GOP increasingly accepts Trump's defeat — but not in public

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talk as they arrive to listen to President Donald Trump deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. When Harris returned to the Senate the week of Nov. 16, 2020, for the first time as vice president-elect, her Republican colleagues offered their congratulations and Graham greeted her with a fist bump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON – When Kamala Harris returned to the Senate this week for the first time as vice president-elect, her Republican colleagues offered their congratulations and Sen. Lindsey Graham greeted her with a fist bump.

It was a sign that many Republicans have privately acknowledged what they refuse to say openly: Democrat Joe Biden and Harris won the election and will take office in January.

The GOP's public silence on the reality of Biden's victory amounts to tacit approval of Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. That has significant repercussions, delaying the transition during a deadly pandemic, sowing public doubt and endangering Biden’s ability to lead the portion of the country that may question his legitimacy.

“The real-world consequences are perilous,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton University. “The long-term implications are calcifying the doubt about the election and what that means for the body politic. It could lead to half the country not just being deeply suspicious of the democratic process but also actively hostile toward it. It becomes difficult to imagine how we move forward.”

Republicans are closing the Trump era much the way they started it: by joining the president in shattering civic norms and sowing uncertainty in institutions. But their efforts to maintain a public face of support for the president began to deteriorate on Wednesday.

Backroom whispers about the futility of Trump’s legal fight have become louder after Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared in a Pennsylvania courtroom making wide and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in seeking to undo the election results. Asked about the case, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said, “Let me just say, I don’t think they have a strong case.”

And when White House chief of staff Mark Meadows visited with Senate Republicans, he encouraged them to “make the most” of their remaining time with Trump, according to two senators.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the message from Meadows was “basically just that we got about 45 days left of the president’s term.” Meadows told them the administration wanted to make sure that if the senators “had ideas of things that the White House could and should do during that period of time, that we got them to him.”