In another time when American democracy was facing a threat from a loose cannon in the White House, two young reporters named Woodward and Bernstein said they knew they were on to something when they could “smell the fear.”
Richard Nixon’s low-level minions were afraid to talk to the Washington Post’s B-team in those early days of the Watergate burglary. There was nary a hint that Watergate would one day shake the pillars of government.
Today, as a populist president works to invalidate the election he lost, there is little national anxiety. You do not smell the fear.
The only thing one smells is a faltering president who doesn’t know he is rotting on the tree like discolored fruit.
Democracy is not on the brink. There is no great threat to the Republic. And but for the hysteria of a few tremulous writers, there is no crisis.
The country is walking calmly to Jan. 20 when it will inaugurate Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
America has once again undergone a stress test and passed.
Trump protested, a nation yawned
A democracy that survived bloodlettings at Shiloh and Gettysburg, the mobilized armies of Germany and Imperial Japan, Russia’s ICBMs, the assassinations of Kennedy and King and Kennedy, the shootings at Kent State, the Tet offensive and the Watergate burglary has now confronted Donald Trump.
And he turns out to be a trifle.
Think of what just happened. An American president accused the opposition party of working with foreign influencers to steal a national election with rigged voting machines. Trump called on supporters to march in the street. He found 100-plus flunkies in Congress to sign on to an amicus brief in a legal challenge to reverse the results in four battleground states.
And the country collectively yawned.
Most people in this country knew Trump’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was a joke, not worth the justices’ time. And, apparently, the justices agreed. They took about 15 minutes to reject that Texas challenge.
The High Court that rejected Trump is decisively conservative, thanks to Trump’s appointment of three of those justices. And they still spit him out like a pumpkin seed.
AZ GOP has never had much clout
In Arizona, the chairwoman of the state Republican Party tried to reverse Trump’s defeat and ran head on into Republicans with real clout. Much of this was misinterpreted by the local media, which hasn’t figured out that the Arizona Republican Party in no way represents the whole of Arizona Republicans. For much of its recent history the party apparatus has been an asylum for halfwits and wannabes.
Chairwoman Kelli Ward is so popular that when she ran against Martha McSally, the state’s new symbol for election futility, she lost by nearly 30 points. Now as chair of the party she wants to reverse a presidential election and is at war with the state’s Republican governor, Republican speaker of the House and Republican Senate president.
Some in the media argue that national Republicans have sat on their hands as Trump goes on his rampage. You have to be willfully blind to argue that.
Republican governors in Arizona, Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio and Maryland have openly opposed Trump’s gambit.
Powerful Republicans accept reality
The most powerful Republican in Washington, Mitch McConnell, put Trump on notice early that there is a process for him to follow, but once the process plays out, it’s over.
He was joined by U.S. Senate colleagues Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) in defending the integrity of the election.
Other Republican senators, including John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) insisted Biden get security briefings – a clear signal that the transition should begin.
Even Trump’s closest advisors have been either explicitly or implicitly distancing themselves from his post-election nonsense.
His attorney general, Bill Barr, said there is no evidence of election fraud that would change the outcome.
His vice president, Mike Pence, quietly removed his insignia from Trump communications, but not so quietly that we didn’t read about it.
His former spokesman, Kellyanne Conway, affirmed that Biden won the election.
His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, spoke through her family-backed Michigan Freedom Fund that the election is over.
His wife, Melania Trump, has been signaling through staff that she is preparing to leave.
What the media got right and wrong
The conservative media has become a chorus of Trump criticism. The National Review thunders almost daily against Trump’s defiance. The Wall Street Journal editorial page says it sees no credible evidence of fraud.
Fox News knocked down Trump conspiracy theories so thoroughly that he got peeved and smacked them back. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News commentator who has been breaking cable-news viewership records this year, ripped into Trump’s legal team. And conservative Ben Shapiro said Trump was “deeply irresponsible” to claim he had won the election.
In Arizona, there are plenty of observers who haven’t grasped that the Arizona Republican Party has been adrift for years. The party apparatus that does Trump’s dirty work now nursed a constant hatred of John McCain and distrusted Jon Kyl and Jeff Flake when they were at the height of their power.
In 2014, the Maricopa County Republicans, an adjunct of the state party, voted 1,150-to-351 to censure John McCain for his “disastrous and harmful” record. Said his friend Kyl at the time, “I’ve gone to dozens of these meetings and every now and then some wacky resolution gets passed. But most people realize it does not represent the majority of the vast numbers of Republicans.”
Two years later, John McCain won reelection in Arizona by 13 points while Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.5.
Perhaps the biggest blunder of Arizona gadflies has been depicting Doug Ducey as a Trump lapdog. At the key moment when Ducey had to choose Arizona or Donald Trump, he blithely chose Arizona and left Trump holding the phone.
Phil Boas is editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic. He can be reached at 602-444-8292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.