The season finale of The Trump Show is upon us.
For my friends in New Zealand trying to make sense of where all this stands, and whether Donald Trump might yet steal control of America despite the election he lost, the big final episode of this season will air January 7 at 7am NZ time. Please feel free to ignore us and enjoy your summer holiday until then.
But on that date - January 6 in the States - three exciting things will happen:
First, the results of our January 5 US Senate election in Georgia may be pretty clear. And with it, whether or not President-elect Joe Biden will be able to govern without the sort of Senate obstruction that hobbled Barack Obama.
Two Senate seats out of 100 are up for grabs. The Democrats now have 48 seats, and the Republicans 52. So if the Democrats win both, they will control the Senate. In case you're quick at maths, yes, they will each have 50 seats. But the President of the Senate, who will be Vice President Kamala Harris under our Constitution, will break any ties in the Democrats' favour. If the Democrats lose either seat, the Republicans will control the Senate and likely use their majority to block most Biden initiatives.
This is why all political eyes here are on Georgia right now. And why an astounding US$370 million has been raised so far for just these two Senate races. You guys ever spend half a billion on an election? A local election? That's a measure of the stakes and the insanity here.
Second, the Congress will meet to confirm the results of the presidential election. It will begin at 7am Auckland time. Vice President Mike Pence will preside over a joint session of both houses. In many years, it has been a 30-minute formality. But in keeping with our reality show President, this year promises to be bigger box office.
Congressmen and senators have the right to object to the election results. Strictly speaking, they object to "electors" sent by the states to represent those results. But there must be objections from both House of Representatives members and from senators. There will be House objections; several Republicans have promised to do so. Georgia Republican Congressman Jody Hice tweeted earlier this month: "Big meeting today with @realDonaldTrump ... I will lead an objection to Georgia's electors on Jan 6. The courts refuse to hear the President's legal case."
Actually, 59 courts have heard his case and every single one said he has no case. Including the Supreme Court - twice. But this is about politics, not truth. If Hice can convince Alabama's Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville to go along with the charade, it gets slightly more exciting. Both houses adjourn to debate for not more than two hours, after which both houses must vote whether to approve the objection. Spoiler alert: these objections will fail, because the Democrats have a firm majority of the House of Representatives and they will not vote for a coup.
A second and more interesting attack was launched earlier this month by Texas Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert, a stalwart Trump supporter who has become well known for his short stature, Texas twang and endless right-wing stunts. This one is a lawsuit, and he's actually suing Republican Vice President Pence. The lawsuit seeks to compel Pence to set aside long-existing US law governing this election confirmation process on the basis that it's actually unconstitutional. It argues Pence himself has the sole right to select which electors are legal and therefore who won the election. He alone, Gohmert says, "has exclusive authority and sole discretion in determining which electoral votes to count".
What are the chances this will succeed? My top DC lawyer friend says just about zero. "I think it's a frivolous suit and it's a stunt."
One law Gohmert seeks to overturn is 133 years old. If the existing Vice President gets to pick who won, the lawyer said, you'd think someone might have noticed that before? Like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton.
Third and most disturbing, we have the possibility of boffo special effects. Trump supporters are trying to stage a big protest rally demanding the election be overturned while all this happens inside Congress. Various armed right-wing militia groups plan to turn up. So will anti-militia left-wing types. The possibility of violence is very real. But the Congress will be very well defended. Trump supporters will not seize it. And our army leadership has made it clear it will have no role in a coup.
Many of my liberal friends here say they will be worried until Biden is safely sworn in on January 20. A good deal of the world must feel the same way. This kind of fear is not uncommon and it's not unreasonable.
So will we have seen the last of Donald Trump? At least for season one.