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Politics

Duty or Party? For Republicans, a Choice on Whether to Enable Trump

For the next three weeks, the integrity of American democracy is in the hands of people like Norman D. Shinkle, a proud Michigander who has, until recently, served in relative obscurity on the state board that certifies vote results.

But now Mr. Shinkle faces a choice born from the national election turmoil created by President Trump, his preferred candidate, for whom he sang the national anthem at a campaign rally in Lansing last month.

Mr. Shinkle’s duty, as one of two Republicans on the four-member board, is to validate the will of Michigan voters and certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory ahead of the Electoral College vote on Dec. 14. Yet Mr. Shinkle is weighing whether to block certification at a board meeting scheduled for Monday, because of minor glitches that Mr. Trump and his allies have baselessly cast as evidence of widespread, election-invalidating fraud.

He said he had received hundreds of phone calls, emails and text messages from people for or against certifying. “You can’t make up your mind before you get all the facts,” he said.

That Mr. Shinkle is equivocating over a once-routine step in the process — despite all 83 state counties submitting certified results and Mr. Biden leading by 154,000 votes — shows the damage inflicted by Mr. Trump on the American voting process and the faith that people in both parties have historically shared in the outcome of elections.

But this is also a moment of truth for the Republican Party: The country is on a knife’s edge, with G.O.P. officials from state capitols to Congress choosing between the will of voters and the will of one man. In pushing his false claims to the limits, cowing Republicans into acquiescence or silence, and driving officials like Mr. Shinkle to nervous indecision, Mr. Trump has revealed the fragility of the electoral system — and shaken it.

At this point, the president’s impact is not so much about overturning the election — both parties agree he has no real chance of doing that — but infusing the democratic process with so much mistrust and confusion that it ceases to function as it should.

Under an unending barrage of fraud charges, voters might begin to question the legitimacy of elected officials from the rival party as a matter of course. And the G.O.P. risks being seen as standing for disenfranchisement and the undemocratic position that a high level of voting is somehow detrimental.

“What Trump is doing is creating a road map to destabilization and chaos in future years,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican who served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission in the 1990s. “What he’s saying, explicitly, is if a party doesn’t like the election result they have the right to change it by gaming the system.”

Mr. Trump’s gambit, never realistic to begin with, appears to be growing more futile by the day: Georgia became the first contested state on Friday to certify its vote for Mr. Biden, and the president continues to draw losing rulings from judges who bluntly note his failure to present any evidence of significant fraud or irregularities. Some fellow Republicans have started breaking with him, including Senator Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, who said the president was seeking to “subvert the will of the people,” and Senator Marco Rubio, who has acknowledged Mr. Biden is the president-elect.

On Friday, Republican lawmakers in Michigan also made clear, after meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House, that they would allow the normal certification process to play out without interfering, a potentially important signal ahead of the certification decision by the state elections board on Monday.

But on Saturday, the national and Michigan state party chairs issued a statement calling on the canvassing board to delay certification beyond its Monday deadline, to conduct an audit.

If Mr. Shinkle and his fellow Republican on the state board, Aaron Van Langevelde, were to oppose certifying the results, the board would deadlock.

Democrats and election lawyers say the courts would almost certainly force the board to complete the certification process, well in time for the Electoral College deadline next month. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could replace the board members if they defy a court order. But they also agree a deadlocked vote would give Mr. Trump a new opportunity to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the election system and Mr. Biden’s win, while also prolonging his own legally dubious and, so far, failing attempt to convince Republicans who control the Statehouse to send pro-Trump delegates to the Electoral College.

Mr. Biden’s advisers say they are confident he will be awarded Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes. But they acknowledge that the resulting national spectacle of court fights and new charges of fraud could prove “very harmful to the democratic process,” as Mr. Biden’s senior adviser, Bob Bauer, put it on Friday.

Civil rights leaders are especially alarmed at Mr. Trump’s efforts, given that most of them have falsely portrayed cities with large Black populations, like Detroit and Philadelphia, as so corrupt that their votes shouldn’t count. The argument that Mr. Trump’s attempt is all for show and will not succeed has done little to allay their concern.

“How is it ‘show’ when you’re basically systematically delegitimizing Black voters by your rhetoric,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP, which filed suit against Mr. Trump in Michigan on Friday for trying to disenfranchise Black voters (it did so on behalf of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and three residents). “How can that be anything but incredibly dangerous,” she added.

Ms. Ifill marveled at the position of the Republican Party, which was the nation’s first true civil rights party from the time of slavery through the late 1950’s, but now, under Mr. Trump’s unchallenged leadership, is effectively taking a stance against voting in entire cities and states.

