Election denialism spreads through the Republican Party

Election denialism spreads through the Republican Party
Source: Jacquelyn Martin, Reuters

On Saturday, November 7, the Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, had built up a significant enough lead in the crucial state of Pennsylvania to win the state and, with it, secure the 270 electoral college votes needed to be elected the 46th president of the United States.

But you wouldn’t know it listening to prominent Republican politicians and lawmakers.

Taking their lead from President Donald Trump, who repeatedly disputed the election results even before the major news networks had announced Biden as president-elect, Republican politicians have one by one fallen in line by disputing the results and refusing to congratulate President-elect Biden.

The degrees of denialism vary. Some have simply echoed calls for every “legal” vote to be counted, baselessly suggesting that Biden won the election based on “illegal” votes. Others have been more forceful by supporting President Trump’s attempts in court to overturn the will of the voters.

As it stands, only a minority of Republicans have accepted the results. Most, including Republicans in government and those responsible for ensuring the safe and orderly transition of power to the next administration, have refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, even as governments around the world have done so.

What may come of Republicans’ refusal to not just acknowledge the election results but to actively fight against them is uncertain. A significant majority of Republican voters now believe that the election wasn’t fair, a grim omen for the future of American democracy.

As President Trump’s legal efforts to overturn votes, stop counts and seek, in a variety of ways, to invalidate President-elect Biden’s win fail in the courts, the vast majority of the Republican Party has remained by his side.

In doing so, Republicans are being criticized for contributing to a totally unprecedented and dangerous effort to reject democracy to satisfy the whims of a president who cannot accept he has been beaten.

Sowing doubt

The seeds of doubt regarding the election results were sown far in advance by President Trump.

For months, Trump and his allies complained about mail-in voting, arguing mail-in votes were ripe to be “manipulated,” with the president himself saying that such votes would result in “fraud like you’ve never seen.”

Over and over, Trump’s claims have been shown to be baseless. Mail-in voting is safe and no more susceptible to fraud than any other form of voting, including that done in person.

One study of mail-in voter fraud in Washington state during the 2018 midterm elections found only 142 instances of voter fraud out of some 3.2 million ballots cast in total. This is an incidence rate of roughly 0.004%, hardly “fraud like you’ve never seen.”

Nonetheless, even before a single vote had been cast in the 2020 election, the president had succeeded in casting doubt on mail-in ballots, at least in the minds of his supporters. Polling prior to the election showed that Republicans, overwhelmingly, planned to vote in person. Democrats, by contrast, planned to vote early and by mail.

To add an additional complication, rules for counting ballots largely differ state-by-state.

For instance, Florida allows election officials to process early ballots before Election Day. This meant that when polls in Florida closed, the results of these mail-in ballots could be quickly tabulated, giving a clear picture of which candidate had won on election night, despite the differing preferences for mail-in and in-person voting.

On the other hand, the Republican state legislature in Pennsylvania refused to allow election officials to begin processing early votes before polls closed. Instead, early votes would only be processed after polls closed, which meant that observers might have to wait days for the full results to come in.

This, as it turns out, is exactly what happened.

As votes cast in person on Election Day were processed and counted before early mail-in ballots in many of the key states needed by both candidates, it initially appeared that President Trump had a resounding lead. In Pennsylvania, as Election Day results flooded in, Trump built up a significant lead of hundreds of thousands of votes.

But when it came to Arizona, where the processing of early votes was permitted before Election Day, President Trump’s hopes of claiming victory on election night were largely torpedoed when Fox News called the state for Vice President Joe Biden.

In the early hours of the morning after election night, with millions of early vote-by-mail ballots still yet to be counted nationwide, Trump falsely declared victory in a televised speech.

Trump added that he would be “going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop, we don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.”

Election denialism

Despite the president’s best efforts, as mail-in ballots began to be processed and counted around the country, especially in those key states that could decide the election, Trump’s lead shrank and the reality that Vice President Biden had prevailed became clearer.

