The most surprising thing about the made-up story of the rigged 2020 election is not that so many people believe it. Although that makes your head shake enough.
It is because this continuous lie works.
Count me among those who naively believed that Republicans’ fanciful claims of massive fraud in the 2020 presidential election would fade over time. There is no proof for that, to begin with. And also because I thought that the Capitol riot a year ago would leave a smell of shame that could relegate the subject to the sidelines.
But the opposite has happened.
We’re a year away from an unprecedented president’s effort to overturn an election, and since then a multitude of audits and recounts, including in this state, have found no problem with that vote, without talk about systemic fraud that could have turned the result. Yet today’s polls show that an overwhelming majority of GOP voters believe the election was stolen and that Donald Trump was the rightful winner.
This conspiracy theory, for now, appears to be helping, not harming, the party. Look who’s got the mojo in politics. Take, say, Joe Kent, an entry-level Republican candidate for Congress in southwest Washington.
Kent has raised over $ 1 million for his campaign in the 3rd Congressional District, by far the largest non-titular House challenger in the state. A recent poll found he was leading the race there, although nearly 40% of voters say they have never heard of Kent or have no opinion of him.
How can this be? It is no coincidence that Kent made the myth of the stolen election a driving force in his campaign.
He insists Trump won and called Republican Loren Culp “the real governor” of Washington state – although Culp lost to Jay Inslee in 2020 by a whopping 545,000 votes.
Last fall Kent, along with others, sued the electoral system, claiming, out of the blue, that 400,000 votes were fraudulently added to the totals here in 2020. (Since Trump lost the state of more than that, 785,000 votes, it is difficult to see what the purpose of such brazen fraud would have been, but this is not addressed in the lawsuit.)
The lawsuit does not support any of his claims and will undoubtedly be dismissed. But that doesn’t matter, because it symbolizes what’s winning in politics right now.
âIt’s not about facts or any sort of reality, but group identity,â said Cornell Clayton, professor of political science at Washington State University, when I asked him this. that was happening.
Clayton, who has studied democracy and politics for 35 years, said the extreme partisan divide in the United States was not new. What’s different is that in the past the fighting was often more about politics or issues – the Vietnam wars or Iraq wars, say, or something else that was actually going on. Today, it is the social or cultural group identity that takes precedence over everything.
âNow when you lose an election it can be seen as a threat to your whole identity and your whole lifestyle,â he said.
Clayton said that by embracing Trump’s stolen election duck, politicians can “signal in the most powerful way possible that they are part of the tribe.”
Consider Jerrod Sessler, a former NASCAR driver who is making waves as a new candidate in the 4th Congressional District of Central Washington. here’s how he summarized the state of things the other day:
âPresident Trump IS our president! The data continues to accumulate. How many more days are we going to allow Mr. Illegitime, and even more so his coup leaders, to continue to ruin our lives? “
Trump’s drugs are potent: The guy who was democratically elected is now billed as the one who really did it, instead of the one we’ve all seen trying a stunt with our own eyes.
Of course, not all Republicans share these views. For example, last month, when King County Council member Reagan Dunn announced he was running for Congress, he said in an interview that Trump had indeed lost. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if this simple statement of fact ends be a drag on Dunn’s countryside, at least during the intra-party primary fight.
Right now, the stolen election story serves as a rationale for enacting voting restrictions, as well as an abbreviated way to rally the group for a comeback – which, while not true, is what happens. Generic preference polls show the public says they want Republicans to lead Congress, the first time the GOP has conducted this poll measure since 2014.
At the very least, the party pays no political price for its leader to try to overthrow an election.
It could be for other reasons, such as the pandemic’s lingering gloom, inflation, or the appalling work Democrats are doing to embrace or even articulate their agenda. How lame are Democrats that they can’t turn a coup attempt into some sort of concrete action, such as electoral reforms to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Clayton has said that historically it has been up to party leaders to suppress conspiracy theories from their base. What is different – unprecedented, he says – is that this time it is the leader of a party who is behind the craziest plots of all.
“Mania is at the top of the Republican Party,” he said. “And no one, except maybe [Wyoming Republican Rep.] Liz Cheney, mobilizes to counter him, to be courageous, to calm him down.
“For anyone who studies democracy, that means the lights are all blinking red.”