Trump's doomed bid to reverse result further damages faith in US democracy

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Americans’ confidence in their democracy has been eroded for years by a system that has, at various junctures, delivered victory to Republican presidents who lost the popular vote, permitted industrial-scale gerrymandering of electoral maps, and is built around a Congress rigged in favour of conservative states.

But faith in the conduct of the presidential election itself has collapsed among large numbers of voters amid Donald Trump’s onslaught after he lost November’s presidential election to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, by a record 7m ballots.

The angry rantings of a president unwilling to accept defeat with claims of wholesale vote rigging have gained momentum and are now embraced by a majority of Republican voters as fact.

Nearly seven in 10 Republicans say November’s election was not free and fair. Almost as many view the baseless and doomed attempt by some Republican members of Congress to block certification of Joe Biden’s win as a legitimate move in defence of democracy. Seventy per cent of Republicans say Biden is trying to “steal the election”.

Trump kept up his campaign on Wednesday, telling supporters at a “March to Save America” rally in Washington that he will never accept the election result, as Congress met to certify the electoral college vote and officially declare that Biden will be the 46th US president, and the Republicans took in the impending loss of control of the US Senate, after Democrats appeared all but certain to win two seats in Georgia runoff races.

“We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said.

All of Trump’s manoeuvres to overturn the election have failed. The courts tossed out dozens of lawsuits claiming postal voting was rigged and other irregularities.

Trump’s attempt to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, into “finding” the votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state backfired when a tape of the conversation was leaked.

Trump’s assertion that his vice-president, Mike Pence, has the power to in effect reverse the election result has also fallen flat.

Yet for all that, a majority of Republicans back the president’s stand. Sixty-eight per cent assert that they support his claim that the election was stolen by rigged postal voting.

In a sign that the damage to confidence in democracy extends beyond just November’s vote, 62% of Republican voters say Trump lost his legal challenges not because of the merits – or lack thereof – of the cases but because the courts were politically biased.

Supporters of Donald Trump demonstrate on the National Mall. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The split is almost entirely along partisan lines. Overwhelmingly, Democrats and independents say the election was legitimate.

As a result, Biden will be sworn in as president later this month with a large proportion of the country questioning his legitimacy – a political reality that is likely to underpin Republican strategies to challenge his authority just as the party obstructed Barack Obama led by false claims that he was not born in the US.

Trust in American elections was never particularly high, with about one-third of voters questioning their conduct even before November’s presidential ballot in part because of voter suppression in some Republican states.

Now confidence in the electoral system has risen to 80% among Democrats but collapsed to just 30% among Republicans.

The polls make uncomfortable reading for the Republican establishment, which has been torn between once again indulging Trump’s populism and defending democracy.

The Texas senator Ted Cruz is leading a group of Republicans legislators in demanding Biden’s win be put on hold until an audit of the election results is held.

But they have been condemned by some of their Republican colleagues including Senator Ben Sasse, who denounced attempts to block certification of the results as a “dangerous ploy”, and Senator Pat Toomey, who said the move was an“effort to disenfranchise millions of voters”.

The Tennessee Republican senator Lamar Alexander has called on Trump to “put the country first” and concede the election. But in his state, just 15% of Republicans say Biden won legitimately.

There is evidently a political price to be paid for standing up to Trump.
Passengers on a plane chanted “traitor” at Senator Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate who swiftly conceded after he lost to Obama, for his refusal to back Trump’s claims of fraud .

The split over whether to accept the election results has also divided parts of the rightwing media that were once unswerving in their support of Trump.

Even the Republicans’ traditional favourite TV mouthpiece, Fox News, has found itself on the back foot as it questioned claims of fraud.

The once loyal network is now frequently booed at Trump rallies, whereas that dubious honour was once mainly heaped on CNN and print media, as the outgoing president’s supporters look to channels such as One America News and Newsmax, which are notorious in the mainstream media for peddling skewed information and ultra-partisan bias, in order to affirm their baseless claims that the Democrats stole the election.

The Biden administration will get under way not only in the face of a pandemic that is out of control and a US economy that has tanked as a result, but in the face of divisions among Americans that are bitter and seem increasingly unbridgeable, for all Biden’s talk of healing.