The United States Constitution provides a number of mechanisms by which anomalies or emergencies within the electoral system might be resolved. It provides no mechanisms whatsoever by which the losers can contrive a do-over.
This appears to be unclear to at least two Republican congressmen. Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas has signaled his intention to sue Mike Pence in district court if Pence refuses to use the absolute power Gohmert claims the vice president possesses under the Twelfth Amendment and to hand the election to Trump. Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, meanwhile, has announced that “dozens” of Republican members of Congress will object to the Electoral College results when Congress meets to certify them on January 6. By registering their objections, Brooks says, he and his fellow legislators will be making a “tough decision.”
The opposite is true. It is never easy to lose an election — especially when it is close. But the “tough decision” here is to resist the president’s increasingly unmoored accusations, to ignore those who are irresponsibly echoing them, and to respect the outcome. If either of these two schemes were to succeed, the result would be the weakening of the federal system and the establishment of a disastrous precedent for future elections — not to mention the rank subversion of democracy.
Gohmert’s plan is particularly preposterous, in that it would entrench into American law the idea that the incumbent vice president is permitted — perhaps even obliged — to veto the results of any presidential election whose outcome he dislikes. Instead, as president of the Senate, the vice president has a purely ministerial role presiding over the counting of electoral votes by Congress. If Richard Nixon could serve this function after his own heartbreaking loss in 1960, surely Mike Pence can sign off on this year’s results.
That almost no Republican senators have shown any interest in actively pursuing these ploys is a testament to their good sense, which makes it all the more disappointing that Josh Hawley has volunteered to join Brooks in objecting. President Trump has taken aim at the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, for acknowledging that Joe Biden is the president-elect, and at the assistant majority leader, John Thune, for observing that the Mo Brooks plan is destined to “go down like a shot dog.” In Trump’s estimation, McConnell’s statement shows that he does not know how “to fight,” while Thune’s shows that he is “weak.” There is, indeed, a great deal to admire about politicians who give their cause their all. But there is nothing strong or admirable about seeking to overturn the result of a presidential election.