The Republican Party is more in thrall than ever before to the lies that led to a deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 meant to stop the peaceful transfer of power. The latest evidence: Republicans killed a bipartisan bill to create a commission to investigate the insurrection.
The bipartisan commission could have answered key questions about the attack, including what involvement and response former President Donald Trump and key lawmakers had. But most Republicans don’t want Trump to be held accountable for his effort to subvert democracy by insisting the election was stolen. They’re too busy helping him feed the myth.
The stolen election lie that inspired the Jan. 6 insurrection now inspires voter suppression legislation that could be used by partisan forces to prevent Democrats from winning in 2022 or 2024. Republicans aren’t just trying to fix elections to benefit them in the future. In states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and New Hampshire, they’re still trying to change the 2020 election results.
This is not just a top-down phenomenon driven by the ex-president from his redoubt in Mar-a-Lago. The stolen election myth is driving the majority of the party’s grassroots as well.
The Republican Party’s orientation around the tale of a stolen election comes as it finds itself in an increasingly precarious political position in national elections. Republicans have lost the presidential popular vote in four straight elections and in seven out of the last eight. The party no longer operates as a national majority.
But the stolen election myth provides a narrative for why the Republican Party can no longer win the popular vote. It also justifies the party’s anti-majoritarian turn. It is the reason for Trump’s continued power over the party. And it could lead to further violence as the former president or other figures continue to insist that their supporters cannot trust the nation’s democratic processes and must take dramatic action to overcome them.
Preparations for Election Subversion
The stolen election myth is still spreading. Recent county party meetings in Georgia were flooded with new members inspired to join by Trump’s lie. A party election audit produced by state GOP chair David Shafer, who claims the election was not fair, blames Trump’s loss in the state on (nonexistent) “massive violations of state law,” and not on the fact that he got fewer votes than President Joe Biden.
Shafer is one of at least 19 state GOP chairs who have questioned the results of the election, according to Vice News. Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward, a noted conspiracy theorist, called Biden’s win a “coup.” The Oregon Republican Party released a statement after the insurrection claiming it was a “false flag operation” perpetrated by antifa. Oklahoma GOP chair John Bennett said that lawyer Lin Wood and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, two of the purveyors of the wildest stolen election lies, were “speaking the truth boldly.”
These are the state Republican parties pushing and passing new voter suppression laws designed to make it harder to vote and easier for partisan Republican officials to control the election process. And the stolen election myth is the key driving narrative inspiring these laws. This is evident in how the laws are designed.
Republicans in Florida and Georgia both imposed new limitations and restrictions on mail-in voting despite the Republican Party dominating the practice since it was adopted approximately two decades ago. Why change the laws now? In both states, Democrats dominated mail-in voting for the first time in 2020. Trump has also falsely claimed that mail-in voting is corrupt and that imagined corruption cost him the election.
In Georgia, Republicans stripped Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of his position on the state’s election oversight board. Did he fail to properly administer the election? No, Raffensperger simply refused to follow Trump’s potentially illegal orders to fix the election in his favor after the fact.
Arizona Republicans did the same to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, but because she’s a Democrat. They stripped Hobbs of her power over elections just through the 2022 elections, when she could lose to a Republican, who may then get his election powers restored.
At least 25 bills restricting voter access in ways specifically inspired by the stolen election myth have passed in Republican-controlled states including Florida and Georgia. States like Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas have all limited mail-in voting after Trump lied about it being corrupt and prone to fraud. Kansas also banned the executive branch, judiciary and secretary of state from changing election laws through consent agreements or emergency executive orders, common practices that Trump and other Republicans declared to be unconstitutional corruption in 2020.
This advance of voter suppression laws on the basis of a myth is no surprise. In many cases, these are the Republican-led state legislatures that hosted hearings in between the November election and the January insurrection where Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a parade of less-than-illustrious figures aired absurd allegations about election fraud. Many of these state legislators and officials signed onto frivolous lawsuits challenging the election results that were readily tossed from the courts. Though they failed to overturn the election during the period when courts and electoral college challenges could be valid, they haven’t stopped trying.
