Californians vote on the Republicans-led effort to “recall” Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. With polls showing the recall will likely fail, Republicans have set the stage for saying the election was stolen for weeks.
Republican candidate Larry Elder said last week that he believed “there could very well be some shenanigans” in the election.
Republican candidate Larry Elder said last week that he believed “there could very well be some shenanigans” in the election. Former President Donald Trump also banged a very familiar drum, telling right-wing cable channel Newsmax that the election was “probably rigged”- an allegation made without proof. “They send out all the ballots – the ballots are mail-in ballots,” he said. “I guess you even have a case where you can make your own ballot. When that happens, no one will win except these Democrats. Fox News expert Tomi Lahren, meanwhile, assured Fox viewers that “the only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that these lies find a receptive audience in the Republican parts of California. This is not surprising given that election conspiracy theories are circulating on right-wing social media.
On Monday, the day before the election, Elder told supporters concerned about fraud to go to his website to report “anything suspicious.” Trump intervened (again) by saying, “Does anyone really believe that the California recall election is not rigged?”
In fact, the poll shows the majority of California voters reject the recall and want to keep Newsom in power. It’s also not surprising, given that California voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 by a 63.5% margin versus 34.3%.
We have seen this routine before. Polls throughout the 2020 election season indicated that Trump would lose the election. He responded by saying that if he lost it would be because the election was rigged. On election night, he essentially declared himself the winner before all the ballots were counted. “We were preparing to win this election. Frankly, we won this election,” he said in a ballroom full of supporters. Throughout the days and weeks that followed, he kept repeating – with ultimately disastrous consequences – the lie that the election was stolen from him.
In May, a quarter of Americans said they thought Trump was the real president. In August, 66% of Republicans insisted “the election was stolen from Trump,” according to a Yahoo News / YouGov poll. Twenty-eight percent of independent voters in the same poll believed Trump was the rightful winner. And according to a recent CNN poll, 59% of Republican respondents said believing that Trump won the 2020 election was very or somewhat important to their political identity.
Trump taught Republicans the game: When the polls are in your favor, brag about having it in the bag.
Of course, during the 2016 election cycle, when polls showed Trump was performing well, he regularly spoke about how he “wins.”
Trump taught Republicans the game: When the polls are in your favor, brag about having it in the bag. When the polls show you’re the loser, start spreading lies about voter fraud so you can claim yourself the winner, no matter what the outcome.
The danger of this cannot be overstated. Clint Watts, a senior researcher at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told PBS in 2018 that one way to undermine democracy is to disseminate propaganda that that citizens “lose confidence in democratic institutions. and the elect. If enough people are suspicious of election results, democracy fails. Those who want democracy to fail are those who cannot win elections but refuse to recalibrate their message and policy to gain broad support.
If pretending to voter fraud is the new Republican response to the loss – or even just to think they could lose – we can expect many more iterations of the so-called “stop the flight” movement. Usually, a president who loses re-election stands aside and allows the party to move forward. Trump, of course, is still trying to keep his grip on the Republican Party. Meanwhile, GOP leaders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Representatives Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Green keep the extremist wing of the party alive.
After the January 6 uprising, data showed moderates were fleeing the Republican Party. Instead of turning the tide, the Republican Party has supercharged the lies, turning them into a fundraising vehicle. It meant wooing – and satisfying – the most radicalized members of the Republican base.
This has created a cycle of radicalization: Republicans find they have to play with their base by adopting unpopular policies – such as go out against vaccines and masks in a pandemic and holding confederates and insurgents as heroes. In doing so, the moderates flee, pushing the Republican Party further to the right.
So we can expect to be sprayed with a fire hose of lies about the recall in California.
One solution is to put raincoats on the population. If we wait for lies and can prepare for them, we will be able to resist them better. But given the current trends, it looks like we’ll have to stock up on our rain gear.