Republicans have divided themselves into two camps as they struggle to cope with the reality that President Donald Trump has, indeed, lost the election.
In the first group are the so-called “establishment” Republicans who are beyond the immediate reach or unafraid of the president’s political wrath, a category that includes business groups, national security leaders, wealthy Republican donors, ex-office holders now on the punditry circuit, state officials determined to abide by local norms and law, and a smattering of Republicans with independent streaks in relatively safe seats.
The second group, broadly speaking, consists of Republican elected officials inching slowly toward the inevitable acceptance of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory as pending legal disputes continue to fail, in hopes their slow-rolling will confer a kind of herd immunity from any retaliation by Trump.
“Nobody wants to antagonize Trump’s base,” said Alex Conant, a veteran Republican political consultant. “But the reality of the outcome is bringing things to a head.”
Until now, the safest refuge for some Republicans has been to say they are waiting out the results of court cases, but that defense is weakening as Trump’s legal effort collapses in full public view and the dangers of delaying the transition grow.
“The window for legal challenges and recounts is rapidly closing,” said Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in a statement calling for the White House to begin transition planning.
“At some point,” she added, “the 2020 election must end.”
On Monday, the Biden-won camp stepped up their calls to commence the transition, emboldened by Trump’s humbling loss in a Pennsylvania federal court, by his attempt to strong-arm local officials into overturning or delaying certification of the results, and by his fractious legal team peddling outrageous conspiracy theories.
More than 100 chief executives of large businesses around the country signed an open letter to Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to immediately acknowledge Biden as the president-elect and commence the transition process, in hopes of minimizing the shock to the pandemic-weakened economy that a fumbled handoff could cause.
That echoed an equally forceful call to concede by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — an archetype of the Republican establishment — last week.
At the same time, a top Trump ally, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of Blackstone, the private equity firm, said in a statement that “the outcome is very certain today and the country should move on,” adding that he was “now ready to help President-elect Biden and his team.”
Schwarzman is not alone. Sheldon Adelson, the gaming mogul who is one of the president’s biggest campaign benefactors, signaled through a newspaper he owns, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, that it was time for Trump to surrender to the “inevitable.”
Most congressional Republicans — led by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell — have refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, but there were signs Monday that the dynamic was shifting.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa. — who does not plan to seek reelection in 2022 — blasted Trump for attempting to “pressure, cajole, persuade state legislators to dismiss the will of their voters.”
Then came a carefully-worded editorial by another center-right senator, Rob Portman, a former budget director under George W. Bush who is up for reelection in 2022. “There is no more sacred constitutional process in our great democracy than the orderly transfer of power,” Portman wrote in the editorial, which was published in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
And Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, weighed in over the weekend.
“If the president cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process,” she said in a statement.
That said, there is a third camp — one led by Trump and his most die-hard supporters: Those who might never concede defeat.