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The Morning Dispatch: As Much Concession As We're Likely to Get
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The Morning Dispatch: As Much Concession As We’re Likely to Get

Plus: A few days' dalliance with OANN and Newsmax.

Happy Wednesday! Quick programming note: Declan is spending all day today trying (and likely failing) to bake a pie. Andrew is celebrating his post-Georgia negative COVID test. Audrey is going to be brining her turkey, Charlotte will be battling the lines at the grocery store, and James can’t stop watching OAN (we never should have given him that assignment). 

All that’s to say, this is the last TMD we’ll be publishing this week. We hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and look forward to catching you up on all the hijinks that will inevitably occur between now and Monday.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In yet another blow to the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the results of the election, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Minnesota certified Joe Biden’s victory in those states yesterday. North Carolina certified its results as well, handing Donald Trump its 15 electoral votes.

  • The White House gave formal approval on Tuesday for President-elect Joe Biden to begin receiving the President’s Daily Brief, a collection of classified intelligence information on national security. The move came just one day after the General Services Administration signed off on the presidential transition process.

  • The massive toll of school closures on students is becoming clearer. A report on grades in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools—the largest system in the state—found the percentage of middle and high school students earning F’s in at least two classes has nearly doubled from last year to this year, which has been conducted primarily online. The drop in academic achievement following the switch to remote learning was found to be particularly dramatic among students with disabilities and students for whom English is a second language.

  • OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pled guilty to three criminal charges on Tuesday, formally acknowledging its role in the nationwide opioid epidemic.

  • Axios reported last night that President Trump plans to pardon Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, before the conclusion of Trump’s term in January. Flynn pled guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about the contents of his communications with the Russian ambassador.

  • In an event on Tuesday unveiling his first handful of Cabinet nominees, President-elect Joe Biden urged the Senate to consider his picks in good faith. “I hope these outstanding nominees received a prompt hearing, and that we can work across the aisle in good faith to move forward for the country,” Biden said.

  • A federal prosecutor and four district attorneys announced Tuesday that 35,000 fraudulent unemployment claims were filed between March and August in the name of California jail and prison inmates, including 100 who were on death row. More than 20,000 of those pandemic unemployment insurance claims were paid out, costing California hundreds of millions of dollars and marking what one district attorney called “the biggest fraud of taxpayer dollars in California history.”

  • The United States confirmed 174,929 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 9.8 percent of the 1,785,707 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 2,223 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 259,874. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 88,080 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Raffensperger’s Georgia Postmortem

It’s Wednesday, November 25—two-and-a-half weeks after most network decision desks called the presidential race for Joe Biden—and we appear to have reached a workable election equilibrium. No, President Trump hasn’t conceded, and he says he “never will.” News broke late last night that he’s expected to join Rudy Giuliani in Pennsylvania later today in search of voter fraud in the Keystone State.

But as of today, Trump’s post-election antics are officially now just that: Antics. On Monday night, Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration,* officially authorized President-elect Biden and his team to begin the transition process, making available $6.3 million in funding and signaling to Trump administration officials they can start coordinating and cooperating with their soon-to-be successors. On Tuesday, the White House officially approved the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) giving Biden access to the Presidential Daily Brief.

Biden didn’t seem too perturbed by the delay in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt last night. “Immediately, we’ve gotten outreach from the national security shop to just across the board,” the president-elect said. “We’re already working out meeting with the COVID team in the White House, and how to not only distribute but get from a vaccine being distributed to a person able to get vaccinated. So I think we’re going to not be so far behind the curve as we thought we might be in the past.”

“And I must say, the outreach has been sincere,” he added. “It has not been begrudging so far, and I don’t expect it to be.”

So what are we to make of the last 18 days? Does it matter that Trump and his allies spent the past three weeks, to borrow a phrase from the president’s former adviser Steve Bannon, flooding the zone with s—? Does it matter that, with very few exceptions, Republican elected officials stood by and watched them do it? Were we actually on the precipice of a constitutional crisis, brought back from the brink by the integrity of a handful of heretofore anonymous state and local election officials? Or is the state of American democracy strong, with its guardrails bending, but not breaking under the recent strain?

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—one of those heretofore anonymous election officials—has had a rough few weeks, but maintains confidence in American democracy on the whole. “We just need to continue to remember that America is great because the people are good,” Raffensperger told us. “At the end of the day, what I’ve been focusing on is: What is the law, and then following the law, and then following the process that’s based on that law, and making sure that every legal vote is counted.”

He said election officials across Georgia operate under the same creed. “They’re doing their job. And as long as they have that personal integrity, all Americans should feel good about the process.” 

But a lot of Americans don’t feel good about the process right now, due in large part to the president. Depending on your poll of choice, between 70 percent and 84 percent of Republicans erroneously believe Biden’s victory to be in some degree illegitimate. And in the weeks since the election, Raffensperger—an engineer and business owner who has overseen the election systems in Georgia since 2018—has become Public Enemy No. 1 for those Republicans.

