Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
The latest turn in loser Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election reveals a desperate man willing to say almost anything to get what he wants but instead getting rebuffed by officials who are made of finer stuff. As he pressures them to abandon their duty and come over to the dark side of politics, their refusal makes Trump’s corrupt methods all the more obvious.
Heard on an audio recording with Georgia election officials obtained by CNN, and first reported by the Washington Post, Trump sounds more like a dictator than an American president. He is by turns bullying, flattering, and repugnant, frantically trying to close the biggest deal of his life.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” says the President in a rambling one-hour telephone call with Georgia’s secretary of state and others. In another moment he argues, “And the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
If people are angry, it is mainly because Trump and his allies have been careering around the country, and social media, insisting the 2020 election was marred by massive fraud that stole victory from him. No such fraud has been discovered, and some 60 lawsuits pressing the claim have gone down in flames. Nevertheless, the idea of fraud has been so animated by repetition that polls have found a substantial majority of Republican voters believe the election was stolen.
One Republican who clearly disagrees with the majority in his party is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who can be heard telling Trump, “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.” He was supported by his office counsel Ryan Germany who clearly tells the President his claim that the state’s election was fraudulent is just wrong.
When you listen to Trump attempt to bulldoze the facts you can hear a man who is either completely detached from reality or cravenly devoted to the destruction of democracy in order to retain power. “There’s no way I lost Georgia,” says Trump, repeatedly. At another point he insists, “We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
In trying to bring the state officials into his plot to overturn the election, Trump often sounded like a high pressure salesman determined to prevent his mark from walking away. Among the discredited notions he raised were claims that votes have been shredded, voting machines had been moved or tampered with, Joe Biden votes have been counted numerous times over, and people who had moved from the state had returned to vote.
It’s hard to imagine that Trump hasn’t been told that the fraud theories are wrong. Certainly, dozens of courts have indicated as much by dismissing legal efforts to overturn the election results. Thus, it shouldn’t have surprised him that the folks in Georgia refuted the claims.
Blocked by the facts, Trump reversed field to tell Raffensperger that he and his attorney were in legal peril because he wasn’t acting as the President demanded to find fraud. “That’s a criminal offense,” he said. “And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.”
To his enormous credit, Germany put on a master class in standing up to Trump as the President insisted that a voting technology company called Dominion monkeyed with machines. Shot down when he tried one angle, the President pivoted to ask, “But have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?”
“No,” replied Germany.
“Are you sure, Ryan?” said Trump.
“I’m sure. I’m sure, Mr. President,” said Germany.
We know that both men held their ground because someone recorded the call and it was obtained by the media. At this late stage in Trump’s game, everyone knows that it’s a good idea to record any conversation with him. In this case the recording reveals men who are committed to the American ideal of democracy and to the ethical fulfillment of their duties. They are also courageous.
In the past, little courage was required of those who oversaw our elections and the peaceful transfer of power. But in the Trump years, thanks in part to the President’s incitements, officials have been subjected to threats, and armed protesters showed up at the Michigan secretary of state’s home. And still they have held firm.
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Thousands of those whom the president referred to when he spoke of angry people are expected in Washington DC this Wednesday, as Congress conducts what is typically a proforma certification of the election. Thanks to Trump we live in very atypical times. His prediction that the day will be “wild” has officials in the capital on edge.
To their shame, nearly a dozen Republican senators and senators-elect and more than 100 House Republicans say they are going to challenge the vote certification. This will not alter the result but it will, like that call Trump made to Georgia, affirm what we already knew: Trump is a corrupting force who will reveal a politician’s character.