Donald Trump’s story, however it ends, will not be one of redemption. As a one-term president, he never lived up to any higher aspects of the office. Those who joined his administration hoping to provide guidance and guardrails failed as Republican enablers offered the support Trump needed to remain his unrestrained self, shattering norm after norm with no regard to consequence.
His failure is horrifying as coronavirus rips through America unimpeded absent federal leadership. In defeat and denial, Trump manages to make President-elect Joe Biden’s transition into the presidency all about himself. The transition typically focuses on the incoming president with the outgoing president taking a support role. Not with Trump. The nation, as usual during the past four years, hangs on what Donald will do next.
We The People who stepped up in record numbers to save democracy still wait on the lame duck autocrat because, until January 20, 2021, he remains our president. The defeated Trump stays front and center due to his Republican enablers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refuses to tell the popular vote- and Electoral College-loser that enough is enough. If McConnell’s interests are served by a change of course his silence may be broken, but not until then.
McConnell’s immediate concern is remaining the Senate Majority Leader after the January 5 Senate run-off elections in Georgia. McConnell needs those two Senate seats to remain in Republican hands in order to hang on to control of the Senate. He, along with other Senate Republicans, some who surprisingly won their 2020 reelections, will then be in position to do what they do best, obstruct the Democratic president’s agenda. They have no desire to make divided government work as they look toward retaking the White House in 2024. It’s all about power and politics. Right now, McConnell needs Trump on January 5. Defying logic, Trump remains powerful within the Republican Party and Mitch cannot afford to anger him by ending the charade until, if and when, Trump decides to do so. McConnell needs all the Republican voters he can get in Georgia no matter what conspiracy theories they fancy.
Trump has an interest in those Republican Senate seats in Georgia too. As a former president with something to hide, he needs McConnell to retain his position as Majority Leader in order to slow walk Biden’s DOJ appointments, including attorney general. It is doubtful that a self-pardon would save Trump from federal charges on obstruction that may linger from the Mueller report so Biden’s DOJ appointments may be of interest to him. All the better if McConnell can “dirty up” those appointments a little during the confirmation process. With two Georgia wins, McConnell will also retain control of the Senate committees, also important to Trump who doesn’t like investigations that target him.
There is no telling how long Trump will remain relevant in the Republican Party. McConnell will never put the country’s best interests before raw power so he will use Trump’s hold over the Republican base for as long as it lasts. Trump and McConnell, both masters of self-interest, know they are locked in this co-dependent arrangement for the time being.
What Trump will do during the transition and as a former president swirls in uncertainty for him as well as the country. Grifters are by nature difficult to predict as ethical and moral constraints do not apply to them. One thing certain is they cannot resist the next con and Trump has a good portion of the almost 73 million Americans who voted for his reelection as marks. He knows how to play them with stories of a deep state, conspiracies and hoaxes all designed to prevent him from leading their nation to greatness, guaranteeing them prosperity and safety while those not like them are punished for being “other.” Trump will continue to divide the country as Biden and Harris strive to unite it. Trump will play the transition according to self-interest and his stance can change with a tweet.
Joe Biden will become our 46th president on January 20, 2021 no matter what Trump does, while McConnell maintains his distance. Whatever transition games Trump continues to play will make a smooth transition difficult for the incoming president, make our out-of-control health crisis worse, cause a vast number of Americans economic hardship, and weaken our national security but it will allow Trump to keep a grip on his base even in defeat. Shortly after his narrow loss in Georgia, Trump will get the opportunity to demonstrate his political might within the Republican Party if he can deliver much needed votes to keep the two Senate seats in the Republican column. McConnell will be reminded of his need for Trump and will owe him as he stays Senate Majority Leader.
It is imperative for the Democrats to control the Senate if Biden and Harris are going to be able to set us on a forward-looking path to recovery. Two Democratic wins in Georgia may start to break the bond of power between the Republican odd couple. Given the conservative grievance rant by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. at the Federalist Society’s recent convention, in which he made angry remarks about same-sex marriage, we can be sure the 6-3 Trump-McConnell Court is coming for the LGBTQ+ community. We need Biden and Harris with a Democratic Senate and House. It’s all about Georgia.
Susan SurfTone is a musician, former FBI agent, and frequent contributor to The Advocate.