‘A Spectacle That is Harming All of Us’
Two audits of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona — where the margin for Biden helped him become the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992 — conducted after the 2020 election found no sign of widespread fraud and determined that the election was safe and secure. That wasn’t enough for Republicans in the Arizona Senate. They voted to conduct another audit to hunt down preposterous conspiracies and hired a partisan firm with no experience in election audits called Cyber Ninjas to carry out the process.
The error-prone audit has now gone two weeks beyond its initially proposed end date in search of imaginary fraud. The auditors are using ultraviolet lights to search for nonexistent watermarks on ballots, which conspiracists claim prove which ballots are real and which are fake. They are also searching ballots for “bamboo fibers” due to allegations that China shipped ballots for Biden to Arizona and the bizarre presumption that any object originating in East Asia must contain trace elements of bamboo. Auditors falsely claimed that an entire database of ballots was deleted when it was not.
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican, called the audit a “sham process.” The county’s election infrastructure will need to be totally replaced because the audit has exposed its voting systems to actors outside of the chain of custody necessary to protect their security, said Hobbs, the secretary of state. The county board of supervisors, dominated by Republicans, put out a joint statement denouncing the audit as a “sham,” a “con” and a “spectacle that is harming all of us.”
“It is time to make a choice to defend the Constitution and the Republic,” the commissioners wrote. “We stand united together to defend the Constitution and the Republic in our opposition to the Big Lie. We ask everyone to join us in standing for the truth.”
Republicans across the country, however, are increasingly standing on the myth’s side.
Wisconsin state House Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, announced on Wednesday that he has unilaterally given three retired law enforcement officers subpoena power to investigate the state’s 2020 election for fraud.
In Georgia, Raffensperger, already stripped of his powers for failing to bend the knee to Trump, now backs an election audit in Fulton County, a predominantly Black county containing the city of Atlanta, sought by a conspiracy theorist. Georgia has audited its election results three times already and found no evidence of widespread fraud. (A judge may yet toss the Fulton County audit before it even starts.)
Former Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Republican running against incumbent GOP Gov. Brain Kemp in 2022 because Kemp did not overturn the election results for Trump, has made a call for an Arizona-style audit central to his primary campaign.
Similar audits are being pushed by Trump supporters in Windham, New Hampshire; Cheboygan County, Michigan; and San Luis Obispo County, California, according to The Washington Post. (The audit in Windham ended on Thursday after finding that no fraud occurred.)
The pardoned former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has led the push for auditing the 2020 election results and pushed elected Republicans to back them.
“We want transparency and answers for the American people — what are the Democrats so afraid of?” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said, endorsing the Arizona audit on Bannon’s podcast earlier this month. Stefanik’s endorsement of the audits came as a necessary precondition to her successful campaign as the pro-Trump replacement for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a Trump critic, in GOP leadership.
Bannon recently joked on his podcast about an August 15 inauguration restoring Trump to the White House.
The Force Behind It All
Stefanik isn’t the only major Republican figure questioning the results of the 2020 election and backing ongoing partisan audits. She is joined by numerous House and Senate Republicans who either openly assert voter fraud, claim states administered the elections in some nebulously unconstitutional fashion or can’t even bring themselves to say that Biden won the election.
The engine driving this is the same force that drove the insurrection: Trump.
Trump is the first and only presidential candidate to refuse to accept the results of an election he lost. In doing so, he has driven his supporters and elected Republicans to believe or endorse his myth of a stolen election. And he hasn’t stopped since leaving office and being impeached for a second time.
He has questioned the outcome of the election and endorsed election audits and voter suppression laws as a necessary response in messages posted to his new blog nearly three dozen times in the past three months. Such messages have only escalated amid the audits.
“Massive numbers of dead people ‘voted’ in the 2020 Presidential Election, far greater than anyone has known or seen before,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The major Michigan Election Fraud case has just filed a bombshell pleading claiming votes were intentionally switched from President Trump to Joe Biden,” he falsely stated on May 10. “The number of votes is MASSIVE and determinative. This will prove true in numerous other States.”
