In a new poll released early this morning by CNN, the Democratic lead in the congressional midterm elections is far too small (45-44%) for the Democrats to hold their majorities. Because of the nature of voting patters, gerrymandering and voter suppression, a 1 point lead would lead to over a dozen Democratic Party losses in the House.
But there was something else in the polling that caught my attention and has nothing to do with the midterms. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were asked if Trump should be the leader of the GOP. 63% said yes and 37% said no. At the same time, these same voters were asked if they think the GOP has a better chance of winning the presidency in 2024 if Trump or someone else tops the ticket. 51% said they'd have a better chance with Trump and 49% said someone else would give the Republicans a better chance to win the White House. That's quite a disconnect. But then, you've got to be pretty disconnected if you still identify as a Republican these days, the party of incoherent anti-vaccine mandates and the proto-fascist/anti-democracy party. Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote that more and more Republican candidates are taking it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate as a matter of definition, entirely disconnected from reality. That pretty much defines an anti-democracy mindset. Sargent sees it as a part of Trump's dark, ugly legacy that "could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared." He sees Republican candidates doing the same thing-- de rigueur-- in their own races, pledging to "actively subvert legitimate election losses by any means necessary."
He sites Larry Elder, who is not a serious candidate for election, just a vanity candidate-clown in the once-promising but now doomed California recall election. The most recent poll of the recall was done by SurveyUSA for KABC. Only 41% of people who have already voted and who are likely to vote are behind the remove Newsom movement. That doesn't just include Republicans. (I don't claim to be typical but I already voted for the recall and for the Green Party candidate.) 31% of voters say they either left blank or plan to leave blank the box that allows them to pick another candidate if the recall succeeds. That's a bigger number than those who voted for or plan to vote for Elder (29%). Who back's Elder among those who voted for and plan to vote for a replacement?
Blacks- less than 1%
Vaccinated people- 23%
Unvaccinated people- 53%
2020 Trump voters- 55%
2020 Biden voters- 4%
Sorry for that tangent, but Larry Elder is not a credible candidate and only 50% of the small Republican voter base in California see him as one. Sargent reported that "Elder told reporters that 'there might very well be shenanigans' in the vote counting, just like 'in the 2020 election,' and vowed that his 'voter integrity board' of lawyers will 'file lawsuits.' 'The 2020 election, in my opinion, was full of shenanigans,' Elder also told Fox News. 'My fear is they’re going to try that in this election right here and recall.' It’s common for campaigns to prepare for post-election litigation. But Elder is going much further. He’s hinting at a concerted effort to steal the recall and linking that to the 'big lie' that there were widespread problems in 2020. The goal is plainly to tap into the deep well of paranoia and conspiracy-mongering that Trump fed for years-- and to undermine in advance faith in any outcome but a win." This would be more worrying if more voters saw Larry Elder as a legitimate political candidate rather than as an entertainer.
Adam Laxalt in Nevada, however, is a legitimate political candidate, running against mediocre Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Laxalt "has Trump’s endorsement in what will be a hard-fought contest." Trump got 47.7% of Nevadans votes last year (to Biden's 50.1%), so Trump's endorsement actually means something.) "This week," wrote Sargent, "Laxalt flatly declared his campaign will 'file lawsuits early' to 'secure this election,' as if it’s a foregone conclusion that a loss would be dubious by definition. Worse, Laxalt vowed to avoid the supposed mistakes of 2020, in which the election was 'rigged' and the only failure was that Trump campaign lawsuits 'came too late.' Laxalt, then, will begin contesting any eventual loss right now, because otherwise Democrats will succeed in stealing another election. This, too, is a declaration in advance not to accept a loss as a legitimate outcome. And then, when the press covered his despicable threat, Laxalt rejoiced that he was 'triggering the media,' smarmily insisting the press is attacking anyone who wants 'secure' and 'fair' elections."
Laxalt is a fascist and could be reading right out of Hitler's and Goebbel's playbook. As Sargenet pointed out "Laxalt is the one threatening to undermine secure and fair elections. Indeed, as this demonstrates, for Trumpist politicians, the refusal to commit to respecting legitimate election losses is now a badge of honor."
Two other high-profile GOP candidates are brandishing this badge of honor, as one Democrat pointed out to me. They are running while citing their support for sham post-election audits-- ones designed to undermine faith in elections-- as a virtue.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, Trump just endorsed Army veteran Sean Parnell as the GOP candidate for an open Senate seat. Parnell has declared his support for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 results.
Parnell has piously claimed he wants to reinforce confidence in those results. But this is a smokescreen: This audit has been pushed by Trump allies who hope to duplicate the Arizona sham audit, which is a dry run at manufacturing fake ways to cast doubt on election outcomes.
And indeed, in Arizona, GOP senate candidate Jim Lamon has openly claimed credit for helping make that sham audit happen. Here again the willingness to undermine confidence in election results is held up as a point of honor.
Now over to Georgia. The Republican candidate running a primary challenge against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger-- who rebuffed Trump’s pressure to help steal the election-- is basing his candidacy on a vow to use his powers to overturn elections in a way Raffensperger wouldn’t.
What this all adds up to is this. As it is, Trump’s “big lie” about 2020 has been widely echoed among GOP senate candidates, as Cameron Joseph documented in July.
But it’s gotten worse. In the nationally watched recall election in the most populous state-- and in high-profile statewide campaigns in many key swing states-- we’re all but certain to see future legitimate election losses treated as illegitimate by definition.
An important feature of all this is that the lies about the majorities who win fair elections, and even the undermining of faith that our electoral system is fundamentally capable of rendering legitimate outcomes, are essential first steps toward overturning such outcomes later. The lies are the foundation, the starting point for potential future efforts to subvert our democratic order.
It’s unclear what this will mean for the GOP as a whole over time. But it’s ominous that you rarely hear condemnation of any of this from the most senior figures in the party.
The willingness to abide by election losses as legitimate, on the understanding that our system is worth preserving and you can live to fight another day, is a hallmark of democratic stability. But it’s becoming a hallmark of GOP primary politics to publicly renounce that ethic, and to do so defiantly and proudly.