Within the Republican Party elite, few have been as adamant that widespread fraud is costing President Trump the election than Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). And he’s using highly conspiratorial language to try to bring the rest of his party along with him.

“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” Graham said Sunday on Fox News Channel.

That’s a strong statement worth analyzing, because it reflects where the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party stands on this election. Graham was saying that mail balloting probably led to voting irregularities and fraud on a scale that swayed the election. And he warned that if the party doesn’t do something about it, it will be on the losing side of elections going forward.

Except nearly every aspect of what he’s arguing is either unproven or outright false.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud, despite the Trump campaign desperately trying to find some. And Republicans had a stronger-than-expected showing in these elections because turnout was higher. Trump won more votes than he did in 2016, Republicans flipped more House seats than Democrats, and Republicans may keep the Senate. Graham won his own competitive reelection by much more than polls suggested he would.

That’s why it’s so confusing when Graham argues that the Republican Party needs to “challenge and change” the U.S. election system to keep winning.

Even without the 2020 election as evidence of the strength of the Republican Party brand when voting breaks record levels, the system by which Americans elect presidents benefits Republicans over Democrats. The electoral college gives less-populous, more-conservative states greater sway than they would have with a national popular vote. Democrats did win the White House this time, but they’ve lost it in many other recent elections, despite receiving more votes nationally than Republicans.

So how did Graham defend his call to “challenge and change” the U.S. electoral system, and where did it miss the mark factually? Let’s break it down.

On the challenge front, he’s talking about challenging vote tabulations in specific states. But the undecided states still wouldn’t be enough for Trump to win reelection.

There almost certainly will be recounts in states such as Georgia, or in Arizona or North Carolina, which haven’t been called for either candidate by The Washington Post but show President-elect Joe Biden leading in two of the three. Recounts tend to change hundreds, not thousands or tens of thousands, of votes. And no recount has turned the result of a presidential election.

Even if recounts and/or continued vote tallies somehow managed to overturn Biden’s lead in these states and give them to Trump, the president would still be below 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. Biden would still be the winner. That’s why all major news organizations declared him so Saturday.

Republicans would have to find a way to overturn the results in Pennsylvania alongside these other states to change the outcome. Graham knows that, which is why he alleged in the Fox News interview that the Trump campaign found 15 dead voters there who cast ballots.

That’s a red herring. Graham provided no widespread evidence of enough dead people voting to overturn the election. Biden won Pennsylvania by receiving at least 45,670 votes more than Trump — not 15.

Democrats on Nov. 8 criticized President Trump for not conceding to President-elect Joe Biden, while some Republicans defended challenges in the courts. (The Washington Post)

So the “challenge” argument about this election falls short when it comes to keeping Republicans in power. What did Graham mean by Republicans needing to “change” the U.S. electoral system so they can win? Here, he seems to be talking about how mail balloting didn’t help Republicans and setting it up to be a major talking point to try to undermine the Biden administration next year.

Graham and Trump have dubiously connected mail voting to fraud rather than the simpler explanation, which is that Trump told his supporters not to vote by mail, while Democrats were urged to do so.

They have both excitedly talked about an affidavit by a postal worker in Pennsylvania alleging that supervisors were backdating ballots, ostensibly so those arriving late would count. Graham says the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general are looking into it. So will a much more partisan source — the Senate Judiciary Committee that Graham leads.

This is an extension of the deep-state theory that Trump and his allies have wielded his entire presidency, that there’s a vague, shadowy enemy undermining his leadership. It gives something on which Graham and Trump supporters can base their conspiracy theories about why Trump lost the election. The emerging narrative: Postal Service workers caused it.

So when Graham says the GOP needs to “change” the U.S. electoral system to stay in power, he seems to mean it needs to find a way to stop mail voting. “From a Republican point of view, mail-in balloting is a nightmare for us,” Graham said Sunday. “The Post Office is now the new election center.”

That’s not necessarily true. Mail voting may well be expanded after the pandemic, but it probably will shrink in some states, too. Some states expanded their absentee program by making only a concern about the coronavirus a valid excuse to request a ballot. That (it is hoped) won’t be an issue by the next election. Five states regularly conduct their election by mail, including Republican ones, without problems.

Graham is setting up a framework to have mail-voting conspiracy theories be a talking point in the Biden administration. In an interview Monday on Fox News Radio, Graham also called for a joint committee in the Senate to analyze mailed ballots. It’s unclear whether Republican leaders will take him up on that.

Graham really wants them to.

“To my Republican colleagues out there,” Graham warned Sunday, “we have to fight back, or we will accept our fate.”

The fate Graham and Trump seem to refuse to accept is that they lost this election legitimately.