This was the phenomenon of the “red mirage.” President Trump appeared to have a strong lead in the key races on election night, but this was only as a result of rules forbidding the processing of mail-in ballots before polls closed. As these ballots were then processed, the president’s lead in key states, such as Pennsylvania, slowly but surely dwindled away.

As the week dragged on, it was all but certain that former Vice President Joe Biden would be the next US president.

On November 7, this reality was confirmed. Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania became mathematically strong enough for the major US networks to call the state in his favor, with the only ballots left to be counted all coming from strong Democratic areas of the state.

And with this, Trump’s denial of the election’s results began.

As President Trump’s legal team began a series of lawsuits across key battleground states, some contesting that observers were not allowed in counting rooms and others that certain kinds of ballots were not separated as required, Republicans began to refuse to recognize the results.

Only a small group of Republicans – notably those who have been critical of the president in the past, including Senators Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – have acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Other Republicans have either refused to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory or have called for “every legal vote” to be counted, suggesting that Biden’s victory was down to illegal votes.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News interviewers falsely that “President Trump won this election” adding, “everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this.”

Other Republicans have been more cautious, but have refused to acknowledge the results all the same.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, arguably the most influential Republican in the country, argued that President Trump was “100 percent within his rights” to challenge the results of the election, even though he celebrated the elections of Republicans to the House and Senate, which takes place on the same ballot as the presidential election.

In the crucial state of Georgia – where Joe Biden is leading and where runoff elections will be held in January to determine the state’s two Senate seats and, with them, which party will have control of the Senate – claims of fraud were rife.

Incumbent Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue both called for the resignation of the state’s top election official, a Republican. The state’s entire GOP House delegation also joined in the demands for election officials in the state to investigate claims of fraud, despite providing no evidence.

Republican calls for investigations and casting doubt on the election results may just be a campaign tactic. January’s runoff elections in Georgia bear huge consequences for what a Biden administration could achieve, so it’s possible that Republicans believe that appeasing President Trump’s baseless belief in voter fraud will ensure he continues to campaign and mobilize his base so Republicans maintain Senate control.


The support top Republicans have thrown behind the president’s efforts to reject the election results lack one crucial foundation – evidence.

The New York Times contacted election officials across every state in the country regarding the claims of mass endemic voter fraud. No official reported any irregularities that would have affected the election results.

International observers invited by President Trump have rejected claims of fraud and have given “high marks” to the conduct of the election. These observers have even criticized President Trump for his allegations of fraud, which have lacked any evidence.

What some Republicans have put forward as alleged evidence of voter fraud has also proven short-lived. A postal worker from Pennsylvania who claimed that late ballots may have been counted in that state’s election recanted his allegations when questioned.

Whether the refusal of Republicans to recognize the election results is an attempt to appease President Trump and his supporters, hamper President-elect Joe Biden’s administration before it even begins, or something else entirely, it is completely unprecedented and could have dangerous consequences for the US and the world.

A previously obscure government department, the General Services Administration (GSA), has been thrust into the headlines as a result of the contested election results. The GSA handles the transition process from one administration to another and its head, Emily W. Murphy, a Trump appointee, is required to recognize President-elect Joe Biden before any transfer can begin.

So far, Murphy has not done so, which could pose a danger for America’s national security.

Other Trump officials have been even more blatant.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to questions about the transition of power by stating there will be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”

The ultimate consequences of Trump and other Republicans’ refusal to recognize the results of the election is yet to be determined. But it’s become increasingly clear that when a transition to a Joe Biden administration does occur, as it undoubtedly will, the fallout from the disinformation many Republicans have employed is unlikely to go away.

Instead, it will likely become a political line of attack, for the next four years, with which to baselessly doubt the very legitimacy of a Joe Biden presidency and, with it, the integrity of American democracy itself.

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