At a Wednesday Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) declared that it is “not sustainable” for a large proportion of Americans to believe the election results are illegitimate. He then set about encouraging this false belief by dignifying debunked attacks on the vote’s integrity. Mr. Johnson insisted that pro-Trump forces have raised “legitimate concerns” about “violations of election laws,” “fraudulent votes and ballot stuffing,” and “corruption of voting machines and software that might be programmed to add or switch votes.”
Former Trump election security chief Christopher Krebs told the panel that the election was highly secure and that attacks on local voting officials were deeply unfair. Yet Mr. Johnson trotted out Trump lawyers who alleged massive numbers of illegal votes and blamed losses in court on negligent judges refusing to look at their so-called evidence. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared that “the fraud happened.” Other GOP senators emphasized that their constituents thought the vote was rigged. The overall message, about perhaps the cleanest presidential election ever run in the United States: We cannot prove that fraud changed the outcome, but we cannot rule it out, and Americans should be angry regardless.
Echoing many other Republicans, Mr. Johnson blamed declining trust in U.S. democracy not on his party’s persistent campaign to undermine trust in U.S. democracy, but on Democrats’ “efforts to delegitimize the results of the 2016 election” and the “corrupt” Russia investigation. This is false. Following the 2016 vote, Democratic leaders acknowledged that Mr. Trump was president. And the Russia investigation was based in fact — Russia tried to aid Mr. Trump, the Trump campaign welcomed the help, and Trump allies had strong connections to the Kremlin — whereas claims about Mr. Biden’s illegitimacy are based in partisan fantasies that have serially failed when scrutinized, in court and elsewhere.
Republicans are inaugurating a new, dangerous era in which political parties may refuse to acknowledge election results merely because they dislike the choices voters made. The damage is twofold: Dignifying fake claims of widespread election irregularities shreds confidence in democracy, destabilizing the nation’s politics and encouraging potentially violent resistance to duly elected leaders.
Meanwhile, GOP state lawmakers in swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania have responded to Republican outrage about Mr. Trump’s loss by promising major voting overhauls. This would fit into Republicans’ longer-term efforts to impose restrictions on casting ballots that depress voter participation yet provide little improvement in election integrity.
There is no middle ground between truth and lies. Republicans are promoting a dangerous fiction, which they will then rely on to make it even harder for Americans to vote.