Commentary

Republicans are poising themselves to win regardless of the outcome in California’s recall

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, USA - NOVEMBER 4, 2008: Voting polling place sign and people lined up on presidential election day.
Photo: Shutterstock

On Tuesday, California voters will decide whether or not to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and, if they do, choose who they’d like as his replacement. The race is turning out not just to be a referendum on Newsom, but also on Republicans’ willingness to accept the election results.

The former won’t be known until Tuesday, but the latter is already clear: Republicans are already proclaiming that the only way they can lose is because of fraud.

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Never mind that California is one of the bluest states in the nation, where Joe Biden won nearly two-thirds of the 2020 Presidential election vote. Nor does it matter that the leading Republican replacement for Newsom, Larry Elder, is a hard-line conservative radio talk show host who has been accused of sexual harassment.

No, the GOP has concluded that the only election that is a fair election is the won Republicans win.

Leading the charge for the party is none other than Donald Trump. In an interview with the far-right outlet Newsmax, Trump claimed that the election is “probably rigged,” adding that “in many places, like California, the same person votes many times — you’ve probably heard about that.”

That kind of pulled-straight-from-his-butt statement is entirely in line with Trump’s lies about his own loss.

Trump may call the tune, but lots of Republicans are singing the same song. Elder himself has said “there might very well be shenanigans” afoot and is already directing voters to a “report election incident” form on his website. On Fox News, Tomi Lahren proclaimed that “the only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud.”

Seeding doubts about the California election is not simply a way to explain away the party’s irrelevance in the state. More broadly, it’s a template on how to undermine future elections across the nation.

It’s hard to remember, but Trump’s original lies about voter fraud shortly after the election last year were viewed by most Republicans as harmless venting. “What’s the downside of humoring him,” one anonymous Republican said at the time.

The downside is that the lies about voter fraud quickly became a central tenet of those seeking to climb the ranks of the GOP. It was the root cause of the insurrection at the Capitol last January. Republican candidates began making it clear that their own losses could only be the result of Democratic malfeasance, and many are already promising to contest results of elections more than a year away.

Such lies only serve to undermine the basic premise of democracy, which is fair and trusted elections. Republicans insist that they are only trying to respond to voter concerns about election security, which is a bit like arsonists saying that they are just concerned about fire safety.

The one bright spot in the GOP campaign against fair elections is that it’s hurting the party’s own candidates.

The best example of the unintended side effect is Georgia’s special election last January. Trump’s endless harping on voter fraud seemed to have dampened GOP turnout enough to let the two Democrats emerge victorious, securing a (bare) majority in the Senate. Trump may have convinced voters that fraud was inevitable, so they didn’t bother voting.

Some Republicans in California are afraid of the same scenario there. “I got all of these crazy responses of, ‘it’s a wasted vote,’” recall proponent Anne Dunsmore told Politico.

As satisfying as it may be to see the lies backfire on Republicans, the fact remains that enjoyment is far outweighed by the damage done to democracy. Republicans are knowingly spreading lies about voting because they think it will garner voters.

Even if they lose they election, they win because it furthers their future chances and offers an endless boon to their fundraising.

Right now it’s all about complaining about losses. But the day could soon come when Republicans will be in a position to overturn election results on their own based on voter fraud lies.

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