biden, to ‘recalculate’ the results, at another point saying ‘All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state’. Raffensperger disputed the accusations made, challenging the data brought by the President as incorrect and not reflective of the results of the two recounts in his state. ‘Brad, we just want the truth’, concludes the tape, a line reminiscent of an interrogation. He was immediately condemned for the phone call, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris called his actions ‘a bald, bald-faced, abuse of power’, while Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters ‘I absolutely think it’s an impeachable offence – he’s attacking our very election’.

With only a few weeks left in office, it is unlikely that the House and Senate would have the time or would waste the effort to impeach and attempt to remove Trump for the second time. However, while Trump may not pay the political price, Georgia state law includes provisions to prosecute anyone ‘soliciting or requesting’ electoral fraud. Department of Justice convention will prevent him from being charged with any crime while he remains President, but the Attorney General of Georgia could choose to press charges as soon as Joe Biden is sworn in, that is if he chooses to. Trump’s self-proclaimed ‘perfect call’ to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led to his impeachment a year ago, similarly the Nixon Tapes of election criminality led to his forced resignation, while Trump may dodge punishment initially, he has placed himself in a precarious legal position.

President Trump poses with Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler whose contested seat could decide the balance of US Senate | The Office of Kelly Loeffler

Revenge has been a defining motivation since November. Many within his party have wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s narrative of election rigging, but the majority have been cautious not to fall too deep down the rabbit whole. ‘I value loyalty above everything else—more than brains, more than drive and more than energy’, he once said. This puts many Republicans in a difficult situation. It is not uncommon for a leader to request loyalty, but there are limits to which anyone will go. Perceived disloyalty motivated Trump to threaten to enact a presidential veto of two bills, including the long-awaited stimulus bill, which included direct financial assistance to citizens for the first time since late March.

The stimulus bill represented the first time Trump had really become irreconcilable with his Republican colleagues in Congress. Despite months of wrangling, both houses finally passed a bill which granted $600 checks for each person, a figure negotiated down by Senate Republicans for months after House Democrats passed a bill containing $2000 checks. But days later, Trump announced on Twitter that he would veto the ‘disgraceful’ compromise bill, demanding more money to go to citizens (despite his government working against greater amounts for months) and a repeal of Section 230, an obscure campaign promise which would place restrictions on social media companies. Without motive, Trump created a situation completely untenable to both Democrats and Republicans: Democrats wanted larger checks but opposed the repeal of Section 230, while Republicans wanted the opposite. This seemed to only damage the work of Congress, particularly, Mitch McConnell.

The Republican Senate Majority Leader has become notorious for his opposition to government spending by preventing Democrats from passing nearly any bill. He is said to relish his ‘grim reaper’ reputation. Although he and President Trump have never been completely on the same page, McConnell has sought to reign in some of Trump’s impulses while still maintaining the Commander in Chief as a willing participant in his political project. He tentatively went along with election fraud claims for weeks until the meeting of the electoral college, after which he congratulated Biden. Trump may have little regard for what happens to the Republican Party once he has left office, but McConnell needs Republicans to win elections so he can maintain power under incoming President Biden. With two crucial upcoming Georgia Senate elections, the actions of Donald Trump could cost McConnell his majority, a final punishment for insubordination.

A delayed stimulus bill, undermining of democracy, potentially impeachable actions, over 2000 COVID deaths a day, cynical use of pardon power and whatever else he decides on in the next few weeks, Trump will seemingly continue his erratic record. Ultimately, he’s come this far by breaking the rules. Why stop now?