Analyzing the aftermath of the election

Politics you should care about

Jackson Rudoff, Copy Editor

So much for a typical transition

In case you somehow missed it last week, the 2020 presidential election wrapped up after more than five days of uncertainty, mail-in hysteria and unrelenting Twitter feuds. Former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner by every reputable media outlet, as Pennsylvania’s mail-in count put his lead out of Donald Trump’s reach and tipped the electoral scale beyond 270. It was an agonizing process filled with an equal amount of antagonizing, paranoia and partisan disputes.

Yet, somehow, we’re only now getting into the tricky part. After hinting for months that he would do so if he lost, Trump has declared the results illegitimate, presenting America with an unprecedented situation. The last few days have only exacerbated the issues, as key allies, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have encouraged him to pursue legal challenges.

Before we analyze this further, though, one thing must be made clear. In discussing these legal challenges, it’s important to recognize that there has yet to be any real evidence of fraud. Most of the major grievances aired by Trump and his supporters have been debunked or lack any basis in reality. It is, for the most part, an exercise in populist optics.

That being said, the legal challenges themselves appear unlikely to get very far, regardless of public debate on the issue. Throughout the first few days of vote-counting, Trump’s legal team mounted a few cases against state and local elections boards. These ranged from complaints regarding partisan observers to the actual handling of votes, and their success varied.

Of the cases Trump’s lawyers presented, only one had legs, and all it did was change how close the poll observers could stand to the officials counting ballots. Another challenge in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, asking election officials to segregate day-of ballots and late-arriving ballots, also technically went in Trump’s favor. The issue is that officials were already doing this, and had never once indicated that they wanted to do otherwise.

Things have only gotten more bizarre since. In Nevada, a random team of lawyers showed up to give a press conference claiming they had proof of thousands of fraudulent ballots. But when asked, not only would they not identify themselves, their only real evidence was a list of 3,000 names made up of service members who had transferred bases.

Not long after the election was called, a now infamous press conference occurred wherein Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s lead counsel, decried the election process. However, what was unique about this incident was not the content, but the setting. Situated in the parking lot of a landscaping company, Guiliani waxed conspiracy nestled between a sex shop and a crematorium. It wasn’t exactly the shining beginning for what will be a long and stifling legal process.

So what do we make of all this, especially when it comes to Trump rejecting the results? Well, at this point we can’t say for sure, and that’s why paying close attention to rulings over the next few months will be crucial. The clock is ticking, and thus far, Trump’s route to overturning the results may be winding down a bumpy dead-end.

What now for Republicans?

The so-called “Party of Lincoln” is faced with a crucial watershed moment. After first rejecting Trump, Republicans have seen themselves become invested in Trump’s brand of conservative politics. The appeal is easy to understand, too. Merely indicate distaste for his worst comments and actions so the moderates don’t run away, and then pander to his base at critical political moments and suddenly your career in U.S. politics is solidified.

But what happens now that Trump’s presidency is confronting mortality? Will the party have to do the same?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great answer to this question yet. Early indications are that they are going to play into his populist program, as evidenced by the rank-and-file behavior from top Republicans as Trump builds his election fraud case. Even Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has become a loyalist, after spending a few years on the sidelines and seeing his polling numbers begin to trend downward.

The question is what these politicians will do if and when the well runs dry. Trump has already begun preparing for a 2024 bid, but that doesn’t guarantee he will carry the same support up to that point, or even make it to the primary. There could very well be other Trump-like candidates that emerge who can channel the same nationalistic energy that emanates from every Trump rally. What ultimately faces Republican National Committee leadership is a decision of where they want to be in 2024. Do they risk the same (if not a worse) defeat at the hands of a fairly uninspiring Democratic candidate? Or do they try to bring things back to that conservative identity they had worked so hard to build during the Obama administration?

One strong possibility is that with or without Trump, the Republican Party is going to continue feeding off the movement he built. The Republican Party, as it exists today, is a conglomerate of well-organized, unfailing devotees to conservatism. It should be noted here that the roots of conservatism lie within the term itself. It dictates the conservation of something, be it patriotism, economic liberalism or some other binding factor.

The recent steps taken by Republican leadership––which, at times, directly defies norms that they themselves created, demonstrates a rather unfortunate reality for the party. Analysts would often treat Trump’s presence as a burden, but the past week has uncovered how much Republicans can benefit from it. Being caught in contradictions matters even less than it did before, and egregious attempts to subvert the transition of partisan power are now on the table. Even if they jettison Trump, the party itself can now be as conservative as it wants without consequence.

It’s a dark time to be a Republican of a different era. All that matters now is retaining something, or taking us back to some bygone era in which everything was better. The institutional and normative costs of these imperatives are unimportant.

Wherever the party goes next, keep track of how it’s shaped by the election aftermath. It could split, grow stronger or remain relatively unchanged.