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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann waves at paraders from in front of the Hamilton County Courts Building during the 72nd annual Armed Forces Day parade in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Friday, May 7, 2021.

The lead story in last Sunday's New York Times perfectly described former President Donald Trump's successful takeover of the Republican party with this headline: "From His Resort, Trump Has G.O.P. in an Iron Grip."

How did he do it? That will be detailed in books published after presidential elections and in political scientists' scholarly analyses. One inevitable explanation will include the brute force that Trump brought to bear upon the GOP, still wandering in the political desert after its loss in the 2012 election.

How, if ever, the GOP will ultimately be able to put Trumpism behind itself is yet to be determined. The upside for Trump? Having solidified his control of the party of Lincoln, as it used to be called, he doesn't have to pressure the rank-and-file to maintain that control. He has an army of acolytes who are willing supplicants.

Speaking of supplicants: The seven Republicans in Tennessee's congressional delegation have proven their willingness to abase themselves as allies in Trump's acquisition of the GOP.

Their first step was the willing suspension of disbelief — the "intentional avoidance of critical thinking or logic." That enabled the acceptance of Trump's lies — the 2020 election was "rigged" against him, and the claim that his re-election to a second term was "stolen."

The absence of actual proof has made it easy for Trump, most congressional Republicans and others nationwide to go all in on the next shiny thing: "election integrity."

Thus Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's assertion in Monday's Times Free Press report: "We had a fundamentally flawed process in many states. I fervently believe that. I'm going to work for election integrity."

That's the kind of argument that relies upon talking points, most of which are generally meaningless. For instance: How were those states' voting processes "flawed"? Fleischmann asserted that he wants every American's right to vote protected and all votes properly counted. If he is serious about that, Fleischmann has a responsibility to dissent from his party's two-front voter suppression campaign, detailed in two back-to-back reports (May 1 and 2) in The New York Times.

He also claimed that "some states changed the process of absentee balloting and other election rules last year without proper approval of their state legislatures." Yet every state certified its election results and sent them on to the Electoral College, so where's the problem?

But then he argued the necessity to "restore credibility and sanctity to the system and we lost that during the last election. Congress should make sure that states fulfill their obligation and we can't sit back and allow the states to do some of the things that I felt were not following the legal process."

The incoherence of that prescription aside, it would have been helpful if Fleischmann had explained how the nation's governors, Republicans included, would react to Congress inserting itself into their states' elections.

His problem, shared by the state delegation's six other House members, is this: They all voted against the House's Jan. 6 certification of Joe Biden's election as president. Having thereby erased their personal and political credibility, now they have the gall to prescribe how best to conduct future elections?

Meanwhile, Tennessee's new senator, Bill Hagerty, traveled to Mar-a-Lago for an audience with Trump in Florida to present, as the TFP reported, "his plan for election reform in response to what he said was a questionable election."

That plan, which is probably DOS — Dead On Submission — involves another audit of the 2020 election and an opaque claim, bereft of any specifics, that some states violated their constitutions in the 2020 elections.

I can't recall any state Republican politicians I've interviewed in the past — Bill Brock, Howard Baker, Zach Wamp, Ray Albright and others — ever responding to legitimate questions about elections with such substance-free twaddle. Of course, that was long before Donald Trump staged a successful coup of the party and herded its leaders into submission.

Michael Loftin is a former editorial page editor at The Chattanooga Times.

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