Standing up for election integrity

It was two uncertain days after America’s 2020 presidential election, and a former vice president was sounding downright presidential.

“Democracy’s sometimes messy,” Joe Biden said, hours before the Democratic nominee emerged as America’s likely, but not officially declared, president-elect. “It sometimes requires a little patience, as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world. … Each ballot must be counted.”

Meanwhile, a president was sending out official vibes signaling that he was understandably elated. But that president was sending his vibes from halfway around the world, in the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin was clearly savoring the results of his years of efforts to cyber-sabotage America’s famed democracy. He was getting his money’s worth — and more.

Putin’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, tsk-tsked to reporters that “obvious shortcomings of the American electoral system are evident.” Also, the editor of Putin’s state-controlled RT television network, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted that the United States election was “neither free nor fair.” And Russian talk-show host Vladimir Solovyov was quoted in The New York Times as saying America “managed to deliver a crushing blow against what trust remained in the procedure of elections itself.”

Indeed, as all the world witnessed, that crushing blow against America’s democratic elections was delivered starting two days after the election by the most shocking emissary any of us could imagine.

America’s 45th president materialized in the White House briefing room at 6:31 p.m. Nov. 5 and issued a torrent of baseless, and often demonstrably false, accusations unlike anything ever spoken by any of our previous 44 presidents.

Donald Trump spent 17 minutes claiming, without a shred of proof, that the U.S. elections were “corrupt,” rife with “fraud,” and a plot by his political enemies to “steal” his reelection. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump told reporters. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

More than 100 million Americans had voted early to avoid having to stand in long lines during the pandemic. Most were Democrats. Trump had repeatedly urged Republicans to vote on Election Day.

Meanwhile in some states, including Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, the Republican legislature prohibited any counting of the early ballots until after polls closed on election night. Team Trump then began filing court suits to stop counting all votes. And Trump began insisting his large early leads were being undone by late-counted Biden votes. Trump shamefully insisted that meant the vote counting was rigged. Even though he knows that wasn’t true, just his desperation con.

When Trump left the room, CNN’s conservative Republican commentator, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has spent four years frequently defending Trump, somberly spoke truth to Washington’s power elite:

“No Republican elected official is going to stand behind that statement. None of them. … Much of that statement was not factual and was at times incendiary. And not something that a president of the United States should say, or any elected official should say, unless there is direct evidence to prove it.”

Santorum criticized Trump for saying efforts to continue counting Pennsylvania’s mailed early votes was “stealing them,” adding: “The reality is in Pennsylvania, Democrats voted by mail and Republicans voted in person — it’s because you asked them to do so. … And for the president to go out there and claim that, without any evidence, is dangerous. … It’s very disappointing — shocking at times — to hear the president say the things that he said. And I’m hopeful that Republicans will stand up at this moment and say what needs to be said about the integrity of our elections.”

What followed was a stunningly decent TV talking head moment. CNN’s liberal commentator Van Jones, a longtime advocate of issues of concern to Black Americans, then said: “I just wanted to say as a dad, as an American, as a Democrat, as a human being, I appreciate you saying that. I hope that other Republicans will also stand with you.”

Sadly, when Americans are uncertain whom to believe, most of Santorum’s fellow Republicans seem to be battling their own pandemic of political laryngitis. The last thing America needs at this moment is this Senate’s sick Silent Majority.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].