As the war over voting rights ramps up, Republicans are increasingly falling back on a claim that has grown ubiquitous. Republicans are deeply concerned about voter fraud because their voters believe the 2020 election was stolen from them, we are told, and Republicans merely want to restore their confidence in future elections.
This claim is absolutely central to the massive new wave of GOP voter suppression efforts — and utterly, insultingly preposterous to its core. Yet because we hear it constantly, it regularly skates past without even being remarked upon.
But it’s nonsense, and it should be called out as such every single time.
A sharp exchange between a Democratic senator and a Republican attorney general, and a new report on conservative groups lining up behind voter suppression efforts everywhere, provide an opening to dig into this absurdity.
In the exchange, Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia unloaded on that very claim. At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita insisted the expansion of vote-by-mail and other practices had “shaken confidence” in the 2020 election, and that state legislatures passing voting restrictions are merely “responding to their constituents.”
Rokita then suggested each law countering voter fraud should be judged on the “confidence it brings to the process.”
“I take exception to the comments that you just made,” Ossoff responded, “that public concern regarding the integrity of the recent election is born of anything but a deliberate and sustained misinformation campaign led by a vain former president unwilling to accept his own defeat.”
That misinformation campaign, Ossoff continued, “culminated in a violent assault on the United States Capitol.” Ossoff ripped into the idea that a “law enforcement” official like Rokita would “indulge” such garbage, which itself undermines “confidence.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion, as misinformed as it may be,” Rokita replied soon after. “But I share the opinion of millions of Americans.”
You see, millions of Americans believe the integrity of former president Donald Trump’s loss is in doubt — and that this justifies efforts to restrict voting, ostensibly to bring “confidence” to the “process.”
This nonsense is everywhere
Similarly, the head of a new Republican National Committee group with the Orwellian title of “election integrity” committee refuses to say President Biden’s victory was legitimate, and justifies this by saying “a lot of people” have a “lot of questions.”
And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) defends his effort to subvert Biden’s electors in Congress by insisting he merely sought to “represent my constituents,” who “do not believe” the election was “fair.” Still other Trump loyalists are using this notion to justify punishing the few die-hard Republicans who dared testify to the election’s integrity.
Meanwhile, CNN reports that numerous conservative groups are lining up behind the voter suppression efforts that GOP legislatures have launched in states across the country. And here again, the same justification is offered.
As a leader of one group puts it: “If voters don’t have trust in our elections, then voting turnout will be suppressed.” You see, getting behind these voter-suppression efforts is actually a pro-democracy move, since it will prompt “trust” in the process and thus higher turnout.
But the real way to restore “trust” in the process is to tell these voters the truth.
Why won’t Republicans level with GOP voters?
That means telling GOP voters that the 2020 election came off impressively smoothly amid extremely challenging conditions. Thousands of public-spirited election workers performed heroically despite a rampaging pandemic and a president who relentlessly stoked civil conflict and fomented rage and threats against vote-counters. The results were certified by state officials, including a few Republicans, and upheld in dozens of court cases.
Yet Trump and Republicans themselves spent months stoking precisely the opposite impression, deliberately fomenting the very lack of confidence in the outcome that they now widely cite as their justification to make access to voting harder in numerous places.
Even if Republican voters do lack confidence in the outcome, and support voting restrictions as a result, it’s in no small part because their elites decided that trying to keep them in that very state had useful purposes.
That’s not “representing” them, as Hawley piously claims. It’s a display of pure contempt for them. And the purpose is to justify anti-democratic tactics, not to restore faith in the process or boost civic participation.
A contradiction in Trumpism
All this points to a deeper contradiction in the legacy of Trumpism. As Jamelle Bouie writes, the 2020 election showed that Republicans can perform well in a high-turnout election. Though Trump lost, they won House seats and held some tough Senate seats. Yet as Bouie notes, they continue to act as if high turnout is a threat to their very survival.
Indeed, Republicans themselves regularly say one of Trump’s big successes is that he brought large numbers of low-propensity conservative voters into the GOP coalition, and that the party’s future depends on keeping them in the fold.
Yet they seem to think the way to do this is to continue honoring the Big Lie about the stolen election, using it to justify voter suppression everywhere, and resisting efforts to make it easier to vote, efforts that might actually facilitate participation by those same low-propensity voters.
The reason for this is the subject of another column. But for now, we are not obliged to pretend this widespread justification for voter suppression is a real argument. It’s time to treat it with the contempt that it deserves.