President-elect Joe Biden will take office on Jan. 20. President Donald Trump will be out of office. This is the plain reality of the situation. No matter how much Trump doesn’t want to believe or accept it, that’s what will happen.
Trump’s legal challenges to bolster conspiracy theories that he somehow won the 2020 election have been continually dismissed by the courts, and the real results are there for anyone to see. Yet, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is, so far, the only West Virginian in Congress to congratulate Biden on his win.
The Biden transition was authorized Monday evening, but there were conflicting reports on who authorized it, and Trump said he is still challenging the election.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., issued a statement saying the president has a right to his legal challenges, but she would work with Biden if he is, indeed, the winner. Not much of a strong stance. U.S. House Reps. Alex Mooney, Carol Miller and David McKinley, all Republicans, have been mostly silent.
The state Republican Party issued a statement earlier this month saying it stands with Trump and, without any proof, called the election fraudulent. Republican Gov. Jim Justice offered a statement similar to Capito’s more than a week ago. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey joined a frivolous lawsuit to get ballots tossed in Pennsylvania.
It’s certainly a bizarre time in American history, but these reactions, or lack thereof, are not surprising, even if they are disappointing.
There are two major reasons why high-ranking West Virginia Republicans will not acknowledge Biden’s win outright until the last possible moment — even if it comes down to dragging Trump kicking and screaming from the White House.
First, and most obvious, publicly abandoning the Trump team’s tinfoil efforts to retain power does West Virginia Republicans no good politically. The Mountain State voted for Trump by nearly 68% in 2016, and by almost 69% this year. The state Legislature also gained a Republican supermajority in the Nov. 3 election. Any statement congratulating Biden or calling on Trump to concede would be unpopular.
Secondly, there’s a real fear of breaking with Trump. Despite the president’s separation from reality, he commands a fervent base, and a lack of backbone from GOP lifers has allowed the outgoing president and his supporters to take control of the Republican Party. He demands fealty and will turn his wrath, and that of his supporters, on anyone who doesn’t appear to bend the knee.
He’s a lame duck now, but it’s entirely possible he will remain an influential figure in the GOP after his term ends. He also could run for reelection in 2024. Unless it’s clear he’s moved on, fear of Trump’s ire will remain a factor in decision-making.
One problem this lays bare is that West Virginia Republicans, in Congress and at the state level, will sacrifice what is right for what is beneficial. Politicians of all stripes have been doing that for a long time, but rarely in a situation involving the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.
A willingness to either vocally or tacitly support wild assertions with no basis in fact in order to toe the line is disturbing. It also shows that there is no real will or stomach to do the right thing, with a basic lack of courage as the primary reason.
This ends up lending credence to Trump’s false claims, his childish behavior and his pathological belief that no person, thing or ideal, including the democracy that holds the United States together, is more important than what benefits him personally.
West Virginia’s congressional delegation, state Republican Party and leaders need to speak up and accept the results of the election, while denouncing Trump’s attempt to subvert the will of the American people. The underlying principles of this republic matter and must be maintained. If they won’t do it for that reason, they should at least recall the saying everything that goes around comes around.
Hopefully, this will never happen again, but the damage done to governing norms over the past four years will take a long time to repair, and that’s if anyone is willing to fix them.
A peaceful transition now ensures peaceful transitions in the future. That should never be threatened.