A Reminder For Republicans -- "Precedent Trump"

[ Posted Monday, December 14th, 2020 – 16:41 UTC ]

I just spent a few hours watching the Electoral College vote. Now, admittedly I am a pretty wonky political guy, but I have never before paid even the slightest attention to the formality of each state's electors meeting to cast their official ballots to elect the next president. It was always an afterthought, a mere formality. Something you'd hear about maybe a day or so after it happened, because it was of no real consequence. Even in the midst of the 2000 Bush v. Gore fight, nobody really paid much attention to the Electoral College, because it simply wasn't all that relevant to the legal fight.

Today, though, was different. I learned for the first time that the Electoral College meets on "the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December," as well as all sorts of other nuts-and-bolts trivia about the process. And I certainly wasn't the only one learning these things, and watching just as closely. Thankfully, there were no reports of violence or obstruction from any of the states (even Michigan, where such worries were strongest). American democracy did what it was supposed to do today, the only difference was that this time a whole bunch more people were actually watching.

Joe Biden has now officially been elected president, by any measure. There is one more formality to occur, when on the sixth of January Congress will hold a joint session to accept all the Electoral College votes. If one GOP representative and one GOP senator object to any state, then we'll see some Kabuki theater play out, as the House and Senate retreat to their own chambers and hold a vote on that state. Since the Democratic House is not going to go along with this election-stealing scheme, then once they vote, they'll all get back together again and continue (no matter what the Senate does). Joe Biden now has 306 Electoral College votes, which is actually two more than Trump managed four years ago (which he repeatedly called "a landslide," just to remind everyone).

Two weeks after Congress officially accepts the votes, Joe Biden will be sworn in as our next president. And my prediction is that there will be dancing in the streets, across the entire country. Our long national nightmare will finally be over.

Today, I'm going to run a column I wrote almost a full year ago. I'm doing this because I spent so much time watching the Electoral College today, and I have a ton of other work to do to prepare for my year-end awards columns. So today I'd just like to remind everyone -- Republicans in particular -- that all of the precedents now being set will be remembered by Democrats in the future. This is not some kind of game. This is some rather ugly history being made, and anyone either actively or passively allowing Trump's delusions to now go unchecked is eventually going to have to answer for it in the future, one way or another.

When I made my list, a year ago, impeachment was the big subject of the day. Other than scientists, nobody had ever heard the word "coronavirus" before. That's where we were when I wrote it.

Today, of course, this list would be different -- or, at the very least, a lot longer. Donald Trump has, on his way out of office, trampled all over the Constitution one last time. And once again, the vast majority of the Republicans in Congress and even in state governments across the country aided and abetted him. There's simply no other way to put it.

Sure, on one level it was all kind of comical, because Trump never had a prayer of actually overturning ("stealing," really) the election from Joe Biden. There were just too many states where he'd have had to subvert the clear will of the voters. But in the future, a presidential election may come down to a single state. And if that comes to pass and the vote count is in any way close, then we could see some sort of repeat of what has happened for the past month. And next time around, we might not be so lucky -- a state legislature may just decide to join in with the subversion of the Constitution and our electoral process. That will get a lot more contentious than even the past month has been. And it will all be the fault of the Republicans who, for almost five weeks now, have refused to condemn Trump's unconstitutional behavior.

And, to really put the fear of all that's holy into them, when Republicans consider such a future scenario, they would do well to ponder the fact that next time around it might be a Democrat who tries to overthrow an election. And they will simply have no leg to stand on, because of what they are doing now. They have not only opened this door, they've all cheerfully walked through it together.

They have, in a word, set a precedent. Which is why I'm running my "Precedent Trump" column from a year ago once again, today.


Originally published January 9, 2020

Today, I'd like to step back from a day-to-day analysis of Donald Trump's actions in order to look at a slightly bigger picture. Because at this point, it almost seems like we should all start calling him "Precedent Trump," since he is setting so many of them for future presidents to either use or abuse at will. Republicans who now slavishly insist upon supporting anything and everything Trump does -- no matter how outrageous, no matter how disruptive -- should be warned that future presidents (Democratic ones most definitely included) may one day point to current GOP behavior while insisting that they have exactly the same rights that Trump has claimed for himself. Because this is always the ultimate test of supporting any expansion of presidential powers: would you support a president of the other party doing such a thing? Again, Republicans would do well to consider this in the Trump era, because it's my guess that some of these precedents are going to come back to bite them later on. And it'll be pretty tough for them to argue against these precedents after so wholeheartedly supporting them now.

When I sat down to write this, I made a quick list of the possibly-dangerous precedents Trump has now set, or is in the process of setting. Without even having to think too hard, I came up with a baker's dozen, right off the top of my head. This should not be seen as a definitive list, but merely the most obvious and egregious. There are likely another dozen or so I didn't even consider, in other words. So in no real order, let's take a look at all of them, keeping in mind that Democratic presidents in the future may choose to follow Trump's path on any of them.


