The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: Is It Still a ‘Coup’ If Democrats Do It?

President Donald Trump leaves the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 4, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

In response to Is It Still a ‘Coup’ If Democrats Do It?

It’s an attempt to steal an election, Dan. I’d apply that language here, too, at least if we stipulate that there is no sound objection to the way the recount in Iowa’s second district was conducted (I hedge because I’m not immersed in the details). (For anyone catching up: We’re talking about Democrat Rita Hart’s attempt to get the U.S. House to overturn the state-certified result in Iowa’s second congressional district. According to that result, she lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six votes.)

But in the context of Trump’s election-stealing efforts, my quibble with your quibble — for anyone catching up: Dan’s first-order quibble is that my previous comments didn’t distinguish properly between getting a legislature to invalidate an election and getting a court to do so — is that in Trump’s case the two strategies have not been totally distinct. For example, Trump’s filing in Pennsylvania district court on November 20 proposed, as one of two possible remedies, that the court “enter an order, declaration, and/or injunction that the results of the 2020 presidential general election are defective and providing for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to choose Pennsylvania’s electors” (paragraph 327). (The alternative remedy, paragraph 326, was for the court to compel the state to certify only those votes that Trump claimed were legal.)

On the bigger picture: I’ll happily grant the general distinction between a legislative and a court strategy. But I love distinctions and would want to draw a few more.

I think there are distinctions between (1) a court strategy with a reasonable chance of success, and one that is fundamentally meritless (a claim with merit would not, or not as obviously, be an attempt to steal); (2) a court strategy executed with public restraint and regard for the truth, and one accompanied by presidentially stoked conspiracy theories and total indifference to the truth; (3) the consequences for our political culture of a congressional candidate’s comparatively obscure election-stealing efforts, and the consequences of election-stealing efforts of a sitting, defeated president who has a direct line to almost 90 million Twitter followers and seems desperately unwilling to leave office; and, relatedly, (4) election-stealing efforts in a single district where the margin of loss was six votes, and election-stealing efforts in a national election lost by irreversible margins across multiple states (or, for that matter, between an irreversible presidential loss across multiple states and a much narrower loss in a single state — which is why, even apart from the conspiracy-mongering and the inveterate dishonesty, Trump’s stance is less defensible than Al Gore’s was in 2000). I am less “ballistic” over Hart, based on these distinctions; and I do think, based on (1) and (2), and paragraph 327, that Trump’s court strategy and not just his legislative one is “deeply improper and damaging.”

I also don’t especially object to selective outrage. As I joked once to a colleague when I was in a cynical mood, I believe the correct view is “Everything is rotten” — I did not say “rotten” — and from there one can choose which rottenness to complain about. If A and B are equally bad, I don’t think one is obligated to decry both if, for any number of practical reasons (lack of interest, lack of time, lack of knowledge), one wishes not to. But I see what Trump is doing as uniquely bad.