Robert Gehrke: These Utah leaders put our democracy ahead of clinging to power (hint: not Mike Lee)

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

It seems like there’s nothing in this country we value enough that some people won’t try to destroy it.

The latest once-sacred institution getting smashed to bits is the integrity of our electoral process — and some high profile Utahns are gleefully helping with its destruction.

To be clear, most Utah leaders have been willing to accept the inevitable — that whether they like it or not, Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.

To be even more clear and I really want everyone to understand this point, Joe Biden will be the next president because he won the election. He won enough electoral college votes to secure the race. This means President Donald Trump lost.

Sen. Mitt Romney and wife Ann understand this and issued a statement extending “our congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris … We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead.”

Gov.-elect Spencer Cox also offered “heart-felt congratulations” to Biden, thanked him for his commitment to unite the country, and said that “we pray for you and promise to work with you to benefit the people of Utah.”

Former Gov. Mike Leavitt urged Trump to begin the transition process to Biden, but the Trump administration has instead spent its time firing top Defense Department officials. The Director of National Intelligence confirmed Tuesday that Biden will not receive any security briefings until the results are officially certified and Attorney General Bill Barr gave prosecutors the green light to investigate election fraud before that certification, prompting the resignation of the department’s top elections official.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman congratulated Biden and Harris and said that, “The Joe Biden I know will embrace all Americans with calm and a much-needed sense of humility. Let’s heal our wounds.”

But healing wounds appears to be too much for the bitter and the petty.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes took off for Nevada (where Biden leads by about 27,000 votes) to work on a new rap and advise the Trump team. He came back claiming there were “irregularities” in the election, but never offered any specifics — maybe he couldn’t think of anything that rhymed with “irregularities.”

On Tuesday, an attorney for the Trump team identified 3,000 people who voted despite not living in the state (which is not necessarily illegal) — many of them turned out to be members of the military, so Reyes can be proud to be involved in that effort.

Rep. Chris Stewart has not acknowledged or commented on Biden’s victory. But even his silence is better than what we’ve got from Sen. Mike Lee, one of many Republicans creating some new standard to appease Trump.

“Why should I ‘call Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election’ before Joe Biden has won the presidential election?” Lee posted on Facebook. “There is a difference between predictions from the media and a final, certified outcome — especially where recounts are in play in close elections.”

Well, for one thing, Mike, that’s exactly what you did four years ago, issuing a statement the morning after the election saying that “I congratulate President-elect Trump,” based solely on the projections from the media and Biden won this race by a much larger margin than Trump won then.

If you can’t unequivocally say Biden won, do it the way Rep. John Curtis did. He said the other day, “until a judicial decision determines wrongdoing, Joe Biden should be acknowledged as the president-elect.”

And there’s nothing to indicate so far that any of the countless lawsuits and election challenges the Trump campaign is filing have any merit to them.

In Georgia (where Biden leads by more than 14,000 votes), a judge dismissed a challenge over the counting of a few dozen ballots.

In Pennsylvania (where Biden leads by approaching 46,000 votes), the campaign sued to prevent voters from “curing” ballots in order to make sure they’re counted (we do this in Utah and no one seems to mind). They sued to stop counting until observers were present, which was denied. They sued to have observers stand closer

None of the lawsuits thus far have much chance of success. None of them will wipe out tens of thousands of votes. This is all for show.

Where litigation isn’t working, Republicans are attacking election officials — including Republican election officials, like the secretary of state in Georgia — and promoting wild conspiracy theories and fabrications.

Lee promoted one on his new favorite platform, Parler, the right-wing version of Twitter — that an election machine had flipped votes in Michigan — and said that, “If yesterday’s story coming out of Michigan is true, that’s some ‘glitch.’”

A clerk in a small northern Michigan county had failed to update software and results were reported incorrectly. The error was caught and corrected, and the county went to Trump, who still lost the state by more than 150,000 votes.

On Tuesday, a postal worker in Pennsylvania who claimed postal workers were ordered to backdate ballots admitted to investigators that he had made it all up. It wasn’t true.

The Trump campaign can keep calling hilarious news conferences at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping and filing baseless challenges in court. Nothing says a losing candidate has to lose graciously. Nobody expects anything better from him at this point.

But there are consequences to these antics and the rest of the Republican Party needs to stop it. Elections officials across the country — Republican states and Democratic states — say there is no evidence of fraud, yet a new poll shows 7 out of 10 Republicans say the election was not free and fair.

Romney did the right thing. So did Cox and Curtis. But we should demand better from our other elected leaders here in Utah. They don’t have to like the results — I didn’t like the results four years ago — but when Reyes and Lee make baseless claims or promote conspiracies that “if they’re true” might matter, they delegitimize our elections process and democracy itself. And frankly, it’s one of the last institutions we have left in this country.