GOP planning a ‘soft coup’ by refusing to recognize Biden win?
President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to supporters as he departs after playing golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling Va., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Trump's loyalists in the Senate and the Justice Department continue to give the thumbs-up to his effort to overturn voters' Election Day verdict. | Steve Helber / AP

When announcing his coronavirus task force on Monday, President-elect Joe Biden forcefully declared, “This election is over.” That reality—already proven in the vote count—is not stopping Republican leaders from joining outgoing President Donald Trump’s dangerous game of refusing to recognize the results.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when asked Tuesday if the State Department is preparing to coordinate with the incoming Biden administration, said: “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” After a reporter asked Pompeo whether he believed Trump’s ongoing claims of voter fraud, Pompeo answered, “We must make sure that any vote that was not lawful ought not be counted.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the State Department is planning “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” | State Department

He elaborated further, saying, “When the process is complete, there’ll be electors selected,” leaving open the possibility that the Electoral College votes cast may not necessarily match up with the intentions of voters. His remarks appeared suggestive of a plan outlined by Pennsylvania Republicans weeks before the election which would attempt to use the state legislature to appoint an alternative slate of Electoral College electors should Election Day results go against Trump. Given the total lack of evidence to support Republican voter fraud claims, such a “soft coup” could be the avenue the GOP pursues to try to keep Trump in office.

At minimum, Pompeo has further ingratiated himself to Trump’s 70 million+ voters—a force he’ll want behind him should he mount his own White House run in 2024.

Further laying the groundwork for attacks on the democratic process are the announcements by several top Republican leaders that they are backing the president’s empty claims of a stolen election.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, signaling his support for Trump’s attempt to overturn the voters’ verdict, said Monday that “a few legal inquiries from the president do not exactly spell the end of the republic.” McConnell tried to downplay concerns about the threat posed by Trump’s mounting pile of unsubstantiated lawsuits, saying the president was “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities.”

The GOP’s continued election tampering could not come at a worse time, however, as the coronavirus pandemic rages out of control and right-wing extremists mobilize to back Trump’s illegitimate effort to cling onto power.

McConnell’s declaration of fealty to Trump’s fraud fantasy was joined by that of Vice President Mike Pence, who pledged his commitment to Trump’s attacks on election integrity. On Monday, he tweeted, “We’re gonna keep fighting until every LEGAL vote is counted.”

Pence is seeking to rally the troops for prolonged resistance to a presidential transition as the GOP monolith begins to show cracks. A handful of Republican U.S. Senators, at least one former Trump cabinet member, a number of GOP staffers, and former Republican President George W. Bush have already acknowledged that Biden will be the next president.

Even more ominous developments suggest that the GOP’s last-ditch effort to subvert the will of voters goes beyond paying lip service to the wishes of their fallen leader or placating the hurt ego of a sore loser.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department is moving to head off the normal process of certifying election results in several key states. He pushed federal prosecutors on Monday to pursue the president’s evidence-free claims of “voter tabulation irregularities.” Barr had reportedly been preparing a vote fraud investigation scam for weeks before the election, despite pushback from people inside the DOJ.

His sudden strike on Monday caused the immediate resignation of Richard Pilger, head of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch. Pilger and his colleagues are tasked with investigating actual election fraud and found Barr’s attack on democracy unacceptable.

Pilger reportedly told his co-workers in an email that Barr was “abrogating the forty-year-old Non-Interference Policy for ballot fraud investigations in the period prior to elections becoming certified and uncontested.”

In the densely-worded legalese of the memo announcing the scheme, Barr actually admitted that there was no legitimate reason to open fraud investigations and even that the allegations which have been made by Trump are “of such a scale that they would not impact the outcome of an election.” That didn’t matter; he ordered prosecutors to pursue cases anyway, as he said he himself has already done “in specific instances.”

In Georgia, meanwhile, where President-elect Biden’s lead over outgoing President Trump continues to inch higher, Republicans are turning on their own. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two GOP candidates who will run in the state’s January U.S. Senate run-off races, launched broadsides against Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

In a joint statement released Monday afternoon, Loeffler and Perdue claimed that Raffensperger’s “management of Georgia elections has become an embarrassment for our state.” Since Raffensperger’s vote counting did not return a Trump victory, the two candidates declared the secretary had “failed the people of Georgia” and that he “should step down immediately.” Raffensperger’s failure to go along with Trump’s lies about election fraud was an unforgivable sin, earning him excommunication.

In addition to the president’s determination to steal the election, the two Georgia run-off races are an essential part of the explanation for why many Republicans are going along with the doomed claims of voter fraud. Capitalizing on the fact that over 70% of Republican voters believe Trump was cheated, the GOP leadership is seeking to further undermine confidence in elections in order to garner nationwide support—politically and especially financially—for their effort to hold onto the Senate. The voter fraud fairytale is already being leveraged to solicit campaign donations for Loeffler and Perdue, who are going up against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Keeping Donald Trump around as long as possible, Republicans feel, is useful in their push to grab every last occasional GOP voter. Such voters who came out only because of their love for Trump helped the GOP in the 2020 election to take back House seats they lost to the Democrats in 2018. It also helped them hold onto Senate seats they would otherwise have lost.

Attorney General William Barr, right, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., are going all out to back outgoing President Donald Trump’s voter fraud fantasy. | Patrick Semansky / AP

Back in Washington, meanwhile, the White House is doing all it can to delay the transition of power to Biden. The General Services Administration, which provides funding, contact lists, office space, and other resources for incoming presidential administrations, is refusing to cooperate with the Biden team. Typically, the process of transition begins immediately after a winner is called. But the Trump appointee at the head of the GSA, Emily Murphy, sent out a spokesperson to declare that “an ascertainment has not yet been made” of who won the election.

Trump also fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday, via tweet. Esper, who joined the administration after years working in the armaments industry, angered Trump when he disagreed with the president’s use of federal troops against Black Lives Matter protesters this summer. He was replaced by Christopher Miller, an inexperienced mid-level Pentagon bureaucrat.

The president’s eagerness to settle scores and put unqualified loyalists into positions of power was a sharp demonstration of the power he still holds and his ability to inflict damage in the remaining two months he has in office. Perhaps of even larger importance, the moves by his acolytes to engineer a possible “soft coup” show the immediate danger his administration continues to pose to the survival of U.S. democracy.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.