Let's discuss an exchange on CNN (below) over the weekend, in which my friend Mary Katharine Ham made the point that perhaps liberals and their media brethren might be taken more seriously in their indignant exasperation over Trump refusing to accept the apparent election results had they not spent the past two years lionizing Stacey Abrams. Abrams is a failed gubernatorial candidate who to this day has not conceded the race she lost in 2018. Like Trump, she's bleated about an illegitimate process, offering dubious claims to bolster her alternative history. Conceding, she's said, would acknowledge the fundamental fairness of the election, which she refuses to do. The facts are not on her side, including this one: The margin of her loss to Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia (54,723) was substantially larger than Joe Biden's leads over Donald Trump in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin combined (45,043). If those three states had voted slightly differently, with all else equal, the electoral college would be deadlocked at 269.
Rather than recoiling in horror at her continued refusal to concede a race she lost, Abrams' party and media cheering section has handsomely rewarded her behavior. Democrats elevated her stature by selecting her as their official responder to the subsequent State of the Union Address. Donors have showered her organizations and various initiatives with mounds of cash. She's been given glossy, glowing treatment in an endless string of magazine covers and fawning interviews. She's been feted by celebrities and turned into a Hollywood film producer. She's been empowered, enriched and emboldened. Losing an election and refusing to concede it has made her famous and influential. Her shameless undermining of democracy has paid off in spades. Her profile has never been higher, to the point that she vaulted onto many analysts' VP shortlists, having only held office as a state representative. But mentioning any of this -- even as Abrams is being glorified by the news media as heroine for democracy, literally as that same news media is aghast by Trump's lack of concession -- is a bridge too far, apparently Watch:
At the beginning of the video, Ham pushes back against the segment's previous framing of Saturday's MAGA rally as disturbing and dangerous, versus the sympathetic to rapturous coverage lavished upon all manner of left-wing protests and celebrations. Then she turns to pushing back against the bogus 'false equivalency' tut-tutting from the anchor and liberal guest upon her invocation of the galling double standards surrounding Ms. Abrams. Consider how hard her interlocutors have to labor to pretend that her point isn't really valid. Yes, a president peddling falsehoods and denying electoral realities is particularly unacceptable and damaging. It's also hard to stomach lectures on this point from a partisan tribe (of which most of the press is absolutely a part) that has celebrated and deified one of their own Election Truthers for years. Many Trump supporters would also contend that there's a more-than-frivolous case to be made that the opposition never truly treated Trump's presidency as legitimate, even as some of their senior politicians and government officials said the right words, while approving or engaging in highly problematic actions -- not to mention ongoing baseless claims about Russian 'collusion' by figures ranging from television anchors to powerful House committee chairmen.
The broader, disheartening truth is that both major American political tribes increasingly struggle to accept losses as fair or legitimate. This isn't whataboutism or bothsidesism. It's reality. In 2006, a national poll showed a majority of Democrats claiming to believe that President Bush was complicit in 9/11, an insane, evidence-free smear, rooted in a deep-seated refusal to accept Bush as duly-elected (which he was). Throughout his presidency, vast numbers of Republicans told pollsters that President Obama was ineligible for the the office he held, a conspiracy designed to undermine Obama's legitimacy. During in President Trump's term, a super-majority of self-identified Democrats claimed that the Kremlin had literally altered vote totals in the 2016 election, which wild tinfoil-hattery. In recent weeks, multiple Democratic Senators have falsely called the confirmation process of a Supreme Court justice "illegitimate," with the Speaker of the House going so far as to call the justice herself "illegitimate." And now, a super-majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was neither fully free nor fair.
Hyper-partisanship, deepened by echo chambers and perverse incentives, are fueling a genuine crisis of legitimacy in our politics. The institutions and outcomes aren't illegitimate. But sizable minorities of each ideological coalition are now conditioned by their leaders in various influential figures to disqualify and reject any political result they dislike. Losses are no longer merely frustrating or disappointing; they're corrupt and illegitimate. This is poison -- and yes, both sides are demonstrably culpable. A striking difference is that because the news media is overwhelmingly aligned with one side over the other, the in-crowd's egregious behavior and excesses are routinely downplayed, ignored, and memory-holed, a la Stacey Abrams. This breeds resentment and justifications from the rival tribe to emulate dirty play. 'Round and 'round we go, with few signs of slowing or stopping. Our body politic was unhealthy before this president took office, and will remain so after his departure. And one of the only things that partisans seem to agree on within this context is that the other side is worse.
And for the record, so I can't be accused of equivocation: If it wasn't already clear, the 2020 presidential election is over, as far as I'm concerened. Joe Biden has won. Unlike some others, I don't have an issue with the Trump campaign pursuing its legal options as they see fit, nor do I think this memo from the Attorney General is some sort of outrageous affront. What I cannot support or defend are presidential pronouncements -- mostly on Twitter -- that baselessly assert victory or promulgate totally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. As legitimate recounts and challenges play out, I agree with a growing number of GOP Senators that it's time for Biden to begin receiving intelligence briefings, and for his team to access to the various levers of the transition process. If I felt as if the election outcome were somewhat akin to the 2000 fiasco, with the results truly in doubt and plausibly reversible, my stance may be quite different. But the available, credible evidence is convincing, as detailed in this careful analysis from respected legal expert Andy McCarthy (a pro-Trump conservative):
The president trails by 55,000 in Pennsylvania [a margin that has since increased]. It is anything but clear that all 10,000 late-arriving ballots are Biden votes — a goodly chunk of them could be Trump votes that the president would be knocking out. But even if we suspend disbelief and assume that they’re all Biden votes, the president would still be 45,000 short of flipping the state into his win column. This is the president’s fatal problem. No matter which battleground state we analyze, there is always a mismatch between the impropriety alleged and the remedy that it could yield. Where Trump is strongest, as in the Supreme Court case, the yield in votes is a relative pittance. Where Trump’s claims are weaker and hotly disputed, the president is asking for mass disfranchisement, which no court is ever going to order.
...Comments I made about this state of play in a Fox News interview Friday morning irritated some of my Trump-diehard friends. I was asked whether the president should continue pursuing his legal challenges. Of course, it’s not my place to say what the president should do — 71 million people didn’t vote for me, and Donald Trump is absolutely entitled to exercise his legal rights. So, since I wouldn’t presume to say what the president should do, I confined myself to what I would do — which is acknowledge the reality that the election is lost. This is not to concede a lack of voting irregularities. There has never been a big election about which such a boast could confidently be made. Some of the allegations of error and misconduct that the Trump campaign has alleged are bound to be true. On the other hand, some have already been found by judges to be wildly overstated — which, naturally, can only undermine the credibility of any valid claims the campaign has. Nevertheless, “let’s see how it goes” is not a strategy.
McCarthy concludes his latest column with this: "If 'it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,' then, as they say, that sound you hear is the fat lady clearing her throat."