“Civil rights haven’t moved — one party has moved, and that move has not been toward an embrace of democracy, it’s been away from it,’’ she said.

If Mr. Trump has shown nothing else, it is that he has made the Republican Party — which initially sought to resist him — his own. Though a handful of prominent Republicans have rebuked his refusal to cede power, far more, across all levels of government, have either tacitly or explicitly embraced a new standard in presidential elections: No winner can be declared until the full Electoral College certification process is complete, no matter how clear the results after Election Day.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas has acknowledged that he hadn’t “seen anything that would change the outcome” but told reporters on Thursday that Mr. Biden “is not president-elect until the votes are certified.” Mr. Cornyn congratulated Mr. Trump as president-elect on the day the major news organizations projected him as the winner in 2016.

Former Senator Jeff Flake, a staunch opponent of Mr. Trump, has urged Republicans to recognize Mr. Biden as president-elect. But he noted that Republicans worry about alienating Mr. Trump when they need his help for the upcoming Georgia runoffs, which will decide control of the Senate.

“If the Republicans abandon him, he may just abandon them,’’ he said.

Mr. Trump’s baseless argument that this is still an election up for grabs was prevalent in interviews with Republicans across the country on Friday.

Ginger Howard, a Republican national committeewoman from Georgia, said she still believed there were other avenues for Mr. Trump to pursue, despite the state’s certification of Mr. Biden as the winner there.

“There’s still recourse for sure, we’ve got some other options,” she said Friday without elaborating.

Jason Thompson, who represents Georgia to the Republican National Committee, also echoed

Mr. Trump’s unfounded skepticism.

“It’s not like I’m saying there’s no way he won,” he said. “All I’m saying is we’ll never know for sure.”

Some Republicans interviewed cited Mr. Trump’s legal challenges as grounds to believe the race was not over — even though judges have overwhelmingly rejected the president’s claims.

“There are questions regarding votes in several states, and until those matters have been fully litigated it would be premature for him to concede the election,” said Bruce Ash, a former Republican official in Arizona. Election officials across the country have said that there is no evidence of voter fraud or other irregularities that shaped the race’s outcome.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, acknowledged in a statement to The Times that, “I have not seen any proof of widespread election fraud in Philadelphia or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.”

Yet he affirmed Mr. Trump’s right “to pursue litigation,’’ and would only go so far as to say “all signs indicate” that Mr. Biden was “likely” the next president.

Representative Seth Grove, a Republican in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, declined on Friday to say that Mr. Biden had won the state. “The president’s just exercising his legal rights,’’ he said. “At the end of the litigation, it’s going to be Biden or Trump.”

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump has less opportunity to try to block certification than he does in Michigan and Wisconsin, where he has requested recounts in two counties. After the state’s 67 counties certify their votes — the deadline is Monday — they go to Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, who has sole power to certify state results.

In Michigan, the president’s opportunity is limited if not nonexistent. On Friday, the State Bureau of Elections submitted its formal report recommending that the canvassing board affirm Mr. Biden’s win. Errors in some vote tabulations, which Mr. Trump has seized upon, were “attributable to human error,’' and “did not affect the actual tabulation of votes,” the elections bureau said.

That, said Christopher Thomas, an election adviser to the City of Detroit, means the canvassing board is obligated to affirm the vote. “The law doesn’t say you can decide or not — the law says if you get certified returns you go ahead and do what you’re supposed to do, ”he said.

As Monday’s vote approaches, Mr. Shinkle, the Republican board member, finds himself in a tight spot. In contrast to past cases, he said, “I’ve got many more so-called conservatives saying bad things about me.” He said he had some unresolved concerns about the vote totals in Detroit, where there were discrepancies with roughly 350 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

His wife, Mary Shinkle, provided an affidavit for Mr. Trump’s federal lawsuit to stop the certification of results in Wayne County, which the campaign dropped on Thursday.

Mr. Shinkle said he is his own counsel, and that his primary goal is to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about his decisions. “I can’t let any other individual be involved in that decision,” he said. “I just have to do the best that I can based on what’s ethical and legal.”

Trip Gabriel and Katie Glueck contributed reporting.

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Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Covid in America: ‘A Tale of Two Worlds’

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Approach to Virus Faulted in New Outbreak” (front page, Oct. 26):

It is a tale of two worlds. In one, Americans are afraid, and preparing for a long, dark winter. The coronavirus is surging across the country with record case counts and increased hospitalizations. There is, once again, talk of hospitals reaching capacity and exhausted health care workers. In an ominous turn, top health officials are suggesting that perhaps it is time to mandate the wearing of masks.

