Ms. Collins was right about the first part: Mr. Trump did learn a pretty big lesson. He learned that he can break the law and undermine democracy with impunity. He learned that he can do the political equivalent of shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and he won’t lose the support of Republicans. So, naturally, he pulled the trigger again.
This time, many Republicans have again swarmed to the president’s defense. As of Monday night, more than 140 House members and at least 13 senators were expected to object to electoral vote results on Wednesday, when Congress officially counts the ballots. That is, more than 150 Republican lawmakers have signed on to reject the votes of tens of millions of Americans.
On what grounds are they taking this stupefying step? Overwhelming evidence of voting fraud and irregularities, they claim. When called to present such evidence in a court of law, however, they’ve got nothing. In dozens of lawsuits filed over the past two months, Mr. Trump’s lawyers and allies have been unable to document more than a few isolated cases of fraud in any state, much less the hundreds of thousands of cases in multiple states that would be necessary to change the outcome. That’s no surprise in an election that was praised by election officials as “the most secure in American history.”
There are lawmakers who understand the grave danger in what their colleagues are doing. Several Republican senators — including Ms. Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah — have urged Congress to “move forward” and certify Mr. Biden’s victory. In choosing any other path, warned Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, “Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has also urged his colleagues not to object.
In a sense, this is all political theater. Every state long ago certified its vote totals without contest. On Monday, Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, publicly and painstakingly debunked every one of Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud. “This is all easily, provably false,” he said. The objectors know this; many won their own seats on the same ballots that they are attempting to invalidate. What they are really objecting to is the fact that Mr. Trump lost.
But there are many Americans who believe their claims who are not in on this disingenuous, cynical game — and who believe that their votes for Mr. Trump are the ones being invalidated. That mistrust will have consequences that extend far beyond Wednesday’s certification, including the creation of a generational myth of a stolen election, the discrediting of Mr. Biden’s presidency from the outset, and the passage of stricter voting laws that target Democratic-leaning voters, under the guise of electoral integrity.
That’s a big problem, because a republic works only when the losers accept the results, and the legitimacy of their opponents. All the more reason to commend Republican officials like Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. Sterling — and the handful of Republican Congress members who have spoken out, however wanly, about Mr. Trump’s scheme — for resisting the immense corruption and pressure from their leaders.
If only that weren’t extraordinary in the Republican Party today.