How the Republican voter fraud lie paved the way for Trump to undermine Biden’s presidency
"Trump has accelerated a deliberate strategy by Republicans to weaken faith in elections by making it harder to vote
Last modified on Mon 18 Jan 2021 06.02 EST
When an American president is inaugurated, it’s supposed to mark the height of American democracy and power. The elaborate ceremony is designed to convey the peaceful transfer of power and that no matter how bitter the election, the nation is moving on.
But when Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th US president on Wednesday, the ceremony will seem anything but that. America is arriving at the inauguration at an incredibly perilous moment, just two weeks after a violent pro-Trump mob attacked the US Capitol and several Republican members of Congress voted against certifying the results of the election. For months, Donald Trump has refused to acknowledge Biden as the legitimate winner of the election – a belief shared by legions of his supporters. The ceremony will have a heavy military presence because of threats of violence. Trump isn’t bothering attending.
While Trump has accelerated this dangerous moment, it’s been shaped by a deliberate Republican strategy to undermine faith in elections to make it harder to vote. The myth of voter fraud and repeated allusions to elections being stolen have moved from fringe theories to the center of Republican ideology over the last several decades. The refusal to accept the election, and the attack on the Capitol, are a consequence of that strategy.
“Donald Trump was definitely the spark and he had many enablers and facilitators, but the kindling had all been laid,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The strategy has been to slowly, steadily, undermine Americans’ faith in the security of elections, increase their belief in the existence of widespread voter fraud so as to enable them to accept what would otherwise be perceived as a really illegitimate and anti-democratic agenda of restricting access to voting.”
For years, Republicans have used misleading and faulty data to suggest that elections are at risk of fraud. In Kansas, Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state, used the threat of non-citizen voting to justify a law requiring people to prove their citizenship when they registered to vote (the law has since been blocked by a federal court). Conservative lawyers in recent years have also used misleading data analyses to suggest that voter rolls are filled with ineligible voters.
By 2016, when Trump claimed that voter fraud cost him the popular vote, it fit neatly into the narrative the Republican party was beginning to embrace.
Two years later, there were signs that questioning election results were moving to Republican orthodoxy. Paul Ryan, then serving as speaker of the House, said it was “bizarre” and “weird” that Republicans fell behind in California races as more mail-in ballots were counted after election night. When Trump startedmaking similar claims last spring and summer that mail-in ballots would lead to fraud and cost him the election, few Republicans objected.
The party began to attack ballot drop boxes and mail-in voting, something Republicans long relied on. When Trump claimed there was something amiss as states continued to count ballots after election day, Republicans – with a few exceptions – supported him too. The rhetoric began to have real consequences, as supporters started protesting at vote counting sites and harassing workers trying to count ballots during November’s election.
And by the time of electoral college certification, the effort to undermine faith in the vote had gone so far that it made it possible for two-thirds of the House Republican caucus and a dozen senators to back the idea of throwing out the election results entirely.
“It’s gone from voter fraud in a particular election to ‘stolen election’,” said Lorraine Minnitte, a professor at Rutgers University-Camden, who has studied allegations of voter fraud. “I don’t think it would have been as successful if the fraud myth hadn’t been planted a long time ago.”
Kobach, a Trump ally who briefly led a White House panel to investigate voter fraud, said it was “entirely appropriate” for members of Congress to object to the certification of electoral college votes. He noted that since 2000, Democrats had objected repeatedly to the counting of electoral college votes for Republican presidential winners (in all of those cases, however, the effort was not supportedby the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who had already conceded the race).
He dismissed the idea that there was any connection between raising concerns about election fraud and the attack on the Capitol.
“I’ve talked about voter fraud to small audiences and very, very large audiences over 100 times. Maybe multiple hundreds of times. Never has it inflamed passions so that people want to go march on something and break windows,” he told the Guardian. “The idea that talking about the integrity of our elections is inflammatory is idiotic.”
Kobach, who built a national reputation by focusing on voter fraud, also downplayed the significance of a Biden presidency in which a significant number of people do not accept him as a legitimately elected figure.
“I would say it’s going to be very similar to the last four years where you had many on the left thinking Donald Trump wasn’t legitimately elected because they believed Russian interference caused him to be elected,” he said. “You will have many on the right harboring doubts as to whether the results in those five states were accurate accounts of legal votes in those five states, but I don’t think it’s going to be all that different.”
Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Trump the day after the polls closed in 2016.
Since last week’s electoral college vote, several businesses have announced they are pausing donations to the Republican members of Congress who voted against upholding election results. The pause comes after business interests for years have supported conservative groups that have facilitated voter ID laws and extreme partisan gerrymandering that allowed Republicans to take votes without fear of the consequences.
“People were willing to tolerate this anti-democratic conduct up to a point. And then when it boiled over, when it became so extreme that people couldn’t ignore it, then they became willing to repudiate it,” Weiser said. “Seeing it so vividly all at once has broken that complacency.”
Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday on the Capitol’s west front amid a growing rejection of that complacency. But convincing Trump’s supporters that the election was legitimate and overcoming the doubt sowed in American elections may be an impossible task. We may have only begun to see the consequences of the damage."