Trump’s Ridiculous, Sloppy Coup Attempt Just Face-Planted in Michigan

The board of state canvassers voted to certify Joe Biden’s big margin of victory after a key member refused to bow to Trump’s pressure campaign.
November 23, 2020, 9:53pm
Joscha Weese, left, stands outside the Capitol building during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Michigan's elections board is scheduled to meet to certify the state's presidential election results Monday.

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President Trump just racked up yet another humiliating defeat in his desperate scramble to flip the 2020 election in his favor.  

The Michigan board of state canvassers voted to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s 150,000-plus-vote margin of victory on Monday afternoon, after a key GOP board member rebuffed political pressure from Trump and the Republican Party to delay making that count official.  

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A postponement would have handed Trump more time to find a way to flip the state into his column and launched a courtroom battle over whether such a move was even legally possible. But one Republican board member, 30-year-old Aaron Van Langevelde, said he believed Michigan law left him no alternative. Ultimately three board members voted in favor of certification, and one Republican member abstained.  

“The board’s duty today is very clear,” Van Langevelde said at the board’s meeting in Lansing, the state capital. “We have a duty to certify this election based on these returns.”

The failure in Michigan further undercuts Trump’s long-shot attempt to reverse his own 2020 electoral defeat by filing dozens of lawsuits and pressuring state and local officials to throw out votes and do his bidding. Trump’s GOP allies have sought to delay certification in Michigan in order to buy time to find a reason to throw out ballots from the state’s heavily-Democratic districts, including Detroit. Trump has insisted, wrongly, that he won the 2020 election, while casting around wildly for evidence to support his claim, including outlandish conspiracy theories.

Van Langevelde entered Monday’s meeting as an unknown quantity, having refused to give interviews about his views to The New York Times and other outlets. But the young lawyer, whose voice audibly cracked at one point during Monday’s meeting, took on the role of bulwark for American democracy by refusing to bow to Trump’s pressure campaign and insisting that the board act within the boundaries of state law. 

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“We must not attempt to exercise powers we simply don’t have,” said Van Langevelde, who has worked for the Republican caucus in the Michigan House of Representatives. “In this case, the law is absolutely clear. We have a clear legal duty to certify the results.” 

The meeting drew widespread interest and over 30,000 viewers online at any one time, an astonishingly high number for a normally perfunctory meeting of low-profile functionaries. But Trump’s assault on the integrity of the 2020 election has heightened interest and raised alarm about how he might attack the machinery of American democracy in ways once considered unthinkable. 

Trump’s legal team seemed undeterred by the Michigan defeat, however. “Certification by state officials is simply a procedural step,” Trump 2020 senior legal advisor Jenna Ellis said in a statement. “We are going to continue combatting election fraud around the country as we fight to count all legal votes.”

Yet Republicans have repeatedly failed to muster solid evidence of actual voter fraud in Michigan—or anywhere else. 

In a Nov. 13 decision, for example, a state court judge in Michigan dismissed complaints about voter fraud, noting that one affidavit championed by Republicans as evidence was “riven with speculation and guesswork about sinister motives,” and another involved “generalized speculation.” A third involved allegations that “simply are not credible,” the court ruled. 

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After racking up a string of courtroom defeats since Election Day, Trump tried a new tack: applying pressure directly to Republican state lawmakers and previously low-profile functionaries to get them to disregard the popular vote and hand their state electors to him. Trump invited top Michigan GOP state lawmakers to the White House on Friday and publicly urged state legislatures to flip swing states his way on Twitter

Trump’s efforts add up to a stunning attempt to thwart the result of an American election, and even some high-level Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney have declared themselves aghast. 

“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement on Nov. 19. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.” 

Such criticism has hardly slowed Trump down, however, and top Republican Party officials have fallen in line with his attempts to somehow reverse the 2020 election.

Monday’s vote in the Michigan Board of State Canvassers appeared to put the final mark of doom on Trump’s anti-democratic dream in that state. 

Trump’s overall efforts to secure a second term using lawyers and political pressure appear destined for failure, according to experts on election law and democratic procedures, but they’re still capable of dealing lasting harm to American democratic institutions. 

“The good news is that there is no real prospect that Mr. Trump can avoid a reluctant handover of power on Jan. 20,” Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in The New York Times on Monday. “The bad news is that Mr. Trump’s wildly unsubstantiated claims of a vast voter fraud conspiracy and the litigation he has brought against voting rights have done—and will increasingly do—serious damage to our democracy.”