MONDAY’S MEETING OF presidential electors in state capitols across the country is the kind of ritual that usually gets cursory news coverage, one of those quadrennial stories reported more as a reminder of the country’s quirky method of electing a president than a moment of true drama and importance.
But all of that was different this year — as so much else has been under the spell of Donald Trump. With Trump not letting up in his fact-free assertions that the election was somehow stolen from him through massive voter fraud that no court has recognized and of which no evidence has been produced, the gatherings took on a significance rare in presidential election history.
The votes formally confirmed the outcome that has been apparent for weeks, with Joe Biden securing the exact same number of electoral votes — 306 — that Trump did four years ago.
The real drama of the week came yesterday, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the Senate floor to finally acknowledge the election result and congratulate his former Senate colleague on his victory. McConnell is the most powerful Republican who will still be in office on January 21, and his remarks constituted the most concrete break from the Trump era to yet come from Republican leaders in Washington.
The Washington Post reports that McConnell went even further in a private call with Senate Republicans, warning against any of them joining any ill-fated effort to challenge the electoral vote count when Congress must certify it on January 6.
But it’s hard to think things in Washington will return anytime soon to what John McCain wistfully referred to as “regular order.” That is especially so because of the degree to which his party’s base now views that sort of deliberative consideration of issues the very stuff of the swampy Deep State.
“It’s hard to vaccinate a sprawling nation against a pandemic, but after a long, frustrating struggle, we have at least commenced the journey back toward normality,” Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes today. “It will probably prove harder to inoculate a polarized electorate against the political contagion of conspiratorialism, daftness, or learned, cult-like feeblemindedness.”
Lehigh finds a sliver of hope, though, in McConnell’s pivot to “re-embrace rationality,” if “only a month belatedly!”
As for Trump’s future, Lehigh doubts it will follow the path of Grover Cleveland, the only president to come back from a reelection loss to win a non-consecutive second term. He thinks he’ll be reduced instead to raging away at his fate — and the unfairness of it — from the grounds of Mar-a-Lago.
But even that picture of Trump with lots of time on his hand to hit the links at his Florida compound now seems somewhat in question. His well-heeled — and lawyered — Mar-a-Lago neighbors are evidently not thrilled with the idea of him taking up full-time residence there, and say they’re prepared to pursue a legal challenge, claiming he gave up the right to use the club as a residence in an agreement he reached with the town of Palm Beach in the early 1990s.