Viewed in isolation, these comments from conservatives worried about a shaky Republican lead in a Wisconsin Supreme Court special election Tuesday night might just seem a bit overwrought:
But as Crooked Media’s Brian Beutler noted, this isn’t so isolated:
It’s indeed part of a disturbing pattern whereby any adverse trends, actual or even potential, in close elections — and particularly in late returns — are attributed by respectable Republicans to some sort of voter fraud or ballot-box stuffing, with zero evidence. We saw this in November 2018 when House Speaker Paul Ryan and his successor as House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy both suggested that late returns erasing GOP leads in California congressional races had to be the product of Democratic skullduggery. Such claims were not just unsupported, but stupid, as I noted at the time:
The slow count from California should not have come as a surprise: It happened in the June 5 primary as well, and in the 2016 primary and general election. And it was mainly the product of a 2015 change in state election laws allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days to count. Since the share of Californians voting by mail has been going up regularly in recent elections, we’re talking about a lot of votes. Since mail ballots have to go through signature verification (just like in-person ballots go through at polling places), it takes a while to count them. There’s nothing new or nefarious about either of these practices.
What makes this widespread Republican subscription to asinine conspiracy theories about election stealing especially dangerous is that it reflects and feeds their leader’s inability to accept electoral setbacks as legitimate. Just yesterday the president had this to say to House Republicans:
This is the same president who famously claimed he had actually won a popular vote victory in 2016 (he lost by more than 2 percent of the vote, which isn’t all that close) that was stolen from him by “millions of illegal votes” cast for Hillary Clinton. Indeed, this claim led to his appointment of the infamous Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, led by the nativist vote-suppression hero Kris Kobach, which collapsed in disarray without producing any new evidence of the president’s lurid scenario.
Now Trump’s going to be Trump, and no one should expect him to suddenly develop a respect for facts and data, or to take the time to understand the very complicated world of widely varying state and local systems for voting and vote-counting. But instead of rolling their eyes at such talk and changing the subject, far too many Republicans are chiming in with their own aggressively ignorant claims that anything making it easier for people — and especially those people — to vote is part of a plot to steal elections. It’s no wonder that some observers find it easy to imagine a scenario in which Trump loses a close 2020 election and then refuses to leave the White House. Washington Monthly’s Daniel Block spelled it all out in some detail recently, quoting political scientist Steven Levitsky:
“If Sean Hannity is claiming fraud on television and Rush Limbaugh is claiming fraud and Mitch McConnell is not willing to stand up and say, ‘No, there was no fraud,’ then we could have a real crisis ….”
“I think you could have a long, drawn-out crisis in which our institutions lose credibility,” Levitsky said. Even if Trump were eventually forced out, “we’ll be left with a situation where maybe 30, 35 percent of our population believes the election was rigged ….”
“I could imagine some rioting, some civil violence,” said John Carey, a political scientist at Dartmouth who studies comparative democracy and who cofounded Bright Line Watch, which monitors the health of American democracy. “We just can’t imagine all the possibilities.”
It might be a good idea to try, and to encourage Republicans not to encourage Trump to take 2020 into overtime.