Trump Is Staging a Comically Incompetent Coup

It would almost be possible to laugh at this debacle if the stakes weren’t so serious.

It would almost be possible to laugh at Donald Trump if the stakes weren’t so serious. And if he were anyone but Donald Trump.

Trump’s careening coup against democracy has been by turns dystopian drama and comic farce, its brazen disregard for decency matched only by its vaudevillian ineptitude. At each turn his attempts to overturn the election have become more desperate, error-prone and darkly hilarious. But with that desperation–and with the quiet acquiescence of most of the Republican Party along with the loud cheering of his base–Trump and his coterie have also shown there are literally no depths to which they will not sink in order to retain power.

Trump’s initial strategy to overturn the election hinged on a series of small bore legal challenges predicated on minor irregularities, clerical errors and largely irrelevant GOP pollwatcher complaints. Almost all of those challenges were laughed out of court. Trump’s lawyers started bailing out, not wanting to be associated with the clown show or potentially even face disbarment for filing frivolous claims.

But then things took a darker turn. It has become apparent that Trump’s primary legal and strategic counsel has dwindled to three attorneys with checkered backgrounds: Jenna Ellis, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. This is not a high-powered legal team, but it is a shamelessly aggressive one. Trump likes shameless. He has always been most comfortable with the Roy Cohns of the world, and Ellis, Giuliani and Powell fit the bill for recklessness if not for talent.

The trio has settled on a singular strategy: use a wild, false conspiracy theory about vote software company Dominion supposedly creating invalid votes for Biden as an excuse to throw out the entirety of elections in swing states, then ask those states’ gerrymandered Republican legislatures to give Trump their electors. The scheme is almost certainly doomed to fail. The allegations are baseless–so baseless that not even Tucker Carlson would allow Sidney Powell onto his show because she could not produce any evidence of her claims. If Trump did somehow persuade the legislatures and the Supreme Court to do his bidding it would cause unprecedented civil conflict, and likely end democracy as we know it in the United States. Not that any of them would care.

Living through it as we all are, it is difficult to keep in perspective how astonishingly bizarre it is. From Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye dripping down his cheek and wiping snot all over his face with a handkerchief, to Sidney Powell’s repeatedly weird promises to “release the kraken” (now a QAnon meme near you) and invocations of the long deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as somehow in on the conspiracy, to Jenna Ellis stridently vouching for the delusions of a man she once called an “idiot” who “really cannot be trusted to be consistent or accurate in anything,” it seems more like tragicomic soap opera material than living history.

The Dominion software conspiracy theory is complete bunk, of course. Much as it would be better to have universal paper ballots, there are multiple layers of verification and security behind these systems, and even conservatives admit that the machines did not affect the outcomes. The hand recount in Georgia showed that it wasn’t software delivering a win to Biden–it was the voters. And it even appears that Giuliani and Powell mixed up the counties and cities in Minnesota and Michigan when doing their math, which certainly won’t bode well either for their “investigation” or court cases.

But then Trump became even more brazen. He has sequentially started inviting Republican members of the legislatures of key swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania to meetings at the White House, trying to persuade them to illegally overturn the will of the voters in those states. Rather than declining as they ought to have, a Michigan delegation did attend the meeting—but came out of it reaffirming their intention to allow the will of the voters to stand. But in any case, any legislators who did try to cooperate with these schemes would almost certainly face prosecution, as the state laws are clear that the legislatures must send electors in accordance with the actual voters.

Meanwhile, there’s the COVID situation—increasingly bleak across the country, but again darkly farcical within the White House. Donald Trump Jr. has now tested positive for COVID, and Trump’s own legal team was unable to meet with Michigan lawmakers because they themselves had been exposed to the virus.

Trump is going to run out of road soon because of the certification deadlines. Georgia’s secretary of state certified their results today. The rest of the swing states will be certifying this upcoming week. Electors will be selected based on those certifications. And the electors will vote on December 14th.

But that doesn’t mean Trump and his minions will stop trying to hack away at the struts and pillars of American democracy, seeking to find whatever weaknesses they can. And they will keep doing so in more pathetic, incompetent and cringe-inducing ways. It would be funny if our lives, the country, and the climate didn’t depend on the outcome.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.