Alan Zendell, January 4, 2021
I wonder how many people will remember the name Brad Raffensperger fifty years from now. I say that because hardly anyone remembers the name Alexander Butterfield, today, despite the fact that he was the inadvertent fulcrum on which the case against President Richard Nixon swung toward his resignation.
In 1973, the country was being torn apart by the Vietnam War and the investigation of the burglary of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel during the 1972 presidential campaign. Accusations that Nixon had covered up his administration’s role in the break-in had already resulted in the drafting of articles of impeachment, but although the majority of Americans believed Nixon had ordered it, there was no hard evidence of his guilt.
Just when it seemed Nixon would get away with it, his Deputy Chief of Staff, a retired military officer named Alexander Butterfield, testified before the Watergate House committee. Butterfield dropped the bombshell that every conversation Nixon had in the Oval Office between 1971 and 1973 had been taped. On one of those tapes, labeled the smoking gun, Nixon and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldemann were heard planning the criminal cover-up. That was enough for Barry Goldwater, representing the Republican majority in the Senate, to inform Nixon that he would be impeached, and the Senate would convict him.
Yesterday, President Trump called Raffensberger and spent an hour attempting to bully/coerce/threaten him to falsify Georgia’s certified vote count that gave the state’s electoral votes to President-Elect Joe Biden. It’s tempting to think of the recording made by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as déjà vu, but the situations are quite different. Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein said the Trump-Raffensperger recording was much worse, because Trump was (and still is) attempting to overturn an election that has been certified by every state. His attempt to convince state officials to commit election fraud was an overt assault on our Constitution.
With sixteen days remaining in Trump’s term, there isn’t time for either a second impeachment or any consideration of legal action against the president. And unlike the Goldwater Senate, many in the present Republican majority have shown themselves to be morally bankrupt and willing to abrogate their responsibility to the American people. The Trump disease of lust for power at any cost has, at last count, infected 140 members of the House of Representatives and twelve Senators.
What is at stake now is not the resignation of the president, though most Americans would welcome such an outcome. Rather, as Bernstein said, it is whether those Trumpers who are willing to risk damaging the future of our democracy to curry favor with Trump’s base will see the Raffensperger tape as 2021’s smoking gun, and cease their baseless protests. How craven and irresponsible does an elected official have to be to continue to challenge the election in the face of Trump’s latest outrage?
What may unfold over the next three days is the final splintering of the Republican party into two factions, one that believes in the conservative principles of Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and one that has been seduced by the Trump cult of greed and power. Some Republicans, like Utah Senator Mitt Romney, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan are attempting to pull the Republican Party back to its basic values. While no one believes the current protest will change the election results, the issue of the future of the Party, and perhaps our entire two-party political system are at stake.
There is no doubt that Trump will double down on his efforts to steal the election at his rally in Georgia this evening, but with most Georgia voters already having cast their ballots in tomorrow’s two Senate runoff elections, it’s unclear how much Trump will affect the outcomes. Also unclear is how many Congress people threatening to challenge Wednesday’s certification of the election results will relent. But don’t be taken in. Even if most of them back off, it won’t be because they’ve had a sudden attack of conscience and integrity. It will be because they re-evaluated their self-interest, and now see supporting the president as hurting their own re-election chances.
Today, Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger called Trump’s attempt to bully Raffensperger disgusting and encouraged every American to listen to the tape. He said members of Congress who still support that election protest void any moral authority they may have possessed.
It’s important to remember that Trump’s latest assault on our electoral process comes as he ends two months of turning a deaf ear to the pandemic, during which an additional 100,000 American lives were lost. And in encouraging demonstrations in Washington this week, he is knowingly inciting violence.
Nixon famously told the Nation, “I am not a crook.” Trump brazenly brags about having no respect for law.