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Republicans shun Biden’s win, but to what end?

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Nov 13, 2020 - 04:15 AM

WASHINGTON — Most Republican lawmakers have yet to acknowledge Joe Biden as America’s next leader, a departure from political norms that suggests President Donald Trump retains an iron grip on his congressional flock.

Five days after every major US media outlet projected Biden as the next president, more world leaders have publicly congratulated the Democratic winner — including Pope Francis in a phone call Thursday — than have Republicans in Congress.

Most GOP lawmakers have instead opted to back Trump, who even in defeat received record numbers of votes, in disputing the results and supporting the flurry of legal challenges across multiple swing states that Biden won, including Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Their reticence to acknowledge Biden’s win may be part of a longshot strategy involving multiple goals, including positioning for 2022 midterm elections, Republican fundraising efforts, and energizing Trump’s base ahead of fiercely contested Senate runoffs in Georgia that will determine the chamber’s balance of power.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered a blunter rationale Thursday for the cynical stance: “Congressional Republicans are deliberately casting doubt on our elections for no other reason but fear of Donald Trump.”

Results show former vice president Biden, 77, clearly earning more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

But Trump has seized on the undeniable reality that he remains popular with Republicans. In raw numbers, the controversial incumbent received more total support nationwide than any sitting president ever.

“Now 73,000,000 Votes!” he trumpeted on Twitter, conveniently ignoring Biden’s 77.7 million and counting.

So while Republicans like Trump critic Senator Mitt Romney recognize Biden’s victory, many others have gone all in to support Trump’s baseless allegations that Democrats worked to “steal” the election.

“It makes sense because Trump still maintains the loyalty of at least eight in 10 Republican voters, who have indicated in surveys that they do not consider Biden legitimate and think Trump should keep fighting,” David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, told AFP.

“They fear backlash from voters if they go the other way.”

If Republican “Never-Trumpers” were eager to see the president in the rearview mirror, the White House made clear that Trumpism is here to stay.

“There is no denying that this president is the head of our party for many decades to come,” Trump’s chief spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said.

Trump’s strategy is a dramatic shift from a generation ago, when a gracious George H.W. Bush welcomed his vanquisher Bill Clinton to the White House in 1993 with a letter that proclaimed “your success now is our country’s success.”

“It’s certainly symptomatic of how loyal the party has become to Trump,” said J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“Regardless if he wins, Trump will hold considerable sway in the GOP going forward,” he added. “With that in mind, perhaps the protests from Republican members are most about signaling their solidarity with the base.”

Delegitimizing strategy? 

Among Trump’s chief loyalists is Senator Lindsey Graham, who won re-election by double digits on November 3 and fully supports Trump’s refusal to concede.

“Over the past few years (Graham has) established himself as a hardcore Trump loyalist, and perhaps he sees how that paid off for him electorally,” Coleman said. Other lawmakers in the president’s camp “should likely keep following Trump’s lead.”

But why back Trump’s legal challenges, an effort that appears doomed to fail as state officials from both parties assert no substantial election fraud has been verified?

“The goal here seems to be to undermine people’s faith in the legitimacy of the election — and to raise money,” said Professor Joshua Douglas of the University of Kentucky College of Law.

“It also may be in part to rile up the Republican base for the Georgia Senate runoff elections.”

The twin runoffs have already become political ground zero, with both parties bracing for an epic showdown in Georgia to see whether Republicans retain Senate control or it flips to Democrats.

Like other experts, Douglas said Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge a Biden victory was “unprecedented in breaking democratic norms,” but he stressed there was “basically no chance” that the legal challenges will overturn the election’s result.

Democrats warn that Republican foot-dragging will strain Biden’s transition and draw attention away from critical issues like the coronavirus pandemic.

“Stop the circus and get to work on what really matters to the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

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