“As our Country is being destroyed, both inside and out, the Presidential Election of 2020 will go down as THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY!” he said on May 15.
Trump has also continued to attack Republicans who did not help him overturn the election like Cheney, Raffensperger, Kemp, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.). He has already endorsed primary challengers against Cheney and Raffensperger; Rep. Jody Hice (Ga.), the Republican endorsed by Trump in the primary targeting Raffensperger, believes that the election was stolen.
These statements both cow elected Republicans into endorsing Trump’s election fraud fantasies and help maintain the ongoing belief among a majority of Republicans that the election was stolen.
Two-thirds of Republicans believe in the stolen election myth either in full or in part, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. An Ipsos poll published on May 21 found that 61% of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump, 54% believe that the insurrection was committed by “left-wing protestors to make Trump look bad,” and 53% believe that Trump is the “true president” right now.
“A new Ipsos/Reuters poll ‘Beliefs Among Republicans’ shows 53% believe Donald Trump is the true President (I always knew America was smart!),” Trump said in a statement on the Ipsos poll. “2020 Election was tainted 56%. The Election was stolen (and Rigged!) 61%.”
The Insurrection Isn’t Over
Large numbers of Republicans have also internalized a lesson from Trump’s insurrection: that violence is necessary to “make America great again.”
One poll conducted in January by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found that 39% of Republicans agreed that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions,” and 56% believe that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”
Another poll conducted in March by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 28% of Republicans agreed with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
The turn to violence to maintain power amid a failure to secure majority political support among a subset of Republican voters is increasingly given voice in elite spaces.
One such piece in The American Mind, a publication run by the pro-Trump Claremont Institute, asserts that “Conservatism Is No Longer Enough.” Something less constrained by rules, laws and systems is needed to restore traditional American values from the internal “non-American” threat, Glenn Ellmers, the author, wrote. The internal threat of “non-Americans” is not limited to immigrants.
“I’m really referring to the many native-born people—some of whose families have been here since the Mayflower—who may technically be citizens of the United States but are no longer (if they ever were) Americans,” Ellmers said. “They do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people. It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens, these non-American Americans; but they are something else.”
He calls for “overturning the existing post-American order” through a “counter-revolution.” He then exhorts readers to “get strong” in preparation for the coming conflict. “One of my favorite weightlifting coaches likes to say, ‘Strong people are harder to kill, and more useful generally,’” Ellmers said.
The American Mind also recently re-published a letter from right-wing French military officials calling for a military coup in that country.
“It is a cautionary tale for what could happen in America if our own ruling class continues to attack and betray our foundations,” the introduction to the letter said.
In a further endorsement of the French military coup idea, Douglas Macgregor, Trump’s failed pick to become ambassador to Germany and a retired Army colonel, stated in a piece for the pro-Trump publication American Greatness, “We will face the same predicament.”
Michael Anton, the former Trump national security official, extrapolated on his fascistic “Flight 93 Election” thesis following the insurrection. In that 2016 article, Anton compared conservatives voting for Trump in 2016 to the passengers on United Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit and crashed the plane hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11. Why?
“[T]he ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle,” he wrote at the time.
In his more recent piece, “The Continuing Crisis,” Anton despairs at Trump’s failures to win and challenge the election rules and then also to raise his supporters’ hopes that the results would be overturned. Now, the goal of Biden and Democrats, he claims, is “subjugation.”
“The ruling class has backed Middle America into a corner,” he wrote while comparing the current situation to the Civil War.
This entire genre of insurrectionary political writing feeds the right’s increasing appetite for justifications toward anti-majoritarian actions.
Will the coming elections be undermined by the new laws that make it harder to vote and easier for Republican officials to override election rules in jurisdictions run by Democrats? Will proponents of the stolen election myth win races to run state elections and refuse to certify elections won by Democrats?
As it looks now, the insurrection didn’t end on Jan. 6. It was just beginning.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referenced Windham County, New Hampshire. The jurisdiction referred to is not a county but the town of Windham.