It’s worth recalling that episode now, as distrust in elections becomes the new civic religion of Republican voters. Trump has alleged fraud against Democrats in 2016, 2018, 2020 and now 2021, but he once did the same to a Republican. In all cases except for Cruz (who did attempt to mislead voters), the charges were grounded in nothing but self-interest. . For Trump, it’s binary: Heads I win, tails you cheated — except against Hillary Clinton, when he alleged massive fraud even in victory.
Yet this flimsy fallacy has consumed the Republican electorate. A CNN poll released a week ago found that fully 59 percent of Republicans agreed that “believing that Donald Trump won the 2020 election” is either somewhat or very important to “what being a Republican means to you.” It may be sickening that a democracy-killing lie has become core to Republican identity, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Republican officeholders routinely echo Trump’s fraud fictions — and Trump never stops, as last week illustrated:
On Tuesday, he whined about “the Rigged voting in California,” which was “totally Rigged” and “just like 2020.”
On Thursday, he glorified those facing charges related to the Capitol insurrection: “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.”
On Friday, he wrote to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to say that “large scale Voter Fraud continues to be reported in Georgia” and that Georgia should “start the process of decertifying the Election” and “announce the true winner.”
As has been proved a million times, such claims are bunk. Make that a million and one: The new book by The Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa details efforts by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah) to investigate Trump’s fraud claims. Graham found them worthy of the “third grade.”
But as Trump’s poison seeps into the Republican electorate, the consequences are palpable and pernicious. NBC News reported Monday that at least nine counties are now following Arizona and launching fraud investigations of the 2020 results. Never mind that Trump won all nine counties by more than 24 percentage points; reason doesn’t apply when election denial is your civic religion.
On Saturday, I went to the Capitol to observe the rally supporting the people facing charges from the Jan. 6 insurrection. The protest itself was a dud. Participants numbered in the dozens or low hundreds (hard to tell because they were swarmed by journalists) and included a guy in a Confederate bandana, two men waving the flag of the “Three Percenter” militia, a QAnon shaman copycat and two Republican House candidates.
But the feeble demonstration was still disruptive. Police, fearing a Jan. 6 reprise, turned the Capitol complex into a fortress secured by fencing, car-bomb barricades, riot-armed personnel, dogs and horses, and a chopper buzzing overhead. And this whole undertaking was caused by another Trump-fueled fallacy: that the Jan. 6 accused are “political prisoners.”
In fact, studies have found that only 15 to 30 percent of the more than 600 people charged in connection with Jan. 6 have been denied bail, compared with a roughly 75 percent nationwide pretrial detention rate. Lawyers have had little success convincing judges that their clients have been treated improperly.
But distortions are bound to occur when the leaders of a major political party go to war with reality. People protest in defense of nonexistent political prisoners arrested for violently protesting nonexistent voter fraud. People die because their leaders convince them to distrust life-saving vaccines.
Former California GOP chairman Ron Nehring faulted losing Republican candidate Larry Elder’s campaign for anticipating voter fraud before the California election. “One way not to have Republicans win is by telling Republican voters that their votes don’t matter,” Nehring told a post-election forum, McClatchy reported.
When Republican leaders convince their supporters not to vote, that’s their problem. But when they convince them to reject democracy, that’s everybody’s problem.