Welcome to today’s US election briefing for Australia.
At first Donald Trump’s claim that he in fact won the election and is the victim of electoral fraud might have seemed like a minor tantrum – a last gasp – that would quickly pass as reality set in.
The events of today make it clear that is not going to happen.
Instead, it is increasingly clear Trump – backed by a readily compliant Republican leadership – are really going to fight this, potentially inflicting enormous damage in the process.
On Monday, local time, US attorney general Bill Barr authorised federal prosecutors to begin investigating “substantial allegations” of voter irregularities across the country despite a lack of evidence of any major fraud.
As my colleagues wrote this morning, the investigations are unlikely to change the election result, but the “memo primarily functions to erode norms and policies that typically prohibit the justice department from intervening before election results are confirmed by the electoral college, and it serves to sow confusion and distrust in the elections system.” The official in the justice department who oversees investigations of voter fraud resigned almost immediately, the NYT reported.
In Georgia, a state Democrats have almost certainly won, Republican Senators also demanded the secretary of state – himself a Republican – step down, saying he had failed to deliver a fair election.
There is of course no suggestion Republicans want to challenge election results that fell in their favour. All those successful House and Senate campaigns can stand.
If you’re wondering why Republicans are going along with Trump’s fanciful claims (apart from his total Jedi mind trick takeover of the party), Georgia holds some clues. The state is due to hold runoff elections in January which will determine the balance of the US Senate. Washington Post reporter Robert Costa today said Senate Republican leadership believed they needed to stoke the base to ensure victory there.
And the base is coming around to Trump’s view on the election. A new poll shows around half of all Republicans believe the election was not free and fair.
It’s a powder keg of a situation with real and immediate consequences, and not just for Biden’s transition. Officials in Philadelphia have received death threats over claims the election was rigged.
In the longer term too, it must be asked what happens to a democracy where a huge chunk of the population believe any election their guy doesn’t win has been rigged?
The big stories
Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his loss in the 2020 election has fed concerns that the presidential transition would be sabotaged as a Trump appointee refused to sign off on funding for the transition and the Trump campaign announced an expanded legal strategy in a quest to reverse the election result.
The US attorney general has written to US attorneys to give them the green light to pursue “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities” before the results of the presidential election in their jurisdictions are certified.
Trump has fired his defence secretary, Mark Esper, by tweet, in the latest sign that the transition is going to be turbulent on both domestic and foreign fronts. Esper had earlier insisted there were no legal grounds to deploy active-service troops against protesters on the streets of US cities.
Meanwhile, president-elect Joe Biden has vowed to spare no effort in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, unveiling a coronavirus advisory board of 13 public health experts and urging the public to wear masks.
Trump campaign’s election night watch party held in the White House East Room – with few masks and no social distancing – is being eyed as a potential coronavirus super-spreading event after senior official Ben Carson became the latest figure to test positive.
For the past four elections, the Democrats’ success in Nevada has been rooted in the party’s ground game in the diverse, union-powered landscape of a place called Clark county. This time around, the Biden campaign’s success was aided by one of the party’s most reliable allies, Culinary Union Local 226, who organised with pandemic precautions.
And finally, just as Trump’s rise was accompanied by branded merchandise – steaks, ties, boxers and red Maga hats – so his descent may come to be known by the stickers, shirts and hoodies now being sold by an obscure Pennsylvanian landscaping company that wound up playing a comic and widely celebrated role in the final throes of the president’s re-election campaign.
Quote of the day
Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man’. And then God help us.”
Outgoing defense secretary Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump on Twitter today, in a very prescient interview conducted last week but published today.
“Whatever the Biden presidency will bring in terms of progressive policies, we should not forget that his most important task has already been achieved: to end the Trump presidency,” says Cas Mudde, describing the win as “a major victory for democracy in the US and abroad”.
“We all have a role to play in persuading this administration to have more courage, go farther, live up to its promises, all the while being louder than the corporations and conservatives who want the opposite,” writes Rebecca Solnit in this compelling piece.
Trump’s presidency has been a horrible time to be an immigrant in America, writes Moustafa Bayoumi – from the rise in hate crimes, the Muslim ban and children locked in cages. Now there is an opportunity to create a “truly immigrant-welcoming America … one where there’s no need to be eyeing the exits for your own survival.”
Video of the day
In the final instalment of our Anywhere but Washington series, Guardian US’s Oliver Laughland speaks to the Florida voters who backed Trump to the end, and those that put their faith in Biden.
Around the web
“Democrats must think bigger and more strategically” says Charles M. Blow in this astute NYT piece about the divisions in the party and how they can’t rely on the country’s shifting demographics to deliver them victories in the future.
Trump is already discussing a 2024 tilt at the presidency, according to Axios.
And ok. I know it’s been several days since the whole press conference at Four Seasons Landscaping debacle. The joke has been flogged almost to death. But I still enjoyed this piece from Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post.
What the numbers say: 666
The number of children separated from their parents at the US border who lawyers say they still cannot reunite because their parents cannot be found, reports NBC, a higher number than originally reported last month. More than 120 of those children are were aged under 5 at the time of separation.
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