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OPINION

Don’t prosecute Trump. Center stage is what he craves

What would that accomplish for the country? It would only lead to more polarization and give Trump’s delusions more oxygen.

The articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2019. After the release of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's recording of Trump asking for him to find enough votes to overturn Joe Biden's win in the state, there are calls for Trump to be impeached a second time.
The articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2019. After the release of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's recording of Trump asking for him to find enough votes to overturn Joe Biden's win in the state, there are calls for Trump to be impeached a second time.ERIN SCHAFF/NYT

President Trump is right. A criminal offense was probably committed in connection with Georgia’s presidential election results.

If so, he’s the guilty party — not Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, as Trump darkly suggested during their now infamous weekend phone call. Trump’s call to pressure Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needs to reverse the state’s 2020 presidential election outcome could violate state and federal laws, or at least come close, according to election and criminal defense lawyers. But it would be a hard case to press, experts say.

Some people want to see Trump prosecuted. I just want him packed up and gone. Center stage is what he craves, and keeping him there will only inspire more crimes against democracy.

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As if the nation needed any more proof, Trump’s call to Raffensperger reveals a man of many dangerous delusions. The chief one is that he won an election he lost. To support that fantasy, Trump has convinced himself that a web of lies represents truth. He believes that thousands of dead people cast votes, ballots are being shredded, and voting machines are being moved out of state to cover up nefarious election misdeeds. Hearing his rants on the recording first obtained by The Washington Post conjures up the fake, satirical videos making the rounds on the Internet. Just like on those videos, you can easily picture him babbling about election results while White House movers pack him up and load him onto a van.

The problem is that Trump’s rants are real, not fake, and not funny, because too many Americans embrace the sentiment behind them. The word “unprecedented” was thrown around so much in 2020 that it largely lost its meaning. But in the first days of 2021, it legitimately applies to Trump’s refusal to accept election reality — and to the willingness of Republican accomplices to play along, in the interests of holding onto Trump’s base for their own political advancement. Their coordinated assault on democracy has gotten scary enough to prompt all 10 of the living former defense secretaries to say the time to question election results has passed, and it’s not the military’s job to change them.

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This warning — which is also unprecedented — is necessary because Trump is doing everything he can to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. His delusional words on the call to Raffensperger underscore the peril. “We have won this election in Georgia, based on all of this. And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad. . . . And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump tells Raffensperger. But as Raffensperger points out, there is something very wrong with saying that. As he tells Trump, “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.”

Of course, that doesn’t stop Trump, who goes on to say, “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes” — what he needs to prevail over Biden in Georgia.

The tone of Trump’s call to Raffensperger is very familiar, because it echoes the July 25, 2019, call between him and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. After congratulating Zelensky for his election victory, Trump puts in the ask: “I would like you to do us a favor though.” The favor was to get dirt on Biden and talk to Trump’s lawyers about it. Zelensky listened politely and, according to the White House transcript, ended the call with this: “Thank you Mr. President bye-bye.”

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That call led to Trump’s impeachment by the House for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him after a trial that began last January. After the release of the Raffensperger recording, there are calls for Trump to be impeached a second time.

But what would that accomplish for the country? It would only lead to more polarization and give Trump’s delusions more oxygen.

Just move him out of the White House, babbling as he goes about a stolen election that never happened.

As Raffensperger said, sounding like he was mollifying a child: “Thank you, President Trump, for your time.”

And as Zelensky said, “Bye-bye.”

To that, America can add, ”Thanks for nothing.”


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.