Ohio held primaries for five statewide offices this week. And in two of the races, the victor was a Republican who once eschewed Donald Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud or a “stolen election” — only to warm to his position and earn a key endorsement from Trump in the process.
But Senate candidate J.D. Vance and Secretary of State Frank LaRose aren’t the only ones who have learned to adjust how they talk about the “Big Lie” in the service of winning an election. This is a fast-emerging trend in which candidates who initially hewed to something approaching the reality of the 2020 race later decided that was untenable, when their own political future is on the line.
Oftentimes, the shifts are more a matter of emphasis than full and complete flip-flops. Some candidates downplayed claims of fraud, or how much the results were truly in question — only to later get religious on rooting out the supposedly significant fraud. But in each case, the shift took place despite the nonexistent evidence remaining very much nonexistent.
Below are some key examples.
Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance
May 2021: Vance spoke generally about states that had changed their processes and the “mail-in voting bonanza” rather than supposed fraud or a stolen election: “I think we’ve got to investigate as much as possible. I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant. And we’re going to learn a lot about what happened. But, you know, I think at a basic level we already know mostly what happened.”
July 2021: Called the election “unfair” rather than “stolen,” as opponent Josh Mandel did.
October 2021: “There were certainly people voting illegally on a large-scale basis. … We have a fake country right now. If a billionaire (Mark Zuckerberg) can go and buy up votes in our biggest geographies and tilt an election, transform who can be president, it’s really, really dangerous stuff.”
January 2022: “Yeah, I do [think it was stolen]. … I don’t care whether you say it’s rigged, whether you say it’s stolen, like I’ll say what I’m going to say about it.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose
November 2020: “I certainly have faith in Ohio’s elections, and I believe that other states … almost all, I think all the other states do it very well also. If anybody believes that there’s something out there, they need to show evidence. Otherwise, making claims without any basis or evidence behind it is problematic.”
January 2022: “People that are influencers, we need to turn the heat down on politicizing elections administration. When it comes to the way the ballots are counted, when it comes to the way the polls are opened, when it comes to the way that elections are run, we should stop politicizing that now.”
February 2022: “The alleged voter fraud uncovered by my office and referred for prosecution this week is ONLY THE BEGINNING. This is one of MANY investigations.”
“It’s an even bigger problem in other states where laws & leaders are weak. President Trump is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem. More to come.”
April 2022: “I think it’s also fair to discuss that there were things that happened in other states that shouldn’t have happened. Would that have changed the results? I don’t know. It’s probably an unknowable thing. Could it have changed the electoral count? Who knows.”
Georgia governor candidate and former senator David Perdue
Nov. 9, 2020: Called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign, but without citing widespread fraud or a “stolen election”: “The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.”
Nov. 10, 2020 (per new audio from Alexander Burns’s and Jonathan Martin’s book): “ … There are people who voted in an anti-Trump way, voted for Biden and then voted down the list that we think that may come back to us in this plea for split government. … And I’m talking about people that may have voted for Biden, but now may come back and vote for us because there was an anti-Trump vote in Georgia.” (In other words, Perdue believed that Trump alienated would-be GOP voters — not that there was anything suspect about the loss.)
Jan. 8, 2021 (after his runoff loss): “I want to congratulate the Democratic Party and my opponent for this runoff win.”
March 2022: “I’ll just say it, Brian. In my election and the president’s election — they were stolen. The evidence is compelling now.”
April 2022: Began two debates by citing a stolen election, and used it in his campaign advertising. Also that month, on Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast, he said, “I’ve said all along: This election in Georgia was rigged and stolen.”
Arizona Senate candidate and Attorney General Mark Brnovich
November 2020: “There is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change. … If indeed there was some great conspiracy, it apparently didn’t work, since the county election official who’s a Democrat lost and other Republicans won.”
June 2021, on ticket-splitters: “That’s the reality. Just because that happened doesn’t mean it’s fraud.”
“It’s frustrating for all of us, because I think we all know what happened in 2020.”
In a campaign email this week, Brnovich said his office found nearly a fifth of early ballots in Maricopa County were “transported outside the chain of custody”; in fact, his report found missing information on paperwork but offered no evidence that ballots left the proper hands. On [Steve] Bannon’s podcast, he claimed the county uses artificial intelligence to verify ballot signatures; in fact, every signature is verified by election staff.
In that story, a spokesperson “did not respond to a question about whether Brnovich believes Biden fairly won the election.”
Alabama Senate candidate Mike Durant
January 2022: When asked, “Do you think Donald Trump won the 2020 election?” Durant joked, “Oh, look, we’re out of time.” He added: “What is the ground truth? No one will ever know. It’s gone by. I can’t speculate to, you know, if all votes were absolute legitimate what the outcome would have been.”
March 2022: “We were robbed of what I believe should have been President Trump’s second term.”
“The bottom line is, I don’t think Joe Biden won the election.”
“My opinion on this is clear: I believe that Joe Biden was not rightfully elected and the American people were robbed of four more years under President Trump because of unconstitutional changes to the process.”
April 2022: Attacked his opponent for not calling the election stolen.
Texas attorney general candidate George P. Bush
May 2021: “I think there was fraud and irregularity, I just don’t think it was in a sum that would have overturned the election result.”
February 2022: Mentioned “massive voter fraud” at a campaign event. In an interview with The Washington Post, Bush said voter fraud was “an important issue” but that he still thought President Biden’s win was legitimate.