In recent days, Republicans have begun offering a comical new line of spin: The very idea that Republicans remain committed to Donald Trump’s lie that his 2020 loss was illegitimate is just your imagination. Republicans do accept that President Biden was legitimately elected, say these Republicans.

Good news, Republicans! If this is true, you have a simple way to demonstrate this to the nation right now!

You can begin by full-throatedly denouncing the sham recount that’s underway in Arizona right now, and calling for it to stop, on the grounds that the outcome there — and everywhere else — is not remotely in doubt in any way.

The recount of Maricopa County ballots is only about casting doubt on the election’s legitimacy, and every Republican knows it. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, very few Republicans will call for it to stop. They should be pressed to explain why.

All this is crystallized by two things that went viral over the weekend. First, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) had an explosive exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd in which Crenshaw piously blamed the media for keeping alive the idea that Republicans question the 2020 outcome.

"Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) argued on May 16 over the Republican Party's credibility in the face of 2020 election claims. (NBC News)

“You guys in the press love doing this,” Crenshaw said with an oily smirk. Crenshaw disputed the idea that there’s “no space in the party” for acceptance of the election’s legitimacy, and blasted the media, saying it has “a lot of reasons” to keep the contrary idea “alive.”

“I get it — the press is largely liberal,” Crenshaw said.

“Don’t start that,” Todd rejoined. “There’s nothing lazier than that.”

In saying this, Crenshaw echoed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) claim last week: “I don’t think anyone is questioning the legitimacy of the election.”

If this is so — if there is extensive space in the GOP for the idea that the 2020 outcome is not in question — then more Republicans should be denouncing the Arizona recount. And guess what — now they have the perfect hook for it.

Arizona Republicans erupt at Trump

In a remarkable moment, Stephen Richer, the Republican official who heads the Maricopa County elections department, tore into Trump over the weekend as “unhinged” over his support for a recount of votes in the county, which has been sponsored by GOP state legislators.

“We can’t indulge these insane lies anymore,” Richer tweeted, in response to Trump’s claim that the county’s entire voter registration database has been “DELETED.”

“This is unhinged,” Richer added. “I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.”

This recount has been outsourced to a firm whose founder has promoted nonsense about the election being fraudulent, demonstrating that it’s only about further casting doubt on the outcome.

That Trump has endorsed this audit, claiming it will show “Presidential Election Fraud,” only confirms this to be its real aim. Indeed, another Arizona Republican — Jack Sellers, a top official on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — has ripped the effort as “dangerous” for exactly this reason.

Yet rather than denounce this transparent scam, Republicans have gone in the other direction. House Republicans just elevated Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to a leadership role, and at a critical moment during her public campaign for the position, she endorsed the Arizona recount.

This confirmed Stefanik’s willingness to continue sowing doubts about our electoral system going forward. Let’s be clear: This is one of her attributes for GOP leadership.

Republicans keep refusing to take offramps

If Republicans widely denounced the Arizona recount, it would function as a kind of “offramp” from ongoing GOP radicalization, a term suggested by Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg. Again and again, Republicans have had the option of taking such offramps, yet they have not:

  • Republicans could have held Trump accountable for subverting the nation’s foreign policy to strong-arm a vulnerable ally into helping him corrupt the 2020 election. Virtually all voted against impeachment and conviction.
  • Republicans could have acknowledged Biden’s victory and defused Trump’s lies about the outcome at the outset. Many waited weeks before doing so grudgingly, and the elevation of Stefanik to House leadership — and removal of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — shows their devotion to continuing to seed doubts about it.
  • Republicans could have voted en masse to confirm Biden’s electors in Congress as an endorsement of the integrity of the election. One hundred and forty-seven House Republicans did not.
  • Republicans could be forcefully declaring that Trump’s lies incited the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that democracy depends on a willingness to accept election losses. Though McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initially made such noises, they’ve gone quiet on that front, and many Republicans are hurtling in the opposite direction, claiming Trump didn’t inspire the violence, that the insurrectionists weren’t Trump supporters, and that the attack was no biggie.

This later point is about to come to a head. This week, House Democrats will hold a vote on a new commission to examine the attack. The commission’s structure is very fair, with concessions to both parties.

Yet, as Punchbowl News reports, Republicans are likely to oppose it. Why? Because their conference is “filled with loyalists to Trump.”

All this is deeply puzzling. If — as McCarthy and Crenshaw claim — a lot of Republicans do accept the legitimacy of the 2020 election and appreciate the importance of this to our democratic system, why do they keep declining opportunities to show us so?

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