In the weeks following the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump solidified a special place in history by rejecting the results, pretending he’d won the race he’d lost, and going to breathtaking lengths to overturn the will of his own country’s voters. But even at the time, he wasn’t entirely alone.
In the state of Washington, the Republican who badly lost the state’s gubernatorial race refused to concede, pushed bogus voter fraud claims, and “attempted to sow doubts about the election results.” In Maryland, a GOP candidate who lost a congressional race by more than 40 points nevertheless alleged that the race had been “stolen” from her through political improprieties.
The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum asked soon after, “What if every losing Republican behaves the same way from now on? Once the ‘respect the voters’ norm is gone, then it’s gone for good.”
All of this came to mind this week because as painful as it was to see so much of the GOP turn away from democracy and election results in 2020, there’s every reason to believe last year was not a fleeting fluke.
In California’s gubernatorial recall election, all of the recent polling suggests incumbent Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will hold onto his job — which is causing some Republicans to recycle their rhetoric from last fall in the hopes of undermining public confidence in the integrity of our election system.
Trump, for example, said last night that the California race is “probably rigged.” Several Fox News personalities are similarly touting baseless conspiracy theories about the recall election, as are rank-and-file GOP voters in the Golden State.
Just to the east in Nevada, the Associated Press published this report this morning.
More than 14 months before the midterm elections, the Republican frontrunner in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race is raising fears of voter fraud and talking about preemptively mounting legal challenges — a sign that the election denialism that marked the last cycle may carry over into the next. Adam Laxalt, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is aiming to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and thus swing power to Republicans in the now-evenly split chamber.
“With me at the top of the ticket, we’re going to be able to get everybody at the table and come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election,” Laxalt said on a conservative talk show two weeks ago.
The calendar adds important context: Nevada’s U.S. Senate primary election is still nine months away. The state’s general election is 14 months away.
And yet, the likely Republican Party nominee in one of the nation’s most competitive 2022 Senate contests is already raising baseless concerns about election integrity and making plans to “file lawsuits early.”
We don’t need a crystal ball to know what Laxalt and candidates like him will say if they don’t like the results of next year’s elections.
What matters here is not just conspiracy theories, pointless litigation, and partisan whining about voters’ verdicts. Rather, the far more unsettling concern is the establishment of a new normal in Republican politics — one in which the only election results many in the GOP consider legitimate are the ones in which Democratic candidates lose.
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