The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Reality waits to see if it has a new supporter

Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake attends a rally in Phoenix on Nov. 7. (Olivier Touron/AFP/Getty Images)

For the past week, Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s Twitter feed has been a steady stream of optimism. In tweet after tweet, Lake told her followers that everything was falling into place, that totals coming in from various counties showed her gaining solid percentages of counted votes. In television interviews, she assured supporters that there was some batch of heavily Republican votes sitting out there, waiting to be counted — enough to propel her to a confirmable victory.

There was not any such batch and, on Monday evening, Lake’s opponent, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, was projected to be Arizona’s next governor.

Lake’s response to the news was terse: “Arizonans know BS when they see it.”

So here we go.

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No one running in the 2022 midterm elections had made false claims of election fraud more central to their candidacy than did Lake. Her entire campaign was a subset of a particular iteration of right-wing theorizing, one in which the non-sycophantic media was dishonest and scheming, one in which the results of the presidential contest two years ago were obviously corrupted by fraud. Lake’s campaign looped in a who’s who of conspiracy theorists, from Stephen K. Bannon to Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers. But Lake remained the lead actor in this particular drama.

In the months before the election, she offered ominous warnings. There were “already tons of election irregularities,” she insisted in July. She suggested that Democrats were poised to appoint election officials who might skew the vote. She appeared at an event hosted by True the Vote, the group behind the debunked election fraud claims in the film “2000 Mules.” She later touted an endorsement from one member of the organization, Gregg Phillips.

On Monday, shortly before the race was called, she promoted a website aimed at collecting stories about problems at the polls. A few days earlier, she’d informed supporters that her team was on the hunt for possible malfeasance in this year’s race.

“Rest assured that I have the brightest & best attorneys in the Nation, right here on the ground in Arizona,” she said. “Every ballot has eyes on it.”

All of this is familiar, even if the path forward isn’t. We now recognize the period after the 2020 election as a robust, baseless effort by Donald Trump to hold on to power despite the election results. But we might forget that the immediate aftermath of that election looked much like Arizona now: claims about votes that never materialized; efforts to compile anecdotes aimed at ginning up suspicion about the results; insistences that the legal fight would lead to success. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s loss, it all seemed silly and doomed. That infamous quote from an unnamed Republican official — what’s the harm in humoring Trump’s conspiracies? — came three days after the presidential election was called.

What’s different in Arizona, of course, is the thing that Lake doesn’t want to admit: claims of rampant fraud became less credible, not more. After all, this was an election in which Lake and her allies were earnestly (if delusionally) committed to blocking the sort of illegality they think happened two years ago. They had people watching ballot drop boxes and confronting voters out of a misguided belief (spurred by “2000 Mules”) that drop boxes had been a vehicle for fraud in 2020. The presidential contest has been examined more than any election in American history, it’s safe to say, with Arizona consistently at the forefront in conducting those examinations. But in 2022, the scrutiny began well before the election, making claims of fraud even less defensible.

That Lake’s opponent, Hobbs, was the secretary of state has helped boost the conspiracy theories this time around, though elections are administered at the county level. But the argument doesn’t make much sense: If there was an effort to rig the vote against Lake, why spend a week counting votes only to have the result land at a near 50-50 split? Why not just give Hobbs a clear victory on election night to avoid all of this scrutiny? If you control the system, why not control it in a way that erodes questions about it?

Lake and her allies have spent a lot of energy insisting that the slow counting of votes is suspect. But the vast majority of votes cast in Arizona — including for Lake — were early votes, according to state data. Lake outperformed Hobbs on Election Day, but those votes made up less than a fifth of all votes cast. They made up only about a quarter of Lake’s total.

The point, of course, is simply to create space to try to finagle a potential victory. The question is how much appetite Lake and her allies have to do so.

As the results came in on Monday night, there was a surprising concession. Rogers appeared on right-wing talker Charlie Kirk’s radio show, where she came close to recognizing a key factor at play in the election — if not over the past two years.

“We wonder now if we were in echo chamber,” she said about perceptions of Lake’s chances. “I don’t know. I’m just beginning to get some perspective.”

Over at Fox News, Lake’s loss was treated with open derision.

“I just want you to notice how quickly some people really want to declare a winner and just move on in that Arizona gubernatorial race,” Kevin Corke said on “Fox & Friends.” “But the process may not be over, especially if it’s within a half a percentage point that’s going to trigger a recount.” He mocked the idea that Hobbs “somehow” got more votes.

He quoted Hobbs’s tweet responding to her win — “democracy is worth the wait” — reading it with a mocking tone. “As you can well imagine,” he added, “not everybody’s buying that.”

All of this suggests that the ground is prepared for Lake to push back hard against her loss. There will possibly be a recount, though it’s unlikely to overturn a 20,000-vote lead, which is what Hobbs enjoys. The question is whether Lake will buck the trend of other election deniers who lost last week and go further.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Lake had been huddled with advisers, planning for a negative result that the slow accretion of votes was making increasingly likely. Her team, we reported, was considering how forcefully to contest a loss.

“Nobody is advocating to go storm the castle,” one adviser told The Post.

But, you know, what’s the harm in humoring her for a little bit?