In the other world, the president and the vice president (who despite his chief of staff and other top aides having contracted the virus is not quarantined) are holding huge campaign rallies, claiming a rounding of the corner with regard to the virus and even mocking the attention paid to the pandemic. In clear defiance of C.D.C. guidelines, supporters are packed in like sardines and largely maskless at these rallies.

On Sunday, Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, stated what is becoming increasingly obvious: “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”

The administration is showing wanton disregard for the health and well-being of the American people. It is up to the voters now to demand a new direction, to say that 225,000 dead (and counting) is not acceptable and to insist that our leaders determine to try to “control the pandemic.”

Felicia Massarsky
Atlantic City, N.J.

To the Editor:

Language describing the Trump administration’s approach to the virus as “downplayed,” “cavalier” or a “verbal shrug” imply passive incompetence instead of calculated deception.

As confirmed by President Trump’s taped comments to Bob Woodward, this administration made a political decision in the early stages of the pandemic that manipulating re-election imagery was more important than saving lives.

While medicine and science race for a vaccine and improved treatment options, the president determined that getting re-elected was more important than driving down the infection rate with an evidence-based public policy of lockdowns, social distancing and masks.

The virus has proved itself immune to Mr. Trump’s “optics is everything” blizzard of disinformation. Voters are now rendering their judgment, as will history.

Robert Salzman
New York

To the Editor:

It really outraged me to learn that Vice President Mike Pence has decided that it is “essential” that he keep working (campaigning). He is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. What message is he sending to the nation by knowingly going out in public after he has been exposed to the virus rather than quarantining? And since when is campaigning an essential business?

I think that the governors of the states he is campaigning in should not allow him to get off his plane. Let’s hope the last-ditch politicking by Mr. Pence does not result in superspreader events.

Nikki Kean
West Orange, N.J.

To the Editor:

Re “Candidates Hone Attacks, Seizing on Issues From Final Debate in Homestretch” (news article, Oct. 24):

As a pulmonary physician who subspecialized in airborne respiratory infections, I was shocked by an image of a rally President Trump held at The Villages, a retirement center in Central Florida. Your photo shows a large crowd that includes many elderly people tightly packed together, many of them without masks. It shows a breeding ground for Covid among a highly vulnerable elderly population. It shows a whole new order of risk compared with Mr. Trump’s other rallies.

After age 50, the risk of death after a Covid-19 infection increases sharply. If Mr. Trump knowingly places his own base at such deadly risk for a self-serving reason (re-election), how can we entrust him with our country?

Arthur Pitchenik
Miami

To the Editor:

In late July and August, in the throes of political despair, I gave in to my need for some reason to believe in democracy again. I returned to Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing,” if only to corroborate my childish dream of decency in presidential leadership.

Beginning with Season 1, I was immediately immersed in the idea that competent, intelligent leadership can save the country from its worst inclinations. By Season 2 my sleeping became less restless and my general attitude less cranky. By the end of the last season, as the first Hispanic president takes the oath of office, I was strengthened, prepared for the onslaught to come.

“The West Wing” worked as the useful opiate for an unmoored soul.

Gwen Davis-Feldman
Cameron Mills, N.Y.

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Categories
Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Wrangling Over Herd Immunity and Masks as Covid Cases Keep Rising

To the Editor:

Re “The Steep Costs of ‘Herd Immunity,’” by John M. Barry (Op-Ed, Oct. 20):

Having failed miserably at protecting Americans from becoming sick or dying of Covid-19, President Trump, attempting to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, now seems to want as many healthy Americans as possible to catch the virus. That way, those who are left alive will be immune and the pandemic will disappear — like magic, or hydroxychloroquine or Clorox! Herd immunity is the president’s latest pandemic panacea.

Even if the warnings of expert scientists prevail, Mr. Trump has further encouraged a Covid-weary population, eager to breathe free, to stop wearing masks and keeping their distance. And while younger people sneeze and cough their way to presumed immunity, how might older people escape this potentially deadly infection?

Mary-Lou Weisman
Westport, Conn.

To the Editor:

John M. Barry makes a great case for what an unethical and untenable idea it is to pursue herd immunity for Covid-19. But he leaves out the implicit eugenics of the approach. Those who are constitutionally weaker, those who are minorities (who seem to have greater morbidity and mortality) and those who are lower in socioeconomic classes or in public service jobs (New York City transit workers have a 25 percent infection rate, according to one study) would all be sacrificed for the greater good.

There is a saying that “the greatness of a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest members.”

David J. Melvin
Chester, N.J.

To the Editor:

Thank you for Prof. John M. Barry’s sober article addressing the possibility of herd immunity from Covid-19. Such advice coming from the White House reminds me of a notorious excuse from the time of the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Heaven help us.

Barry Spikings
West Hollywood, Calif.

To the Editor:

President Trump says Americans are “tired of Covid-19” and mocks Joe Biden for pledging to follow the science.

