President Trump and his closest supporters continue to insist that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. If you listen closely to their rhetoric, though, you can detect a subtle shift that has occurred over the past few days. They have changed their emphasis from the fraud itself (and their confidence it will be exposed) to their feelings about the fraud. The issue now is not so much the alleged fact that Biden stole the election but the need to assuage Trump supporters who believe the fraud occurred.
After recently questioning some of the wild claims of Sidney Powell, presaging her dismissal from Trump’s election legal team, Tucker Carlson’s monologue last night pivoted to stoking election-fraud suspicions. Emblazoned with the chyron “A SYSTEM CAN’T FUNCTION IF NO ONE TRUSTS THE VOTE,” Carlson announced, “This is a real issue, no matter who raises it or who tries to dismiss it out of hand as a conspiracy theory.” (President Trump has pinned this clip from the show to the top of his Twitter feed.)
The Federalist, which has won market share by outflanking other conservative sites in its willingness to defend Trump’s most outrageous lies, has a series of stories reinforcing this theme. The media is pouring doubt on vote-fraud claims because “they know what everyone in America knows: there was nothing pure or secure or even ordinary about the election,” argues one column. “How can these essential self-governance contests be taken seriously if voters are concerned they can’t trust if American laws will be upheld, fraud exposed, criminals held accountable, and elections trusted?” pleads another.
Notice that these arguments can survive the Trump election team’s unbroken record of failure in court, as charge after charge of irregularity has disintegrated the instant it is exposed to the need to meet real-world evidence.
Trump’s personal contribution to the argument has come in the form of five consecutive retweets of Randy Quaid, a former actor who skipped bail on a felony charge in 2020 and fled to Canada before being extradited. (Trump’s well-known antipathy toward illegal immigrants who commit crimes does not appear to extend to illegal emigrants who commit crimes.) Quaid’s putative concern, shared by Trump, is a loss of confidence in the election’s security:
Trump followed this up by sharing more commentary by Quaid, who, against the backdrop of flashing green and red lights, denounced the perfidy of Fox News:
People have a perfect right to question the fairness and effectiveness of public functions like elections. Watching this clip, however, it is difficult to think of any particular reforms that would satisfy Randy Quaid that the election was run smoothly.
The point now is to move Trump’s accusations away from the court system, where they have been systematically exposed, and back into conservative media, where they can live on forever. Newsmax has stolen a chunk of the Fox News audience by more credulously repeating Trump’s lurid tales.
Chris Ruddy, a close Trump friend and CEO of Newsmax, tacitly admits in an interview with Isaac Chotiner that simply raising questions, without providing any evidence to support them, is a sufficient standard: “I think the mail-in ballots opened up potential for voter fraud and manipulation beyond what we’ve seen in previous years. And that’s, I think, the crux of the problem, and why Republicans feel this election was ‘stolen.’” The key terms are “potential” and “feel” — as long as the potential for fraud exists (and, of course, it always will), Republicans will feel that Trump won.
When asked why his reporters raise accusations rather than report them out first, Ruddy basically admits it’s good for ratings:
Well, I think before we even make the claim, we should say, “Hey, look at this anomaly. Why is this the case?” And we start asking about it. But you know what? At the end of the day, it’s great for news. The news cycle is red-hot, and Newsmax is getting one million people per minute, according to Nielsen, tuning into Newsmax TV. I think it’s good.
First you rile up your supporters with a series of specious accusations. When the accusations are debunked, you point to the fact your supporters are riled up as proof that something has gone wrong. Round and round the logical circle we go.