Despite endorsing Raffensperger two years ago, Trump this month has criticized him as a RINO and accused him of covering up “tens of thousands of fraudulent and illegal votes.” Sen. Lindsey Graham reportedly reached out to Raffensperger to inquire about tossing out some legally-cast ballots in the state (charges Graham has since denied). GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called for Raffensperger’s resignation, citing unspecified “failures” with the Georgia election, for which they did not provide any evidence. Members of Trump’s legal team—past and present—have gone even further, accusing Raffensperger and Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp of accepting bribes as part of a grand conspiracy involving Dominion Voting Systems and the deceased former president of Venezuela.

The secretary of state is confident about his state’s results, especially after they underwent a hand recount and no major discrepancies were unearthed. He touted the statewide voting system his office has revamped, referencing updated voter rolls, a new online portal with verification, and the return of paper ballots—which proved handy in the recount this year. 

To combat disinformation, he noted it’s important to be transparent with voters and take the time to answer their questions. “I understand in these polarized times, at the end of the day half the people will be happy, half the people will be sad. But we want 100 percent of people to know that the process captured their votes correctly,” he said. “We keep on knocking [these conspiracy theories] down. Some people will buy into that line of reasoning, that silly talk. Reasonable, rational people that can really think about these issues and check out the facts will realize that people are just making this stuff up out of whole cloth.”

We asked Raffensperger if the recent onslaught from prominent Republicans has changed the way he thinks about the GOP. “It hasn’t made me reconsider what I think about the Republican Party. It just makes me reconsider what I think about the character of some of the individuals that you mentioned,” he said. But he also highlighted “some of these supporters of President Trump that think that they can go around and send death threats to [my] wife and to myself.”

“There’s always those types of people out there,” he said. “We, as Republicans, always like to talk about BLM and Antifa. And then we have basically the same cast of characters, different names, different places on the far fringe groups also.”

It wasn’t just Raffensperger that Trump and his allies leaned on in recent weeks in their ham-handed attempts to overturn the election results. The president attacked Al Schmidt—the Republican City Commissioner of Philadelphia—for pushing back on claims of widespread fraud in the city. Trump invited two top officials in Michigan’s state legislature—Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey—to the White House for what Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said was “not an advocacy meeting.” Shirkey told The Associated Press yesterday that the election did come up during the meeting, with Trump and lawyer Rudy Giuliani wanting an “understanding” of the state’s laws. “Once Speaker Chatfield and I made it abundantly clear that our laws are very specific, very clear, no room for ambiguity,” Shirkey said, “basically that was the end of the conversation … as it relates to the election.” Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, broke from the board’s other GOP member on Monday and voted to certify Biden’s victory in the state. A few hours later, the GSA issued its letter of ascertainment and allowed the presidential transition to formally begin.

What if the election was closer, and the characters above had proven more amenable to Trump’s whims? Are three guys named Raffensperger, Schmidt, and Van Langevelde all that’s standing between American democracy and a successful coup?

No. Trump has certainly tweeted a lot, and cable news talking heads have amplified his false claims of widespread voter fraud to the portion of the electorate already primed to believe them. But it’s important to remember Trump’s legal team and its allies are currently 1-36 in post-election litigation. There’s been (next to) no violence in the streets over the election results. Even if the Michigan board of state canvassers refused to certify the results on Monday, the remedy would not be for Trump to win a state he lost by more than 150,000 votes.

But that doesn’t mean the president’s antics are harmless—particularly when for weeks there was minimal pushback from GOP officials who knew better. “Each person has to decide what they want to do,” Raffensperger said of his fellow Republicans’ selective silence. “Do they want to stand up and be counted for what they believe, or do they want to stay in the shadows?” 

Raffensperger said he has received praise for his stand—but none of it has come from D.C. Republicans. “I’ve had lots of positive outreach from my state house and the state senators and elected officials here in Georgia,” he said. “I haven’t heard from Washington politicians. And I see no need to, because I’m focusing on my job. And so I don’t need people to try to influence me and try to move me off that straight line of integrity that I think this office needs to walk.”

Out With the Old, In With the Newsmax

The schism between President Trump and Fox News has been months, if not years, in the making. But the network’s early—and correct—call of Arizona this month pushed Trump and many of his supporters over the edge. Trump has repeatedly in recent weeks encouraged his followers to change the channel from Fox to One America News and Newsmax, two minor networks that still support the President’s claims of widespread election fraud. There are reports Trump is considering a post-presidency deal with one—or both—of them.  

Given their recent surge in popularity, we thought it’d be a good idea to see what all the hubbub is about. So we assigned James—the intern, and therefore expendable—to watch as much of the networks as possible the past few days. He emerged alive—but changed—and wrote about his experience living in a right-wing bubble in a piece for the site. A few excerpts are below.

What are these networks claiming about the election?

