Republicans are squabbling over their post-Trump future in real time


At the time I write this, the 2020 presidential election is more or less all over but the shouting. None of the major networks or outlets have officially called the thing for Joe Biden, but with each successive ballot dump in states like Georgia, Nevada, and — god bless 'em — Pennsylvania, it becomes clearer and clearer that President Trump just has no way of making up the votes he needs to eke out a come-from-behind victory.

Having said all that, the GOP is currently having a pretty hard time figuring out just how to address, y'know, reality at this particular juncture — a dilemma exacerbated by the increasingly rancorous schism between the president's most diehard supporters/enablers, and the "institutional" wing of the party which seems very keen on coming out of this whole ridiculous farce with at least the facsimile of dignity intact. Good luck.

Take, for instance, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, whose state of Pennsylvania will — if things continue as they're expected to go — essentially seal the victory for Biden when the vote is called there. In response to the president's repeated insistence that the election is being "stolen" from him (it's not) and that he has nevertheless absolutely won (he hasn't), Toomey offered a drop of what counts as cold water in the GOP these days, saying that "the president’s speech last night was very disturbing to me because he made very, very serious allegations without any evidence to support it."

Toomey's attempt to wriggle his way around calling Trump a liar, without actually calling him a liar, was replicated in various forms across the institutional GOP from colleagues like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who echoed Joe Biden's prosaic swooning over the nation's electoral traditions, explaining that "counting the vote is at the heart of democracy." Hardly a shocking, or even interesting, sentiment, but a decidedly different one from Trump's call to "STOP THE COUNT."

Even longtime Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who just fought off a well-funded Democratic challenger en route to re-election, showed the slimmest crack in his insectoid MAGA carapace, saying that he expected the president's team to show further evidence of their alleged voter fraud in the next 48 hours. He went so far as to say it would be "incumbent" upon Trump to actually have some specifics to point to — hardly a glaring denunciation of the president's rolling stream of bullshit, to be sure, but kindly read as a tacit admission that Trump simply doesn't have the goods right now.

Even Rush Limbaugh, in many ways the ur-Trump figure in the conservative media world, seemed to understand just what was happening, conceding where Trump wouldn't that the election was probably over. But then he quickly returned to air during his radio broadcast to explain that the president still had "legal" options.

Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a mainstay on CNN's election panels, simply pleaded for some sympathy for Republicans who needed to convalesce in their safe spaces after Trump's apparent loss.

Now compare these concessions, weak though they are, with the increasingly unhinged but adamant refusal by the president and his inner circle to even entertain the thought that they might not be in power for much longer.

Conspicuously, save for a single tweet in support of Trump, Vice President Mike Pence — perhaps the politician with the most to win, or lose, from all this when it comes to 2024 — has been noticeably absent from this particularly fight.

Still, the fact that none of the conspiracy theories alleged here have actually come to any sort of realistic fruition is hardly the point. No one seriously believes there's any evidence of widespread voter fraud, let alone very specific fraud intended to steal the election from Trump but deliver unexpectedly good results for Republicans down-ballot. Instead, it's all part of a broader dynamic within the GOP over what a post-Trump party will look like. Will it be dominated by the MAGA wing that wants to purge all non-believers from their ranks, or will the institutional Republicans reassert themselves in an attempt to act like the Trump years were simply an aberration, rather than the logical outcome of their decades of rotting leadership?

Ultimately, by all indications, Trump will one way or another not be the one taking the oath of office this coming January. Whether that's because he publicly admits he lost, or simply resigns himself to grumbling about conspiracy theories in some misguided attempt to seem "strong," remains to be seen.