Getting Republicans past ‘no’

While President-elect Biden moves ahead with a transition, Trump and his allies obstruct to avoid grappling with defeat

Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election ended eight days ago. The inauguration happens in 70 days.

The Latest

Preparations for the Biden administration continue to accelerate, with transition officials naming agency review teams to assess challenges and opportunities that might face the new president and his appointees when they take over. For President Trump, however, no acceptance of the pending end of his presidency seems apparent — with the White House ordering federal agencies to prepare their budgets for the first year of Trump’s next term.

What we see now, in other words, is a sloppy process of coming to terms — with Biden preparing for the onrush of power, while Trump maneuvers to hold onto authority past a presidential term approaching its expiration date. 

Here’s how that’s playing out.

The Good

  • Biden’s agency review teams received a mixed-positive reaction from progressives. The list of names included a mix of Obama administration veterans, progressives with subject-area expertise, and — yes — faces from industry, including Silicon Valley and Wall Street. 

  • Biden accepted a flurry of foreign-leader calls on Tuesday — including congratulations from Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Micheál Martin of Ireland, and Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom. (The State Department took no part in arranging these calls, contrary to custom; more on the reasons for that below.) 

  • In a survey, 80 percent of respondents said they believed that President-elect Biden won — with only three percent asserting that Trump had won a second term.

The Bad

  • Not among the above-mentioned 80 percent: Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who leads the General Services Administration (GSA). Murphy controls the release of federal funds and agency support to begin the formal transfer of power — but continues to insist, despite the apparent electoral-vote majority for Biden, that a victor in the presidential election is impossible to ascertain. 

  • The delay in official recognition of President-elect Biden means that Biden’s team still has yet to begin receiving security briefings and clearances — and also postpones the deployment of a full presidential security detail to relieve Biden’s pre-election protection team.  

  • Adding to the complications of arranging meetings between incoming staff and the outgoing Trump team is the fact that the White House appears to be in the throes of another coronavirus outbreak — with news emerging today that White House political director Brian Jack has tested positive after attending the same election-night event as Ben Carson, the COVID-19 stricken Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The Ugly

  • Speaking of the pandemic: the coronavirus, defying Trump’s pronouncements in the final days before Nov. 3, remains rampant. Case counts and hospitalizations in the United States have reached record highs, crossing thresholds untouched since the pandemic’s first peak in the spring. “The executive branch,” writes American Prospect editor David Dayen, “has completely checked out on any responsibility for this massive public health crisis at precisely the moment when the crisis is most acute.”

  • Subordinates and allies of President Trump continue to parrot his evidence-free claims of voter fraud and election irregularities — with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even “joking” on Tuesday that the U.S. was entering “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” (Note: I am no fan of such jokes.) The continued denial of the reality of President-elect Biden’s win reinforces the mood of the Republican base, the majority of which appears to see Trump’s defeat in the election as neither free nor fair. Republican recalcitrance has also introduced new delays to the vote-certification process — such a Wednesday announcement of a by-hand recount of presidential votes in Georgia, where President-elect Biden holds a lead of over 14,000 votes.

  • The spuriousness of Republican claims of irregularities has driven some judges to a point of near-open contempt — with multiple allegations, spectacularly including a claim of mail-in ballot tampering in Pennsylvania, collapsing after even slight scrutiny.

Despite the cost in human misery for victims of the coronavirus — and in professional humiliation for the attorneys taking Republican and Trump campaign cases — Trump and other Republicans appear to see their election-denying antics as their best alternative to an orderly exit from power. We’re sure to see in the coming days how long that belief persists.


Leading the Conversation

Natasha Bertrand, at Politico: “Biden may have trouble unearthing Trump’s national security secrets.” 

“Asked about their compliance with records laws, a White House official said, ‘We preserve everything we have to preserve.’ Pressed on whether anything had been deleted from the National Security Council’s code word classified system — where some transcripts of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have been hidden — the official replied: ‘I’m not going to talk about any of that. But we comply with everything. Like, we’re really actually not criminals.’”

Fintan O’Toole, at the New York Review of Books: “Democracy’s Afterlife.“

“In all the noise of the 2020 election, it was easy to miss the signal that was not being sent. The incumbent president made no effort even to go through the motions of presenting a future open to deliberation by citizens. He had no policy agenda for a second term—the GOP merely readopted its platform from 2016, without even bothering to delete its multiple attacks on “the current president.” Why? Because arguments about policy are the vestiges of a notion that Trump has killed off: the idea that an election is a contest for the support, or at least the consent, of a majority of voters. Such arguments implicitly concede the possibility that there is another, equally legitimate choice. That is precisely what the posthumous Republican Party cannot and does not accept.”

Dylan Matthews, interviewing David Shor at Vox: “One pollster’s explanation for why the polls got it wrong.”

“So the basic story is that, particularly after Covid-19, Democrats got extremely excited and had very high rates of engagement. They were donating at higher rates, etc., and this translated to them also taking surveys, because they were locked at home and didn’t have anything else to do. There’s some pretty clear evidence that that’s nearly all of it: It was partisan non-response. Democrats just started taking a bunch of surveys [when they were called by pollsters, while Republicans did not].”

Anand Giridharadas, at The.Ink: “Unity is great, but freedom is better.”

“Perhaps the way to bring the country together is not to bring the country together but to fix it. Perhaps the way to heal divisions is not to heal divisions but to get the government working again. Perhaps the way to get people to believe in science isn’t to get people to believe in science but to roll out a vaccine successfully, fairly, and efficiently. Perhaps the antidote to the poison of this era isn’t the active pursuit of kumbaya but good, old-fashioned progress: steady and palpable life betterment, and the repair of institutions so they can’t be hijacked again.

Dan Pfeiffer, at The Message Box: “Trump is on his way out, Trumpism is Here to Stay.” 

“Republicans responded to Democratic wins in 2008 and 2012 with massive efforts to reduce the political power of people of color with voter suppression laws, gerrymandering and rigged courts. And they will do it again. … Trumpism has taken hold in the Republican Party because it is the only way to hold together the two warring wings of the party — a globalist Wall Street and corporate donor class and nativist voter base. If those factions splinter the whole thing falls apart.”

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Need to Recharge?

Activist Daniel Hunter pulled together a team of thinkers, healers, and elders, sparked by a conversation with Lunden Abelson, to come up with a list of 7 behaviors we can use right away to strengthen ourselves, so we can keep taking more and more powerful and strategic actions as we move past this high-stress period. When we’re in bad shape, our power is diminished — we’re less creative, more reactive, and less able to plan strategically. If we intend to stay active and effective in the world, we have a responsibility to tend to our spirits. 

Find your steady ground.

A Moment of Art

Speaking of the good, the bad, and the ugly, Ennio Morricone — who composed the score of a film by that title, along with other classics — would have turned 92 on Tuesday. In tribute, I present to you that movie’s theme … as rendered by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

That’s all for this issue. See you on Friday.

American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from Nov. 3, 2020, through — we hope — Jan. 21, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Have questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most. 

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