WASHINGTON – Winston Churchill was not known for leaving his thoughts unspoken. One of them was this: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
President Donald Trump, who has professed admiration for, if not deep knowledge of, the British prime minister, is putting Churchill’s observation to one of its greatest tests by refusing to accept the results of an election that delivered victory for Democrat Joe Biden. Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, calls this a “dangerous path” for the United States.
Trump has forced a dusting off of the arcana of the procedures for the Electoral College, which for almost the entirety of the nation’s history has been a formality and not an instrument to overturn people’s votes.
A sitting American president is, for the first time, trying to convince the people that they should not believe the numbers that clearly demonstrate his rival's win. Rather, Trump is making baseless claims of massive fraud, demanding recounts and calling for audits in an effort to discredit the outcome and, in the process, put democracy itself on trial.
It's possible that the mercurial president is one tweet away from a change of heart, but so far that is not the case. And the sweeping majority of his fellow Republicans are allowing him to play this out.
Obama, who invited Trump to the White House soon after Trump's election four years ago and pledged cooperation in the transfer of power, is not shocked that a man who “never admits loss” is refusing to acknowledge defeat now.
“I’m more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials, who clearly know better, are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion,” Obama told CBS' “60 Minutes.” “It is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration but democracy generally. And that’s a dangerous path.”
With one eye on Trump, Republicans may have the other fixed on Georgia, where they want his energy to help their candidates win two Senate runoffs in January and ensure at minimum that Biden has to deal with divided government. Republicans have seen how Trump batters dissidents, and few have chosen this consequential moment to cross him.