The votes had not been counted before the schemes to change the outcome of the election began. By the time of the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, there were at least nine separate plots designed to keep Donald Trump in the White House.
Much as King Henry II’s rhetorical question, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” encouraged those around him to murder the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170, Trump’s incessant cries to have Biden’s 2020 victory overturned led his devotees to conjure all manner of schemes by which to accomplish what they perceived to be their leader’s desire.
Even today, almost two years after the November 2020 vote, we still are finding out just how numerous were these varied plots.
There was the use of disinformation to muddy the waters with claims of election fraud ranging from the credible, such as illegal ballot harvesting in several states and clear violations of Pennsylvania’s election laws, to the truly bizarre – like Roger Stone’s theory about North Korean boats delivering fake ballots through Maine, or Sidney Powell’s claim about rigged voting machines built by Hugo Chavez.
Some of the schemes were simply self-serving efforts by Trump supporters to gain personal advantage, such as the patently absurd proposal by environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark to have Trump name him Acting Attorney General in late December 2020 so he could mastermind an election reversal.
There were other proposed plots based on executive overreach. Virginia attorney William Olson suggested in writing that Trump replace both his own White House counsel and the Acting Attorney General with attorneys who would do his bidding to ensure pro-Trump vote counts in key states. More concerning, a drafted, but never issued Executive Order compelled the Secretary of Defense to seize voting machines for “analysis.”
Most notable were the schemes proposed by figures directly advising the President, such as Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, which contorted the law – and the Constitution – to justify “alternative” slates of electors to be chosen by Vice President Mike Pence during the official certification.
While there is not yet solid evidence that, in the final analysis Trump himself directly approved any of these ideas presented to him — other than the Pence “certification” maneuver — all resulted from Trump’s obsession that the election had been “stolen” and from his constant calls, in private and publicly, that steps be taken to correct things.
In a sense, Trump left office the same way he entered: relying solely on his gut, rather than a core set of principles and surrounded by a cadre of loyal but knowledgeable advisers. Had he chosen to fight allegations of voter fraud solely within the bounds of the law, rather than undermining it, he could have retained the credibility necessary for seeking a second term, even if it came four years late.
As further evidence of these hairbrained proposals come to light, however, the more it will overshadow and tarnish the many important and positive things Trump accomplished during his four-year tenure, especially in the energy and regulatory arenas and his judicial appointments. It will also make his path back, if that remains his plan, even more difficult.
Had Trump left office with dignity and principle, there is little question he now would be well-positioned to win again in 2024. Instead, the continuing revelations of his post-November 2020 shenanigans, including recent evidence made public by the House January 6 Committee, cloud his chances to win his Party’s 2024 nomination, and are dragging down his own polling numbers.
The more evidence that emerges about Trump’s extra-legal and extra-constitutional efforts to overturn the last election, the greater the chance that other Republican contenders will lose their fear of Trump and opt to challenge him directly in next year’s primary contests.
The longer this process drags out, the more it will hurt the GOP by shifting focus away from Biden’s and the Democrats’ sorry record, back to 2020 and January 6, 2021; even perhaps hurting the Party’s margin of victory in this year’s vital congressional contests.