“Duty, honor, country.”
Those words, uttered by General Douglas MacArthur to a graduating class at West Point more than a half century ago aren’t heard so much these days.
But they came to mind in the past couple of months in the foment and unrest after the November presidential election which saw now President-elect Joe Biden defeat incumbent Donald Trump with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.
Unhappy with the results, Trump mounted a furious effort to overturn the outcome with allegations of voter fraud, ballot dumping and votes by dead people. He filed lawsuits in dozens of courts – including here in Wisconsin—and his supporters took challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unprecedented effort at election tampering, Trump tried to cajole election officials in one battleground state – Georgia – to “find” additional votes for him and overturn the election results. And, finally, the president tried to get the U.S. Congress to deny certification of the Electoral College vote – and turn the election over to Republican-controlled state legislatures in a last ditch effort to stay in power.
All those efforts failed.
Remarkably, and it will probably go down as just a footnote in our country’s history, those efforts failed because of the personal courage and dedication to duty of a handful of people — all Republicans and/or conservatives. Republicans who put their country, their duty and the rule of law above partisan politics, loyalty to the president or their own Republican Party.
They stopped the steal — the attempt being perpetrated by President Trump himself, and not the one he falsely accused Democrats of perpetrating.
Their names will likely forgotten in time, but we list them here today and acknowledge the courage they showed under immense political pressure. They deserve a round of applause and our thanks.
We’ll start with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his chief operating officer, Gabriel Sterling, who, six days before the tumultuous assault on the U.S. Capitol, rebuffed a plea, and veiled threats, from Trump to overturn Georgia’s results and “find” 11,780 votes to flip the state into his column.
“So what are we going to do here folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break,” the president cajoled. Trump alleged that 5,000 dead people voted in the state and there were 50,000 bogus votes that were taken from hidden suitcases in the counting room.
Raffensperger and Sterling didn’t budge — they had overseen a hand count of the state’s 5 million ballots and found two ballots from dead people; the “suitcases” were storage bins of legitimate ballots that were sealed by election workers and then reopened when it was decided to continue counting through the night.
As Raffensperger related to 60 Minutes: “I believe I said, “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is that you have bad data. Our data shows that you did not win the race. Because we have the facts, and the facts are on our side.”
As for the plea to find 11,780 votes, Raffensberger said: “He was asking us to recalibrate or recalculate, I believe it was recalculate — somehow get a different number. But I’m an engineer. And anyone that’s good with numbers knows you can calculate all you want, but the numbers are the numbers.”
They did their duty.
To this honor roll, we would add Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Trump appointees to the Supreme Court who joined the majority in rejecting a Texas challenge to election results in four battleground states by ruling the state had no standing to challenge votes in other states.
Justice Hagedorn joined three liberals on the state court in rebuffing a Trump suit to toss out 200,000 absentee ballots, ruling that any challenge to the state’s absentee ballot procedures should have been done before the election.
“Striking these votes now — after the election, and in only two of Wisconsin’s 72 counties when the disputed processes were followed by hundreds of thousands of absentee voters statewide — would be an extraordinary step by this court to take. We will not do so.”
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime Trump supporter, speaking to the Senate shortly before mobs descended on the Capitol to interrupt the session to confirm Biden’s Electoral College win, urged his colleagues to reject the attempt to overrule voters and overturn a presidential election.
“President Trump claims this election was stolen,” McConnell said. “The assertions range from specific local allegations to constitutional arguments to sweeping conspiracy theories. I supported the president’s right to use the legal system. Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms across the country. But over and over, the courts rejected these claims — including all-star judges whom the president himself nominated.”
“Every election features some illegality and irregularity and it’s unacceptable. I support strong state-led voting reforms. Last year’s bizarre pandemic procedures must not become the new norm,” he said.
“But nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when that doubt was incited without evidence. The Constitution gives Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids.
“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them all, it would damage our republic forever” McConnell said, “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
He voted to affirm Biden’s selection — hours later after the mob had left the Capitol.