On Newsmax, election conspiracy theorizing tends to come through guests, with occasional (very mild) pushback from anchors. Friday morning’s National Report featured frequent guest Robert Graham, a former Arizona GOP chairman, inveighing against Mitt Romney’s statement calling for President Trump to concede the election, saying Romney was “a milquetoast Republican … these people should literally be registered to the other party.” Graham then praised Rudy Giuliani’s increasingly hapless attempts at litigating vote counts as “Herculean.”

Shortly after that, host John Bachman interviewed Michelle Malkin (just one example of the early-aughts conservative flotsam that often washes up on Newsmax’s and OAN’s shores). She claimed that billionaires, “many of them, not just one” had colluded with “big business and hedge funds” to, somehow, interfere with election processes. “We don’t control our own elections,” she concluded.

One difference between Newsmax and OAN is that on Newsmax, at least some guests downplay “stolen election” claims. Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller, interviewed on American Agenda, said he wasn’t concerned about voter fraud on a “widespread basis.”

Neither the guests nor hosts I watched on OAN had any such qualms about wild claims, however. On Monday, after Michigan officials announced the state had certified its vote count, OAN’s breaking news segment proclaimed that the “Michigan GOP buckled under pressure” despite “massive evidence” of election fraud. 

Are they covering the Trump legal team’s continuous whiffs in court?

By Tuesday, Newsmax had seemed to move halfheartedly from the denial to the acceptance stage of grieving the president’s loss. Former White House press secretary and current Newsmax anchor Sean Spicer railed against Republicans who allowed mail-in ballots: “Everyone saw this coming, but no one did anything about it, except the President.” But he also agreed with guest Harmeet Dillon, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association, that overturning the election results was looking increasingly out of reach. 

OAN was in no such mood on Tuesday night. Real America host Dan Ball asked Trump lawyer/conspiracy theorist Jenna Ellis for a legal update on the election, because people were confused “with all the disinformation out there.” Ellis responded by stating that the legal fight was far from over, and “we still don’t know who will be President,” hammering home the talking point that a court could still nullify the certification of vote counts, even after the Electoral College meets on December 14. Ball ended the segment by pivoting to a preview of Biden’s Cabinet picks, “if, if, he becomes the next president of the United States.”

Worth Your Time

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed the 30,000 mark for the first time on Tuesday, highlighting the stock market’s remarkable eight month rebound since its March low. The Wall Street Journal’s Gunjan Banerju, Akane Otani, and Michael Wursthorn explain the nuts and bolts of the stock market’s historic rally and consider whether the momentum will continue. “Some pessimists say today’s gains will inevitably lower returns tomorrow,” they write. “But low interest rates mean investors big and small can’t expect to make much money in less-risky investments like bonds. So they are betting that the market’s momentum will continue, whether passively through index funds or actively with a buy-on-dips mantra.”

  • In The Atlantic this week, Gregg Nunziata—an attorney, self-described “lifelong Republican,” member of the Federalist Society, and Dispatch contributor—argues that GOP lawmakers who have failed to acknowledge President Trump’s electoral loss are failing to live up to their duty to uphold the Constitution. “Too many elected Republicans retreat to repeating truisms: The president has the right to challenge election results, he has no obligation to concede while he’s still pursuing these claims, and states have not yet certified their votes,” Nunziata writes. “These positions have the virtue of being accurate, but they ignore the president’s more outrageous claims and the real harm he is doing.”

  • “Her days, and her nights, now revolve around him,” Christopher Solomon writes of his aging mother and his dying father in GQ. “She is a moon in furious orbit around a collapsing star.” In a heartrending read about the perils of love, Solomon beautifully captures his parents’ story—from a wartime romance to his father’s battle with Parkinson’s and dementia. “If you are lucky, you will have someone for whom you will want to do whatever it takes, and without question, until the very end.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his latest Capitolism newsletter (🔒), Scott Lincicome looks beyond the political ramifications of Trump’s “two-plus-week attack of the integrity of the U.S. election process.” Eroding trust in American institutions, Scott argues, seeps into other facets of American life—like personal income and even interpersonal relationships. “A wide body of academic literature shows that interpersonal trust levels are connected to trust in public institutions and a key determinant of various positive economic outcomes,” he writes. Bonus content: a Lincicome family stuffing recipe.

  • Sarah sat down with Joe Biden’s Georgia press secretary, Jeremy Edwards, for a special Thanksgiving Week Mop-Up (🔒). “Our strategy was pretty simple,” Edwards said of the Biden team’s successful campaign in the state. “Make sure that every person in Georgia knows all the ways that they can vote in this election—whether by mail, early in person, or on the day of Election Day, as well as reminding those voters what was at stake this election.”

Let Us Know

Regular readers of this newsletter know that this year has been a tough one, in more ways than we can count. But that does not mean there’s nothing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving—far from it.

What are some of the best things that’ve happened in your life the past 365 days? What will you spend tomorrow being thankful for?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photo of Brad Raffensperger by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images.

Correction, November 27, 2020: The GSA stands for General Services Administration, not Government Services Administration.