Blake Masters, the Peter Thiel-funded GOP Senate candidate in Arizona, gave a masterclass last month in sowing doubt about the results of the midterms — before a single ballot was cast.
During a campaign stop reported by The Daily Beast, Masters recalled his dad worrying that, even if Masters won by 30,000 votes over incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), “they’ll just find 40,000 for Mark Kelly.”
“He invited me to prove him wrong,” Masters said. “I said, ‘Dad, I can’t prove you wrong. All I know is, if those are the numbers, I’ve got to win by 80,000.’” The crowd reportedly burst into applause.
By now, this tactic is familiar: Republican candidates who’ve pushed Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud and stolen elections are using the former president’s playbook themselves to preemptively claim that their elections may be fraudulent.
‘There’s Always Cheating’
It’s a simple enough fallacy: If you lose, you’ve already blamed voter fraud! If you win, that means your victory was so substantial that your supporters were able to beat the rigged system!
The October campaign stop wasn’t Masters’ first time using the strategy.
“There’s always cheating, probably, in every election,” the candidate said in July, The New York Times reported. “The question is, what’s the cheating capacity?”
Other Republicans are taking the “wait and see” approach, reserving their right to flip the chessboard once they realize they’re losing.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who’s facing a tough reelection bid against Democrat Mandela Barnes, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month that “it is certainly his hope that he can” accept the election results. Then, he blamed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for Republicans having a reason to be worried.
“He would feel much better about the 2022 election had Gov. Evers signed bills the Legislature passed to restore confidence in our election system,” spokesperson Alec Zimmerman said of Johnson. “That said, we are doing everything we can to ensure guidances and election procedures comply with state law. We will be monitoring everything closely.”
Tim Michels, the Republican running against Evers, will accept the results “provided the election is conducted fairly and securely,” a spokesperson told the State Journal. Michels’ campaign didn’t respond to a HuffPost email asking what he meant by that.
Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Nevada who has said that a “deep state cabal” has dictated election results for years, has gone back and forth on the same question, at one point telling the Las Vegas Sun he would accept the election results regardless of outcome.
But he wouldn’t commit to accepting the results outright when Reno news channel KRNV asked him the same question last month. He responded that he could trust the results “if we get an audit, if we get a forensic audit.”
The term “forensic audit,” popularized by election deniers in the wake of Trump’s loss, doesn’t actually have an accepted definition with regard to elections. Asked if he would accept the results without such an audit, Marchant — who could be elected to the role that directly oversees elections — said “we’ll see” and that if elected he would ensure “everybody agrees on what was counted.”
Kim Crockett, the GOP secretary of state candidate in Minnesota, has said she’ll accept the results unless the margin of victory is close enough for a recount. However, she added in a press release, “As for my confidence in the administration of the 2022 election, that is a different question which I will answer after the election is held.”
“As for my confidence in the administration of the 2022 election, that is a different question which I will answer after the election is held.”
‘We’re Already Detecting Some Stealing’
The candidates preemptively claiming fraud are drawing from a yearsold well dug by Trump.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump said in August 2020 — a proclamation that resulted in his supporters, motivated by the same lie, attacking the U.S. Capitol five months later.
Trump has never acknowledged legitimate defeat, and his popularity among Republican voters hasn’t suffered as a result. GOP candidates appear to have taken note.
Kari Lake, who is now the Republican nominee for governor in Arizona, said ahead of the GOP primary over the summer that “we’re already detecting some stealing going on,” refusing to elaborate further on the crimes she’d vaguely alleged. “If we don’t win, there’s some cheating going on,” she said on Election Day. Then, after she won the nomination by a margin of tens of thousands of votes, she swiftly moved on: “We out-voted the fraud,” she said.
“You have to get out and vote, and I believe that we can out-vote some of the problems if we just show up,” Lake said.
She has also said, according to Axios, that it was “really smart” for Trump not to concede in 2020, “because that was the most dirty, filthy, rotten election I’ve ever seen.”
Mark Finchem, an election denier running for Arizona secretary of state, said ahead of the Republican primary that he wasn’t preparing for a concession speech: “I’m going to demand a 100% hand count if there’s the slightest hint that there’s an impropriety,” he said.
And in Virginia in 2021, Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase claimed during the governor’s race that “I know how Democrats are cheating” and that she had referred the information to then-GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin’s campaign.
When Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, requested that Chase share information about the apparent crime she’d described, a spokesperson for the state senator said, “We don’t owe Herring a thing.”
Some candidates are already laying the groundwork for filing lawsuits to contest the results — and citing Trump’s legal losses in 2020 as inspiration.
Adam Laxalt, the GOP Senate candidate in Nevada, has said that Republicans weren’t aggressive enough in suing over election results in 2020 — and that he won’t make the same mistake this year.
“With me at the top of the ticket, we’re going to be able to get everybody at the table and come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election,” he said in August last year, The Associated Press reported. “There’s no question that, unfortunately, a lot of the lawsuits and a lot of the attention spent on Election Day operations just came too late.”
In March, The New York Times obtained audio of Laxalt telling voters that he was “vetting” outside groups to help map out a litigation strategy and put together crews of election observers. “I don’t talk about that, but we’re vetting which group we think is going to do better,” he said, according to the report.
Asked in September by KTVN if he would accept the election results, Laxalt responded simply that he looked forward to his opponent, Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), “conceding defeat.”
Similarly, Finchem defended groups — some armed — “monitoring” ballot drop boxes in Arizona because they were inspired by the lies about so-called “ballot harvesting” in the conspiracy theory film “2000 Mules.”
In a conversation with Arizona GOP Chair Kelly Ward, Finchem encouraged people to take photos if they thought they saw voter fraud, including of voters’ license plates. Ward, per The Washington Post, said the Arizona Republican Party had attorneys ready to use that documentation in litigation.
Some of the same actors behind Trump’s 2020 election theft attempt are playing key roles this year.
Last month, former Trump attorney John Eastman told an audience of prospective poll workers and observers to keep notes on purported wrongdoing “because that becomes the evidence in these legal challenges if we need them,” according to audio the watchdog group Documented got from attendees.
Eastman was speaking in Albuquerque at a summit of the Election Integrity Network, the group chaired by election lawyer and former Trump adviser Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell was on the phone when Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,700 votes for him after he lost the state, and more recently has worked with Republican Party officials and others to train what she calls “a volunteer army of citizens.” EIN is a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute, where former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner.
Marshall Yates, the executive director of Mitchell’s group and Rep. Mo Brooks’ (R-Ala.) former chief of staff, said at the same event that “the election objection did not go as we wanted to in 2020 on Jan. 6, but we built up and this movement is here today partly because we didn’t get to have the debate we needed in Congress,” Politico reported.
According to the report, Yates added: “We were shut out for whatever reason that was, whatever happened, whoever planned it, but we didn’t get to have that happen. But luckily it sparked a grassroots movement across the country for election integrity.”