Making money off the presidency

All previous presidents in modern times have turned over their business interests -- whatever they may be -- to a blind trust. This was meant to guarantee that presidents wouldn't be influenced in decision-making by whether or not they'd profit personally from whatever action they took. Trump sneered at the concept and kept his businesses mostly intact. Congress has not passed any law to change this, so any future president could do exactly the same thing.


Constant lying

This is pretty self-explanatory. Trump lies like a rug. All the time. About stupid stuff that is pathetically easy to disprove. It is, in a word, pathological. However, when Trump lies he then forces official arms of the federal government to attempt to twist reality to fit his warped viewpoint, as was made painfully evident during "Sharpiegate." Few Republicans balked at such misuse of the government to assuage Trump's idiotic lies.


Diplomacy by tweet

Again, pretty self-explanatory. Trump treats Twitter as his chosen official channel to communicate not only with the American public, but also (now) with Congress and with the rest of the world. Will Republicans in future be on board with a Democrat doing the same thing (with better grammar and spelling, one assumes)?


Senate confirmation fast track

This isn't just Trump, it's largely due to Mitch McConnell. Trump loves to brag about how many federal judges he's gotten confirmed, and for once he's actually right -- he is setting a record pace in the Senate. But this was due not to Trump doing anything differently, but to recent Senate rule changes, and the next time Democrats hold both the Senate and the White House, we should expect this confirmation fast track to be repeated for liberal judges. What will Republicans say then?


Obstruction of justice

By proclaiming the Mueller Report "totally exonerated" Trump, Republicans have bought into allowing any of the obstruction of justice exposed by it to be repeated by future Democratic presidents. From now on, whenever a Democrat decides to follow Trump's footsteps, they'll have the Mueller Report to point to as proof that the GOP considers such behavior allowable.


Investigating rivals

This used to be the purview of banana republics, but Trump has changed all of that. If a Democratic president decides to instruct the Justice Department to launch an investigation of a Republican rival, the GOP won't have a leg left to stand on to complain about it. According to them (now), this is entirely allowable behavior, so they'll have no grounds to complain about it in the future when the shoe is on the other foot.


Total stonewall

One can almost picture the spirit of Richard Nixon gasping with astonishment over the total stonewall that Trump has built between his White House and Congress. Nixon did provide many documents and witnesses during Watergate, while fighting some of it in the courts. Trump has taken this stance to the limit, by refusing to even respond to any demands for documents or witnesses. Republicans, for the most part, have gone along with this without complaint. So when a Democratic president decides to ignore congressional subpoenas at will, there will be a precedent for them to point to which Republicans will be hard-pressed to brush off.


Blanket immunity

In a similar vein, Trump has insisted that not only all his current staff but also former staff and even people who have never officially worked for him can claim "blanket immunity" from testifying before Congress. He's taken the concept of "executive privilege" to the absolute extreme by doing so. Again, precious few Republicans have complained about these sweeping claims. Which may bite them in the hindquarters later, when a Democrat decides to do exactly the same thing.


Foreign election interference

Again, pretty obvious. Trump trying to get a foreign government to dig up dirt -- or even just announce they were digging up dirt -- on a political rival was the main reason he was impeached. Republicans have insisted that Trump did nothing wrong by doing so. This means that any future president will be able to ask any foreign government for exactly the same thing, and Republicans will be flaming hypocrites if they balk at such actions.


Political quid pro quos

Also from the Ukraine scandal, if a future Democratic president ever uses foreign aid or military aid or any other "thing of value" to pressure any foreign government for purely political help, Republicans have already put their seal of approval on such a scheme.


Assassination as foreign policy

These final three are more recent in nature. Trump apparently decided to assassinate a high-ranking military official of another country without any solid evidence to prove any sort of justification for doing so. He did it -- as he does so many things -- purely on a whim. This overturns decades of official U.S. policy, but the official ban on assassination was always just a presidential directive, meaning any sitting president could overturn it with the stroke of a pen. Nobody has delved into whether Trump has now officially overturned the ban on assassinations or not, but eventually someone is going to have to ask this important question. Is it now allowable for America to target foreign leaders -- even of countries we are not current at war with -- for assassination, at the sole discretion of the president? Because that was the precedent just set by Trump.


No congressional notifications

This has been deteriorating for a number of months now, and was on display again this week. Trump has decided that he can do whatever he wants with the military without having to inform the "Gang of Eight" -- the congressional leaders who are supposed to be informed before such actions are taken. Four Democrats and four Republicans from the House and Senate are supposed to be briefed, but Trump has apparently decided that this isn't necessary any more. So of course Republicans will be just fine with a Democratic president acting without informing them, right?