He’s right that Americans are tired of the virus. But his conclusion that we want to ignore the pandemic and get back to our normal routines despite the imminent danger is dead wrong. Americans want our leaders to be responsible in getting us out of this deadly health threat, and to do that we want them to follow the science. That is why people overwhelmingly trust Dr. Anthony Fauci and distrust the president.

In mocking Joe Biden, and by ignoring the deadly effects of the pandemic, Mr. Trump is following his familiar playbook. When faced with financial failure he declares bankruptcy and leaves others to pay the bills. When faced with personal failure he deflects with lies and humiliation. When faced with political failure he doubles down with demagogy and appeals to racism that inflame passions and divide Americans.

He is a mockery of a leader, and more than anything, we are tired of him.

Seymour Rosenbloom
Elkins Park, Pa.
The writer, a rabbi, is a board member of Democratic Jewish Outreach PA.

To the Editor:

In August almost half a million bikers from all over the country attended a 10-day-long party in South Dakota, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, with almost no masks or social distancing. Is there any doubt that this contributed to the Covid surge?

Yes, mask mandates are an infringement on a person’s freedom, but so are speed limits, zoning laws, building codes, and food and drug laws. But all of these things are part of the price we have to pay if we want to live together safely.

John Stuart Mill wrote that liberty means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong” (emphasis added).

The guy who won’t wear a mask thinks he is saying: “I’m a big strong guy; I’m not afraid of a virus. I might get sick for a few days but I’ll recover.” What he is actually saying is: “I’m a selfish guy. I don’t care if I spread the virus to a bunch of others even if some of them might die.”

(Rev.) David X. Stump
Jersey City, N.J.

To the Editor:

“There’s a Word for Why We Wear Masks, and Liberals Should Say It,” by Michael Tomasky (Op-Ed, nytimes.com, Oct. 17), is on target. He’s addressing conservatives’ use of the word “freedom.” Liberals need to start talking about freedom, too, because the word really does mean two different things, depending on who’s talking.

For conservatives, freedom is the right to carry a gun, anyplace, anytime. For liberals, freedom is not having to worry about getting shot. For conservatives, freedom is not having to have health care unless you decide that you want to pay for it. For liberals, freedom is having health care, so that disease is far less likely to take our life savings or our lives. Those are just two examples; there are many more.

Conservative freedoms seem to be about walking on a high wire, with no net if people lose their footing. Liberal freedoms are a baseline of protections that give people fewer dangers and more choices about how they live their lives.

I know which freedom I want. Mr. Tomasky is right. The liberals need to talk about it.

Connie Howard
Palo Alto, Calif.

To the Editor:

There are, of course, millions of Americans who say they are “pro life,” believe that life begins at conception and don’t believe that a woman has a right to choose. Many of these same people refuse a mask mandate that saves lives, because it violates their right to choose.

Lawrence Levy
Los Angeles

To the Editor:

As a physician I see that signs in stores, pronouncements from public health officials and news coverage are focused almost entirely on mask wearing and no longer stress handwashing. This is a fatal public health failure.

Respiratory disease precautions involve both masks and handwashing! A restaurant worker who is not sick and wearing gloves receives a credit card from a person with the virus. That person processes the credit card but does not wash hands or gloves, then proceeds to contaminate the next card, then contaminates the menus, water glasses, the ketchup. Going from table to table it’s possible to infect many other people.

Cleanse your hands when touching anything another person has recently touched. Wash hands or gloves between every single customer. We are well on our way to another full-blown pandemic, with thousands more dying each day. Public health authorities are asleep at the switch in terms of handwashing. Wake up!

Thomas F. Kline
Raleigh, N.C.

To the Editor:

Re “Children Feel as Empty as the Fields They Used to Roam,” by Kurt Streeter (Sports of The Times, Oct. 12):

The decline in youth participation in sports stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic is troubling, given what we know about the physical and mental health benefits of playing sports. It’s especially disappointing to me, an Olympic swimmer, that the virus forced pool closings, as it affected not only children training to be competitive swimmers, but also the safety of all children.

Pools provide access to lifesaving resources year-round, like swim lessons, which can reduce a child’s risk of drowning by nearly 90 percent. This is notable, considering that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children 1 to 4 years old, with swimming-pool deaths of African-American children 5 to 19 years old occurring at a rate more than five times that of Caucasian children.

This critical skill can be mastered safely, as there is no evidence that Covid-19 is transmitted through chlorinated water. We need to get children back into sports and keep them safe; keeping pools open is a good way to start.

Cullen Jones
Colorado Springs
The writer is a four-time Olympic medalist and the first Black American swimmer to hold a world record (in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay).

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