california recall election

Defeat of the Newsom Recall Will Feed a New Round of MAGA Conspiracy Theories

Are these ballots being fabricated? No, but Trump supporters believe it without evidence. Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In a relatively short period of time, odds that California Governor Gavin Newsom would be recalled by voters in a special election where ballots must be dropped off or postmarked by September 14 have fallen steadily. You can see it in the polls: “Yes” narrowly led “No” in the RealClearPolitics polling averages on August 29, but now “No” leads “Yes” by 11.6 percent, and the margin wides every time a new poll drops. You can see it on the airwaves, as Team Newsom is outgunning recall proponents by about 3-1 in available cash for ads and voter mobilization. And you can feel it in your gut, as front-running replacement candidate Larry Elder, who would probably become governor if Newsom were actually recalled, is being morphed into a cartoon villain as his long list of outrageous statements as a talk radio host and his history of questionable attitudes and behavior towards women draws attention.

There’s even evidence, as I noted last week, that the widespread perception not long ago that Newsom was in trouble may have in part been the product of one poll that its own sponsor called misleading in a subsequent survey.

But whether we are just now understanding that Newsom had this beat from the get-go, or instead genuine pro-recall momentum has recently been reversed, you cannot really expect many of California’s Republicans to accept an adverse result, can you? These are people largely in thrall to the 45th president, who has never acknowledged Democratic votes as fully legitimate, and who has consistently attacked late-counted mail ballots — which in California tend to break overwhelmingly for Democrats — as putatively fraudulent, without a shred of evidence. And sure enough, Trump is already pre-litigating the recall election as fake, reports Philip Bump:

“It’s probably rigged,” Trump said of the recall campaign in an interview on the far-right cable network Newmax on Tuesday. “The one thing they’re good at is rigging elections, so I predict it’s a rigged election. Let’s see how it turns out.”

The same message was offered that day on Newsmax’s competitor Fox News.

“The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud,” commentator Tomi Lahren said. “So as they say: stay woke. Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California because it’s going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections.”

The Golden State-specific Big Lie that Republicans tell is based on the idea that any GOP lead, in the polls or in partially counted ballots at some arbitrary point, is legitimate, while any erosion or reversal of such a lead is obviously a matter of ballot-box stuffing by the Democrats who run the state. Trump hasn’t been alone in this bone-headed approach to “voter fraud:” Congressional Republican leaders promoted it in 2018 after the party lost seven U.S. House seats in the state despite holding early leads on election night. Add in California’s decision to send unsolicited mail ballots to every registered voter this year, arousing Trump-fed (and again, undocumented) attacks on voting-by-mail as inherently fraudulent in 2020, and it’s not surprising you’re already hearing conspiracy-talk. Never mind that the same mail ballot system run by the same Democratic election officials somehow allowed Republicans to flip four U.S. House seats in California in 2020, threatening Nancy Pelosi’s hold on the chamber and complicating her life enormously. How did that happen if Democrats have the whole thing wired?

The reality is that California is a very blue state which Republicans haven’t carried in a presidential election since 1988; where Democrats control every statewide office; have a super-majority in both state legislative chambers; and enjoy nearly a two-to-one registration advantage. Tracking of the voters who have already sent in recall ballots show that a majority are Democrats, followed by a good number of independents, who in California tend to lean Democratic. Only a quarter are Republicans. Turnout is running at about what you would expect in a regular gubernatorial election. So the scenario where complacent Democrats stayed home while energized Republicans force Newsom out in a low-turnout contest just ain’t happening.

You can, I suppose, claim that all these numbers — past presidential and statewide elections, voter registration figures, and the actual results when they come in — are “rigged.” But that way lies massive self-delusion, or more dangerously, that political power in California and nationally is a matter of raw force rather than popular consent, and thus can be taken away by raw force without concern for popular consent. So long as Republicans are following a man who claimed he won California in 2016 after losing it by 3,280,000 votes, and also claimed he won the national popular vote in 2016 and 2020, they will perhaps believe, and lie about, anything.

Defeat of Newsom Recall Will Feed New Conspiracy Theories