A FLUSH, IN poker, is a hand containing five cards of the same suit. It is a high hand; only a few others can beat it. A “four-flusher” refers to someone who claims to have a flush, when he has only four cards of the same suit, which is a nothing hand. A four-flusher is a braggart, a maker of empty promises—but most importantly he is someone easily caught doing those things. Since losing the presidential election, Donald Trump’s campaign has engaged in an orgy of four-flushing, making extravagant claims on television and minimal ones in court, where it needs to present actual evidence.
The Trump campaign’s post-election legal record is two wins, both minor, and 34 losses (by comparison, in 1988 the Baltimore Orioles had baseball’s worst-ever start; after 36 games they were 5-31). Last week ended with a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissing the campaign’s request to throw out millions of legally cast ballots. The judge, whom the campaign derided as “Obama-appointed”, but who used to be a Republican official in the state and is a former member of the Federalist Society, an association of conservative lawyers, castigated the campaign’s “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations…unsupported by evidence.” The campaign has filed an appeal, but its chances appear slim. Mr Trump’s quest to overturn the results is running up against states’ certification deadlines. He is running out of road, but still seems eager to keep driving.
In Georgia, Brian Kemp, the state’s governor and a staunch supporter of the president, certified Mr Biden’s victory on November 20th. At Mr Trump’s request, the state will count its ballots by machine once more, having already done a recount by hand. The result appears highly unlikely to change. Between 2000 and 2015, only three of 4,687 statewide election results were overturned by recounts. In each case, just a few hundred votes changed; Mr Biden leads Mr Trump in Georgia by almost 13,000 votes.
Michigan, which Mr Biden won by more than 150,000 votes, is due to certify its results on November 23rd. Mr Trump’s campaign seems convinced that somehow, if states that Mr Biden won declined to certify the results, their legislatures could, in defiance of the states’ voters, simply nominate their own pro-Trump slate of electors. Many worried when the top-ranking members of the state’s legislature accepted Mr Trump’s invitation to the White House on Friday (and one was photographed that night, maskless and drinking, at his hotel). But afterwards they issued a statement vowing to follow the law, and said they “have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election.” In response, Mr Trump tweeted, “Massive voter fraud will be shown!”—though he did not explain why, if evidence exists, it has not yet been presented in any of the dozens of lawsuits he has filed.
Pennsylvania, which Mr Biden won by around 81,000 votes, is also due to certify results on November 23rd. Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, the two lawyers leading the campaign’s legal fight, said that Friday’s ruling helps “us in our strategy to get expeditiously to the U.S. Supreme Court,” but it is unclear on what grounds the court would take the case. On November 21st several Republicans filed a complaint alleging that Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot rules were unconstitutional and had been “implemented illegally”, though none raised those concerns last year, when the rules passed with significant Republican support. A court in Nevada also issued rulings adverse to the campaign.
A few Republican senators have started to break with the president. John Cornyn of Texas and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said that Mr Biden’s transition should get under way. Mitt Romney called Mr Trump’s efforts in Michigan “undemocratic.” Susan Collins of Maine referred to Mr Biden as “the President-elect”. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris after Friday’s ruling, while Lamar Alexander of Tennessee urged Mr Trump to begin co-operating with Mr Biden’s transition team. It is worth noting, however, that neither Mr Alexander nor Mr Toomey plans to run for re-election; Ms Collins is perhaps the most liberal Republican left in Congress; and Mr Romney was the only Senate Republican to vote against Mr Trump at his impeachment trial. Others with longer futures more tied to Mr Trump’s have, for the most part, been silent, or worse. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee’s junior senator, referred to Mr Biden as the president-elect; her staff later said she “misspoke”.
Meanwhile, Sidney Powell, a Trump-friendly attorney, promised to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” voter-fraud case. She has been peddling a convoluted conspiracy theory involving Mr Kemp, the CIA, manipulated voting machines and Hugo Chávez (even though the Venezuelan dictator died in 2013). Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee, urged Michigan to delay certification in order to avoid “feelings of distrust among Michigan’s electorate”—feelings that Mr Trump and his supporters have fostered with their unproven accusations of voter fraud and election theft.
These claims may be easy to dismiss legally. Politically, however, they risk causing real and lasting harm. Secretaries of state in Arizona—whose biggest county also certified Mr Biden’s victory on Friday—and Georgia have both received multiple death threats. The overwhelming majority of Mr Trump’s voters do not believe Mr Biden’s victory was legitimate, removing any incentive to co-operate with the incoming president for any politician that needs Republican voters’ support. The idea of a graceful, unifying concession, and the notion that politicians in a democracy submit to popular will rather than furiously hunting for a legal route around it—routine aspects of American democracy until this year—now appear quaint.
It may be that Mr Trump is just trying to gin up outrage for fundraising purposes, or in preparation for the media company some think he will build after he leaves office. He rose to political prominence peddling the lie that Barack Obama was not American-born, so leaving office by flogging more conspiracy theories is unsurprising. But whatever his motivation, he is still trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and souring Americans on the foundation of their system of government in the process. Mr Trump will lose his quest to stay in office, but his legacy of mistrust and contempt for democratic norms may be harder to dislodge.