Alexander’s group isn’t linked to the Trump campaign. Instead, as CNN reported last week, his “Stop the Steal” website solicits contributions that aren’t bound by nonprofit rules or constraints and which, at least in its initial iteration, went straight to him. In a brief encounter at a rally focused on the election results, CNN’s Drew Griffin asked Alexander how much he was getting from the effort.
“Zero,” Alexander insisted. He then accused Griffin of being a racist for his past reporting.
You don't need to read between the lines much to understand that there's a distinct possibility that Alexander, after years of building his name through right-wing agitation, might similarly see an opportunity in Trump's effort to throw out the results of the 2020 contest. You might suspect that Alexander's more virulent rhetoric has, at a minimum, multiple motivations. If bolstering concerns about the election is lucrative, why draw a line on how far you're willing to go to bolster those concerns?
It’s not insignificant that Alexander’s emergence coincided with the rise of the tea party movement during President Barack Obama’s first term in office. For all of the legitimate energy that the movement fostered, there was also a lot of grifting — financial and political — associated with the effort. A number of groups emerged to fundraise off the energy of the movement and amplified concerns about the future of the country, not all of them legitimate. The passion of supporters could be easy to parlay into money and political support, something which Trump himself explored with his overt flirtations with the movement in his brief consideration of a 2012 run.
Kelli Ward is another person who rose within Republican politics through the tea party movement. After winning a seat in the Arizona state Senate in 2012, she twice tried to earn the party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate, without success. She, too, has embraced the fringes of right-wing, including demonstrating support for rancher Cliven Bundy during his standoff with federal officials in 2014 and joining Loomer for an event last year.
Ward is now the head of the Republican Party in Arizona. She’s been outspoken in her criticism of Gov. Doug Ducey (R) since he certified the results of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. When Ducey explained in a series of tweets why he was legally bound to do so, Ward told him to “STHU” — to shut up.
Ward, too, has an interest in boosting the idea that the election was stolen. Much of the most vocal part of her party believes Trump’s rhetoric on the matter and sees nefarious efforts playing a role in the results. That doesn’t mean that her position is insincere; like many Republicans, she may in fact believe the baseless claims that rampant fraud occurred. But that doesn’t mean that fighting against Ducey on the point isn’t politically useful.
On Monday evening, the state party's Twitter account weighed in on the issue.
That tweet was followed by one, which has since been deleted, featuring Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, quoting from the movie: “This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.” It was followed by an American flag.
It is obviously dangerous for a political party to suggest that a political issue might demand that people sacrifice their lives to obtain a resolution. But it is also perhaps an inevitable culmination of years of insistence on conservative victimhood from which opportunists have wrung political power and money.
Few more so than Trump himself.
At a political rally Saturday in support of two Republican candidates for Senate, Trump was explicit in outlining this point.
“The system will be fixed when these people get in,” he assured the crowd in Georgia. “They’ll get in, and we’ll fix the system. Because we’re all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they’re all victims, every one of you.”
This is the same promise that Trump offered when he accepted the Republican nomination in 2016. The system was broken, he told voters, and he alone could fix it. Four years later, it remains broken and the new cure-all is electing these particular Republicans to the Senate.
That is a feature of the grift. The suffering and victimhood is eternally existent and also eternally fixable, and with just a few more dollars and just a few more votes, everything can be resolved once and for all. It’s not inaccurate that there will always be a way to pull the country more in one direction or the other, of course, but the point is less to fix particular issues than to leverage the sense that something will always need to be fixed.
The tea party movement, Trump’s emergence as the party’s 2016 nominee and his efforts to retain his office all leverage that sentiment that traditional America — often meaning White America — is under threat. While the tea party was ostensibly a reaction to taxation, one study released in 2011 noted that “[r]acial resentment stokes Tea Party fears about generational societal change, and fuels the Tea Party’s strong opposition to President Obama.” Trump’s candidacy similarly benefited from this impulse. A sense that “Whites are losing” was a better predictor of Trump support than economic insecurity. The America to be made great again was never explicitly identified but always obviously intermingled with an America that looked quite different from the one we see now.
Trump’s effort is explicitly about preserving power for his vision of the country. That this vision was rejected by voters is beside the point: The point, instead, is that this is a critical moment for the perceived victims to retain their protection. It’s a sentiment with which Trump is no doubt sincerely sympathetic; his political worldview was unquestionably shaped by his immersion in conservative media. But it’s also a sentiment that can generate hundreds of millions of dollars and might even, somehow, get him another four years of loosely fettered power.
The problem, though, is always in the ripple effects. Ali Alexander is making some cash encouraging rallies that promote the idea that fraud occurred — but he's also fostering a false sense of wrong. The Arizona Republican Party and its head are generating loyalty (and, no doubt, contributions) by standing with Trump against Ducey — but they're also encouraging violence in that fight. Trump is raking in money and solidifying his hold on part on his base — but he's undermining the country's democratic traditions while spreading ludicrous falsehoods.
It was always the case that Republicans would be skeptical if Trump lost, thanks to the groundwork the party laid for years about alleged fraud and thanks to Trump's insistence that such fraud would occur. His claims that the polls were rigged and that he was enormously popular predictably meant that some part of the party might see the results of the election as illegitimate and push back against it. What should also have been predictable was that the energetic response to the election results would prove irresistible to those seeking power and money at the expense of truth and democratic unity.
To wring value out of the Republican base, the temperature needs to continue to rise and the urgency to increase. The country can’t take much more heat without tragedy.