Donald Trump’s disgraceful behaviour risks doing lasting damage

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This article appeared in The Sunday Telegraph on November 7, 2020. Click here to view the original article.

By John Bolton
November 7, 2020

The US presidential race has now widely been called for Joe Biden. The counting has been slower than we’d like, and legal challenges to the process are under way. But if things end as now seems likely, whatever damage the electoral process and the nation’s institutions have suffered in recent days is easily repairable. After the 2000 election, Democratic nominee Al Gore precipitated a contentious recount in Florida – I spent 33 days there on George W Bush’s legal team – and America recovered in due course. We will recover from this, too.

There is, however, one significant caveat: if the Leader of the Free World continues to claim, with essentially no supportive evidence, that the election was stolen through fraud, we will have far more serious problems than merely reconciling disappointed partisans to the reality of defeat.

In the early hours of Wednesday, and again on Thursday evening, Donald Trump asserted unambiguously that he had won the election. He argued that Democrats, in league with corrupt, dishonest or incompetent election officials in six or seven states, were dumping out hundreds of thousands of fake ballots, thereby producing fraudulent majorities affording Biden an Electoral College victory. His surrogates made equally exaggerated claims in multiple state and federal lawsuits, not one of which has brought the Trump campaign any significant vindication, or done the slightest thing to change the results.

This disgraceful performance by the US president is deeply troubling. Any candidate is entitled to express disappointment when he or she loses, complain that life is unfair, and trigger all legitimately available election-law remedies to seek redress for alleged improprieties. Of course, raising claims, however permissible, is not the same as proving them, or showing that even validated claims have had an actual, let alone dispositive, effect on the election itself.
Responsible politicians know that, ultimately, they will pay a price if they go too far, even rhetorically. Apparently, no one ever explained this to Trump, or if they did, he didn’t pay any more attention to it than he usually pays to good advice.

The result is that the Republican Party now faces a character test. The party’s leaders can either reject Trump’s false claims and insist that he provide actual evidence in court, or join in his fantasia and forever tar their own reputations, and that of the party. To date, only a small number of elected Republican officials have commented publicly, evenly divided between these two possibilities. Many more need to speak out, and soon.

There is also a larger question ahead once the election is well and truly behind us, quite possibly once the Electoral College votes, which this year will be on Dec 14. The Republican Party must begin a serious conversation about its new direction going forward, which I hope will return it to a Reaganite approach. It is profoundly wrong to contend, as many commentators already are, that Trump has an iron grip on the party, and will dictate its strategy and determine its candidates from exile at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, perhaps plotting a 2024 Trump presidential campaign.

In fact, Trump’s influence will drop precipitously once he leaves the Oval Office. He will be, in a word he hates, a loser, and the whole world will know it. Only one defeated incumbent president has ever regained the office, and that was, in 1892, Grover Cleveland (who was both the 22nd and 24th president), hardly a compelling precedent. Dozens of prospective 2024 Republican presidential candidates are already lining up. Trump the man will certainly remain a factor, but there is no “Trumpism”; his administration has had no coherent philosophy, certainly not on national security matters. And after Jan 20, the world will no longer hang on every new Trump tweet.

In Washington, attention will shift rapidly to the new Biden administration and its plans, and how well (or poorly) they will fare in a Congress where Republicans probably still control the Senate and Democrats have a diminished majority in the House. Biden faces an angry Left wing in his own party, and his relations with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, could well be the big political story ahead.

Not all of Trump’s legacy is bad. Millions of blue-collar voters have rejected the Democratic Party’s radicals. Even more inconveniently for the Left, Hispanic support for Republican candidates has swelled nationwide. Without Trump, we can now seek the return of voters whom his behaviour repulsed, and build a long-term Republican governing majority.

Soon again, we will elect a real conservative Republican president.