Provoking war with no congressional input

This one can't be laid entirely at the feet of Trump, because it has been building for many decades. Congress hasn't declared an official war since World War II. Everything that has followed -- starting with Korea and Vietnam and stretching through the events of this week -- has not been an official war, because Congress didn't act. This is decidedly not what the Founding Fathers intended should happen. They would be aghast at the abdication of the solemn duties of Congress over the past half-century, in fact. But as Congress after Congress (led by both parties) ceded the warmaking power to president after president (of both parties), this erosion continues apace. We're now at the point where the Trump administration just briefed Congress that (answering a hypothetical) Trump could order the assassination of the leader of Iran without any congressional input whatsoever, and only two Republican senators even grumbled about it publicly. Again, this didn't start with Trump but as with many of the other items on this list, Trump has taken it to a new extreme.


That's the list I came up with after spending only about 30 seconds thinking about the subject. There are likely many more items which could easily be added to the list, both great and small.

Republicans, in their adoration of their Dear Leader Trump, have had to swallow some of their long-held major ideological positions on the way the government is supposed to work -- especially when it comes to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. These were longstanding objections on principles that used to be deeply held in the Republican Party. All such objections have been obliterated by the Trump whirlwind. Out of fear of Trump's ire, Republicans have gone along with things they never would have previously agreed to. But one has to wonder if they realize how many precedents they are setting as a result, and whether they ever consider how they'll view such things when the other party is the one calling the shots from the Oval Office.

The only thing guaranteed in politics is that things change. The pendulum swings back and forth between the parties. The "Ins" of today will be the "Outs" of tomorrow, and vice-versa. One day there will be a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Senate majority leader. When that happens, they'll helpfully point to what Republicans are doing and supporting now, because once such precedents are set they're almost impossible to later deny.

The big question Republicans are not asking themselves right now is what they'll do when that day comes. To put this question in the most fear-inspiring way possible (to Republicans, of course), what they should be asking now is not whether they're OK with letting President Trump get away with all this stuff, but whether they'll be just as peachy when, say, a President Ocasio Cortez does exactly the same thing to them in the future.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


13 Comments on “A Reminder For Republicans -- "Precedent Trump"”

  1. [1] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    From the BRILLIANT minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone comes the deep fake Christmas video we have all been needing!

    Also check out all of the Sassy Justice videos starring Donald Trump in a role he was born to portray!

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    The trouble with all this is your seeming assumption that Republicans will feel in some way embarrassed or stymied if a Democratic president does what Trump did, and that their reproaches will die in their throat as they think back on their previous complicity. In fact, hypocrisy and double standards don't bother them in the slightest. Confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year was highly inappropriate for Obama but a great idea for Trump. Running up deficits was great in a Republican administration but will be a horrifying theft from our grandchildren in a Democratic administration. And so with all the precedents you mention. They were fine for Trump but will be unforgivable outrages for any Democratic president. Pointing out the logical contradiction will just make them shout louder in a paroxysm of moral indignation.

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Joe Biden now has 306 Electoral College votes, which is actually two more than Trump managed four years ago (which he repeatedly called "a landslide," just to remind everyone).

    Yes, sir... because of two faithless electors who refused to cast their votes for President of the United States for a candidate "not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications" as outlined by Alexander Hamilton in his Federalist No. 68. Those two electors who refused to vote for Trump were both from Texas... proving without question that some of us from the Lone Star State can recognize an unequivocally unqualified turncoat to America and our democracy when we see one. :)

  4. [4] 
    Alin wrote:

    I'm afraid andygaus [2] is correct. They have no shame

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    You ever heard of a "politician with shame"? I have not. You think the entire Biden family, kids, in-laws and outlaws included, are ashamed about being multi-millionaires based on Joe's lifetime political involvement, without anybody ever having had an honest job??? I'm betting not.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That's a pretty big chip you've got there, CRS.

  7. [7] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    What's the definition of an "honest job"?

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i'd say the honesty isn't in the job, it's in the person doing the job. of course, the more power a job gives you, the more difficult it becomes to perform honestly. power does tend to corrupt, therefore it takes immense integrity to avoid becoming corrupted by the most powerful jobs in the world.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    the more power a job gives you, the more difficult it becomes to perform honestly

    How so?

  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    JFC [7]

    Any job in the private sector.

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    so... teaching public school isn't an honest job?

  12. [12] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    I'm with Andy and Alin on this. The entire point of the screed is lost when one remembers we are talking about the Republican Party here. Hypocrisy? Shame? Precedents? Who cares??

    "Democratic President [X] is a communist tyrant tearing down the fabric of liberty that our forefathers died for, etc., etc., as his treasonous Democrat supporters stand by and let him do [any of the things on your list.]"

    After all, who will be listening to them? The Democratic core voters, or the Republican core voters? Bet on just the latter, and if they ever cared about integrity, consistency, logic, evidence, facts, precedent, history, or ethics in public service in the past, they certainly don't now, nor are likely to into the future.

  13. [13] 
    dsws wrote:

    And it'll be pretty tough for them to argue against these precedents after so wholeheartedly supporting them now.

    Um, you do realize that these are Republicans you're talking about, right?

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