Donald Trump lost the election, bigly. There is no honest, reasonable question about that any more, not even among judges with a conservative philosophy, or ones who were nominated by Republican presidents. Even those nominated by this Republican president.
Last month more than 84.1 million Americans voted for someone other than Trump; another 80.8 million eligible voters voted for no one at all. That’s 165 million Americans who, given the opportunity to sign up for another four years of Trump as president, said, no thanks. Almost 70% of Americans of voting age. A landslide.
But 74.2 million of our fellow Americans did vote for him. That’s more than voted for him in 2016, more than voted for any candidate for president in any year other than Joe Biden this year. Almost 47% of the people who voted in this election, almost one-third (31%) of all eligible voters, took the time to stand up and say “Thank you sir, may I have another?”.
(The Electoral College totals—306 for Biden, 232 for Trump—reflect a larger percentage for Biden than do the popular vote totals, but that’s the nature of the Electoral College.)
It’s wishful thinking to assume that those 74.2 million people will now just shrug, say “oh well, you win some and you lose some,” and try to resume their normal lives, or whatever passes for normal in the age of COVID-19. Some will, but we’ve seen evidence of thousands who’ve turned their backs on demonstrable truth and maintain what I’d describe as an irrational belief in Trump as their hero, as the guy who’s fighting for the little man. Irrational in that there is not only no evidence that Trump has tried to help the average American but ample evidence that he doesn’t give a damn about the little guy and is only ever in it for himself.
Yet, they persist. Rather than reassess the field for 2024, MAGA Nation is far more likely to (1) want Trump to run again, or (2) support one of his children, or worst of all, (3) support another fascist and authoritarian candidate, one who is smarter than Trump and who would do more and lasting damage to our democracy if he becomes president.
It is fear of those voters—the base—that has prevented leaders of the Republican Party from more than a low-key, tacit admission that Trump lost and Biden won. Those people have demonstrated that Trump is who and what they support and that they will punish any variance from full-throated support of Trump. As long as Trump keeps up a public face of contesting the election results—even though he probably understands that he cannot win and stay in power—no Republican sane enough to recognize that reality can publicly acknowledge real reality.
There is no shortage of people and groups now distancing themselves from the party of Lincoln, from the party of Reagan. They make a persuasive argument that an organization that maintains loyalty to someone as off his rocker as Donald Trump has abandoned the tenets of principled Republicanism and principled conservatism. One is The Lincoln Project, founded by longtime Republican officials and operatives and which was not shy about its support of Biden: “President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”
Another, which I just discovered in a story in The New Yorker, is Veterans for Responsible Leadership. Organized by Naval Academy graduate and former Navy SEAL Dr. Dan Barkhuff, this group is giving military veterans who can’t stomach the treachery of Trump a place to go to fight back.
Barkhuff is a conservative. He voted Republican until 2016, when he saw insurmountable character deficiencies in Donald Trump. He noted that, as [James] Stockdale endured torture as a P.O.W., Trump, who dodged the draft, was “enjoying the comforts” of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. As troops risked their lives in Afghanistan after 9/11, Trump was bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.” The thought of Trump becoming President disgraced the friends that Barkhuff had lost to combat and the peers he had watched make “countless small choices: to be truthful, to stay committed to a code of honor and duty, and to choose a harder right over the easier wrong.” Barkhuff thought it reasonable to expect any leader to respect courage, self-sacrifice, and service. He did not vote for Trump.
When Trump took office, Barkhuff decided to give him a chance, hoping that the President “would rise to the level of the office.” But, Barkhuff told me, Trump was “worse than I thought he would be—and I thought he was going to be terrible.” Barkhuff often expressed his dismay on Facebook, where his posts were seen only by his relatives and Navy pals. When he discovered that other veterans shared his concerns, he created a page—Veterans for Responsible Leadership—where like-minded members could vent.
Service members are trained to remain apolitical when in uniform, but veterans are free to espouse their views. The V.F.R.L. members chatted online about diversity in the military (“transgender people should obviously be allowed to serve”), athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice (kneeling “is NOT disrespectful to our troops”), and the President’s divisiveness (“Trump wins only by creating controversy and firing up people. . . . It’s dictatorship 101”). Most of the members were Navy vets, yet V.F.R.L. hoped to recruit from all branches and ranks. Glenn Schatz, one of the V.F.R.L. leaders and a former nuclear-submarine officer, told me that the Trump Administration’s assault on established norms called veterans back to service. “Once you’re out of uniform it’s your obligation to speak up when you see the Constitution being violated,” he said.
In the 2018 midterms, V.F.R.L. backed one candidate, Dan McCready, a Democrat and former Marine Corps captain, in North Carolina, who ultimately lost his congressional race. By 2020, “there were no Republicans left to support,” Barkhuff told me. “They had all gone all in on Trump.” V.F.R.L. did not endorse the high-profile veterans Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, or Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, because, the organization argued, by aligning themselves with Trump, they had “sacrificed foundational principles for political expediency.”
On July 3rd, Barkhuff, in a post on V.F.R.L.’s Facebook page, tried to capture the scope of the criticism surrounding Trump’s handling of military issues: “Since his inauguration Donald Trump has, in no particular order: lost active duty troops on missions he personally approved and blamed it on ‘his’ generals . . . , refused to believe the intelligence reports given to him by the Central Intelligence Agency . . . , minimized the TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries) sustained by troops in Iraq during an Iranian missile attack as ‘headaches’, deployed active duty troops to our southern border to stop a ‘caravan’ of migrants immediately before the midterm elections, called a collection of his generals including General Mattis a bunch of ‘dopes and babies.’ ”
Barkhuff asked if he had forgotten anything. Dozens of replies piled up, highlighting other affronts: Trump had disparaged Gold Star families; publicly ridiculed Senator John McCain, a former P.O.W., for being captured in Vietnam; appeared to make unilateral policy decisions by tweet; asked for a military parade; and inappropriately involved Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a photo op. Later discussions would mention Trump retweeting a post from an account linked to QAnon conspiracy theories, alleging that the seals never killed Osama bin Laden. (Robert O’Neill, the former seal who said he fired the kill shot, had to tweet assurances that the bin Laden operation had happened, and that the target was dead.)
Please read the article, very much worth the time. You can get the short course in this pre-election spot that Barkhuff recorded for The Lincoln Project.
I take comfort in knowing that there are people all across the political spectrum in this country who really do see Trump for what he is, who haven’t and won’t fall for the charlatan with the easy answers to the very real and serious problems our country faces. Our next step is to realize that the problem hasn’t been solved just because we voted him out of office. There are still 4+ weeks before Biden is sworn in, and Trump’s not done yet…even his enablers in the White House are starting to be concerned.