Former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud remain the driving force of GOP politics 18 months after his loss, shaping everything from a Senate election in Arizona to state legislative battles in Wisconsin , while continuing to sow doubt in American democracy and setting the stage for a possible second attempt to steal the election in 2024.
“We can’t move on,” Mehmet Oz, the TV personality who is Trump’s endorsed nominee for the GOP primary in the Pennsylvania Senate, said during a debate last week when asked about the 2020 election. He noted that he had discussed the election with Trump.
There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims of a stolen election, conspiracy theories about mass voter fraud have been repeatedly debunked, and several Republican-led reviews of the election across the countries have found no evidence of wrongdoing. Trump’s lies inspired both the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and a wave of GOP-backed laws restricting voting rights and giving named Republicans more power over elections.
As the campaign season kicks into high gear with a month of primaries beginning Tuesday, claims the election was “stolen” are central to the Republican message and often receive thunderous applause at GOP events and rallies. . Polls indicate that a majority of Republican voters continue to believe the election was stolen, and those who think so are the most excited about voting in the midterm elections. Trump regularly threatens politicians who resist a complete and total embrace of lies.
While there are isolated elements of resistance from establishment Republicans, most of the party has embraced candidates who continue to insist that Trump won. All but one of the GOP candidates who ran in a crowded Senate primary in Ohio on Tuesday insist the election was stolen, as did leading Senate candidates in Georgia, Nevada and New York. Arizona. Incumbent Alabama Governor Kay Ivey opened one of her TV ads by proclaiming, “Fake News, Big Tech and Blue State Liberals stole the election from Donald Trump.”
Voters’ concerns about inflation, immigration and crime have created a pro-GOP political environment ahead of the midterm elections, where Democrats will have to defend their narrow majorities in both houses of Congress. The party is hoping, but far from certain, that the GOP’s full embrace of the so-called big lie will cause at least some swing and independent voters to reject Republicans in key races.
“I remain very confident that if we can continue to elevate these positions, voters on both sides of the aisle will do the right thing,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in an interview with HuffPost. . “It just remains to be seen whether or not that message will cut through much of the other noise and rhetoric that is spreading in this election cycle.”
The starkest examples of rising election denial come from the Republican conventions in Michigan and Colorado in recent weeks. GOP activists steeped in election lies dominated both, and both named several Republicans who falsely claim Trump won the 2020 election.
In the race for Colorado secretary of state, the GOP convention backed Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who faces 10 counts of criminal conspiracy linked to election tampering after helping leak election data to a far-right bulletin board. In Michigan, Republicans nominate Trump-backed Kristina Karamo for the same post. Karamo has repeatedly spread conspiracy theories about the vote count in Michigan, where Biden won by 150,000 votes. (She also kissed QAnon, among other inflammatory statements.)
“It’s not just 2022,” Trump said at a rally in support of Karamo and Matthew DePerno, another election denier who won Michigan’s GOP nomination for attorney general. “This is about making sure Michigan is no longer rigged and robbed in 2024.”
Benson has been trying to push back against lies about the election since November 2020, with armed protesters once gathering outside her house to demand that she “stop the theft”. She told HuffPost that she wasn’t surprised by Karamo’s nomination.
“Having an adversary who personifies this deception, this misinformation, these lies, these conspiracy theories, it was inevitable given the way the attacks on democracy have unfolded,” Benson said.
“About 80% of Republicans believe the election was somehow stolen, despite a complete lack of evidence.”
The midway hugs of Trump’s election lies weren’t enough for the former president. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is now running for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, had generally refused to deny that Biden had won Arizona in 2020. But last week he released an “interim report” on the 2020 election that alleged vote fraud but provided no evidence to support that finding. He appeared on former Trump political guru Steve Bannon’s radio show to promote the results.
It wasn’t good enough for Trump. He released a statement saying Brnovich “wanted to be politically correct” and essentially ruled out endorsing him in the race. (Businessman Jim Lamon and Blake Masters, a venture capitalist backed by tech billionaire and democracy skeptic Peter Thiel, are also running for the GOP nomination to fight Kelly.)
In Wisconsin, Republicans had to let a state contract expire for an unsuccessful search for voter fraud led by a retired state Supreme Court justice named Michael Gableman. The state had already spent nearly $700,000 on the review and was paying Gableman $11,000 a month, even though he missed several deadlines to complete the report.
But after Trump not so subtly threatened to approve a primary challenge to Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Gabelman’s contract was extended at a lower salary.
“Anyone who calls themselves a Republican in Wisconsin should support the Wisconsin investigation continuing without interference,” Trump wrote in a statement. “I understand that some RINOs have primary challengers in Wisconsin. I’m sure their main opponents would get a huge boost in the polls if these RINOs intervened.
The belief that the 2020 election was stolen remains a minority opinion, with polls showing between a third and 40% of Americans insisting that Biden did not legitimately win the election. But polls have also found that around 80% of Republicans believe the election was somehow stolen, despite the complete lack of evidence for that position.
That put Republicans holding onto Biden’s victory in a tough spot. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, is not running for office after the state party censures her for refusing to accept Trump’s accounts of voter fraud in the state, which Biden narrowly won. Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has publicly clashed with Trump on several occasions, is trailing in the polls against Trump-endorsed Representative Jody Hice, who is heading to a May 24 primary.