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The Memo: Experts fear damage from Trump's election pushback

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election result are damaging the nation’s fabric even if they are ultimately unlikely to succeed, experts say.

“What we have witnessed since the election is the worst moment in presidential history,” said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University and one of the few prominent people to predict Trump’s victory four years ago.

“No losing president — indeed no losing candidate — has so falsely and dangerously undermined the integrity of our democracy and our elections,” Lichtman added.

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Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale, tweeted an even darker warning on Tuesday evening.

“What Donald Trump is attempting to do has a name: coup d’état,” Snyder wrote. “Poorly organized though it might seem, it is not bound to fail. It must be made to fail.” 

Trump has maintained a steady drumbeat in recent days suggesting that the election was in some way corrupt or stolen. There has been no substantive evidence provided to support this allegation, and officials from both parties have affirmed the basic fairness of the election.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday night that it had contacted election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday. “None reported any major voting issues,” the paper stated. 

The fact that most congressional Republicans have not pushed back with any vigor on the president’s efforts is sharpening worries among Trump critics as to what could come next.

Only four GOP senators so far have congratulated President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE on his election victory, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on MORE (R-Ky.) has said that Trump is “100 percent within his rights” to pursue legal actions. 

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Other prominent GOP senators including Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (R-Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts MORE (R-S.C.) have been even more vigorous in backing up the president. “I would encourage the president not to concede,” Graham said earlier this week.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Rubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks MORE (R-Fla.) referred to “preliminary results” and suggested the media were angry that “Republicans won’t just take their word for it that Biden won.”

Sources in Trump’s orbit who have spoken with The Hill insist there is no real damage wrought by allowing the legal process to play out. They say the process could in fact ultimately reassure Trump voters that the result is valid.

Other media reports have indicated that there is a belief, even among Trump’s aides, that he just needs time to come to terms with the election result. He will eventually accept that his presidency is ending, even if he never formally concedes, they say.

There is no evidence of any such resignation in the president’s public remarks, however. Trump continued tweeting allegations of chicanery on Wednesday, including claiming there is “a mountain of corruption & dishonesty” in Pennsylvania.

Democrats push back hard on Trump’s efforts. 

“I think he has no realistic chance of overturning the results of the election. His efforts to do so are bordering on preposterous,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. But, Devine added, “I think he is doing damage — lasting damage —  to the United States by undermining faith in our democracy.”

Among Democrats and other Trump critics, there are worries not just about the effects of his legal suits but about a more multipronged approach.

Trump has fired his Defense secretary, Mark EsperMark EsperActing Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia Overnight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition MORE, and at least three other key Pentagon officials resigned or were pushed out. Federal prosecutors have been authorized by U.S. Attorney General William BarrBill BarrNew DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Five federal inmates scheduled for execution before Inauguration Day MORE to look into allegations of electoral malfeasance — a move that was swiftly followed by the resignation of an official in the department from his role overseeing such investigations.

Another source of angst on the left is the possibility of Republicans in state legislatures intervening on Trump’s behalf. Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature, for example, have launched an investigation into the election.

Those kinds of actions can perhaps further call into question the legitimacy of the election among the Trump base. But they are seen as unlikely to change the election’s outcome.

Deadlines for states to certify the results are also coming up soon. Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania all have deadlines — either county-level or statewide — to certify their results before the end of this month.

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A spokesperson for the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, rebutted any idea that the state legislature could intervene in that process. 

“There is no legal mechanism for the General Assembly to act alone and appoint electors [to the Electoral College],” the office affirmed. “Under Pennsylvania law, state courts handle disputes about the election process and the Governor certifies the electors selected by the popular vote, as legislative leaders have repeatedly stated.”

The current governor of Pennsylvania, Tom WolfTom WolfTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Trump cancels plans to attend Pennsylvania GOP event on election Biden-Harris ticket the first in US history to surpass 80 million votes MORE, is a Democrat.

Democrats also note the margins of Biden’s leads in several key states have ticked up, making any effort to overturn those results more difficult. 

On Wednesday evening, Biden was leading by more than 100,000 votes in Michigan, more than 50,000 in Pennsylvania, more than 20,000 in Wisconsin and more than 10,000 in both Arizona and Georgia. Arizona is the one key state where Biden has seen his lead narrow.

Still, even Democrats who remain confident that Trump’s efforts will fail, worry about the harm being done in the interim.

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“I think his likelihood of success in overturning the election is minimal, in part because he would have to overturn multiple states,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. 

“But I think this means that about 30 percent of the country will see Biden as illegitimately elected. That will make things more challenging for Biden — and for the country.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.