No matter how many times Bullwinkle J. Moose fails to pull a rabbit out of his hat, he remains optimistic. “This time for sure!” he exclaims, disregarding his sidekick’s exasperated complaint that the trick “never works.” If Donald Trump has any skeptical friends like Rocky the Flying Squirrel, he plainly does not listen to them. Otherwise, he would not be demanding that all true patriots join him in an alternate universe where he won re-election.
Many of Trump’s supporters seem to live there, notwithstanding a long series of disappointments for litigants trying to demonstrate that the presidential election was illegitimate, culminating in two unanimous rejections by the Supreme Court last week. According to a recent Fox News poll, 68% of Republicans and 77% of Trump voters believe “the presidential election was stolen.” Some of those Trump fans may simply be signaling their loyalties or giving the response they think will irk the president’s enemies. But unless Trump supporters are perpetrating an elaborate gag nearly as sophisticated and complex as the baroque conspiracy he blames for denying him a second term, there are a lot of true believers out there.
Believing Trump requires accepting his claim that election officials across the country — possibly aided by a long list of co-conspirators that includes George Soros, the Clinton Foundation and several foreign governments — used fraud-facilitating voting machines to give Joe Biden an edge, and then switched to manufacturing “hundreds of thousands” of phony paper ballots when the original plan fell short. It also requires believing that pro-Trump news outlets, Republican election officials, Republican members of Congress, Trump-nominated judges and justices, the Department of Homeland Security and Trump’s own attorney general helped conceal that conspiracy by casting doubt on the president’s charges or obstructing his efforts to overturn the election. The alternative to buying all that is to conclude that Trump has refused to admit defeat, whether for personal or political reasons, and has therefore resorted to increasingly desperate explanations for Biden’s victory. That hypothesis is consistent with everything we know about Trump, including his disdain for the truth, his enormous yet fragile ego and his allergy to accepting responsibility.
It is also consistent with the chasm between Trump’s assertions and the claims his campaign has made in court. In a 46-minute Facebook rant earlier this month, Trump complained that “even judges so far have refused to accept” that he won the election — hardly a niggling detail since courts are the forum where Trump had to support his charges with credible evidence. Trump thinks the Supreme Court “chickened out” when it declined to hear Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in four battleground states. The justices simply “didn’t want to rule on the merits of the case,” the president avers.
Yet, state and federal judges have ruled on the merits of Trump’s legal arguments and rejected them, often in blistering terms. Equally telling, the Trump campaign’s lawsuits have failed even to allege the sort of vast criminal conspiracy he describes in speeches and tweets — possibly “because there are legal consequences for lying to judges,” as Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., suggested last month. In his motion to join Paxton’s lawsuit, Trump admitted that he couldn’t back up his claims of systematic cheating. “It is not necessary for the Plaintiff in Intervention to prove that fraud occurred,” said Trump’s lawyer, John Eastman. The problem, he argued, was that the election procedures challenged by Paxton made any such scheme “undetectable.”
That argument contradicted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s claim that the purported conspiracy is “easily provable” and the president’s assertion that “the evidence is overwhelming.” By Eastman’s account, the plot to steal the election cannot be documented, meaning its existence must be accepted as a matter of faith. In other words, there is no rabbit. But like Bullwinkle, Trump may still unleash fearsome beasts, one of which already has devoured our shared sense of reality.