Trump questioned the legitimacy of his own election by advancing the claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. Despite being has unable to present any evidence for this claim after four years, his supporters seem to still believe this lie. Before the 2020 election he stoked the fears and delusions of his base with unfounded claims of fraud-t0-be while he and his party systemically tried to undermine the election—with a special effort to attack the USPS.
In an open display of authoritarianism, Trump has now refused to accept the results of the election. Instead, he has continued to actively undermine American democracy by persisting in false claims about voter fraud.
Election officials across the country (Republican and Democrat) have said that there was no widespread fraud and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has expressed confidence in the security of the vote—making a statement that seems to have been in response to yet another baseless allegation of election fraud. Despite the lack of evidence for fraud and the evidence the election was secure, the administration is persisting. Some members of the Trump administration have taken leave from their official jobs to serve as members of a private group investigation the claims of alleged fraud.
There is considerable speculation as to why Trump is not accepting the results and, more importantly, why he is being backed in his lies by some top Republicans. Trump is using the claims about fraud to fuel his fundraising, which seems like a reason for him to keep lying. While he is selling it to his base as being focused on the recount, 60% of a donation up to $8,333 goes to Trump’s new PAC and 40% goes to the RNC (which can, but is not required, to spend it on recounts). Trump and the RNC have a clear financial incentive to persist in actively burning down confidence in our democracy—these fires warm and guide his donors. They will, of course, eventually tap out the donors and even his supporters might grasp that this fundraiser is clearly not focused on funding a recount—if it were, the money would be going to funding the recount and not Trump’s PAC. The RNC is presumably not interested in wasting their money on pointless recounts—so they will likely use it for other purposes.
There is also speculation that top Republicans are backing Trump to avoid the consequences of his spite and rage—he could damage them if they dared accept the election results. He is also the undisputed master of a large and devoted base—they are clearly willing to embrace his lies even when doing so can cause their literal deaths and when he actively undermines the democracy they profess to love. The Republicans are making a clear partisan calculation: the damage being done to American democracy and the harms arising from a delayed transition are outweighed by the short term advantages they think they will gain. The obvious counter to all my claims would be evidence that the alleged fraud is real.
As noted in an earlier essay, I am treating Trump supporters seriously and with respect. This involves the two assumptions I mentioned. The first is that I assume they are being honest: they believe that fraud occurs, they believe what is presented to them as evidence, and they believe that this matter will be resolved in Trump’s favor. The second is an assumption of moral motivation. I am assuming that Trump supporters believe that political legitimacy rests on winning an election fairly. In the case of the presidential election, this involves winning the electoral college without fraud, suppression or other anti-democratic means. If these assumptions do not hold, then there is no reason to treat Trump’s supporters seriously and with respect. After all, this would mean that they are accomplices to Trump’s lies and are concerned with keeping Trump in power by rejecting the results of a legitimate election.
Because I am treating Trump’s supporters with the respect they deserve under these assumptions, I am willing to allow time for evidence to be gathered and court cases to be conducted: serious claims by honest and good people deserve their proper hearing. Voting fraud is not impossible and the Heritage Foundation has scoured the country in search of cases. While the Heritage Foundation did find cases of voter fraud, they seem to carefully avoid putting their information into context. For example, they state the number of cases of fraud they claim to have found but do not put that into a clear context of the number of total votes cast. This is problematic for the obvious reason that if you wanted to know the risk of something occurring or if it is a serious problem, you would need to have a meaningful context. Fortunately, the Brennan Center has done the work for them and complete an analysis of the Heritage Foundation’s report. But perhaps this is the year that the Heritage Center will be able to report tens of thousands of cases of fraud—I look forward to seeing that report.
While Trump and his team have had days in which to gather evidence and file cases, there is yet to be any evidence of voter fraud. His law suits have so far yielded no meaningful results. These failures present Trump and his supporters with a clear challenge: how do they keep claiming fraud when they have no evidence, when their claims are debunked, and the court cases fail because of their defects? Fortunately, they do have ways to keep it going.
One method is to generate new conspiracy theories. One approach is to craft theories that explain the lack of evidence. These theories do run into a bit of a paradox: they must explain why there is a lack of evidence while still allowing for evidence of fraud to both exist and be known to those claiming there is fraud. After all, if the fraud conspiracy were so good that they covered up all evidence, Trump’s people would have no way of knowing that the fraud occurred. After all, you cannot know that the perfect conspiracy has occurred. And if its is not a perfect conspiracy, then there would be evidence.
Another approach is to keep creating new stories of how fraud occurred—these can be new methods, new people, or new locations. So, if a claim about mail-in-ballot fraud in PA is not working, then a tale of voter machine manipulation can be floated. When that gets shot down, a new theory can be advanced. In theory, this could keep going until every possible story is used. The only limit would be the credulity of Trump’s supporters—but if they are honest believers, they should reach a point at which it is clear there is no evidence.
A second method is to claim that one has great evidence, but that it cannot be shown to the public yet. That is, you should believe today based on evidence that will be given tomorrow. The evidence, one assumes, will always be given tomorrow. Rudy Giuliani has been trying this tactic, along with serving up already debunked conspiracy theories. While, as I noted above, I am willing to allow time for Trump supporters to see the investigations and trials conducted, the evidence cannot always be waiting for tomorrow. If Giuliani has the evidence he claims, then he should use it and thus secure victory for Trump. If he does not have this evidence, then his tactic his clear—he is trying to run the clock as long as possible. Perhaps he honestly thinks some evidence will appear tomorrow and he needs to keep delaying. But it seems more likely that there are nefarious purposes—such as squeezing more donations from the base or whatever scam is being run this time.
I do wonder what Trump’s supporters will believe when Trump finally leaves office. If they are honest believers, they should take this as clear evidence that Trump never really believed in his claims of fraud. But I suspect that new theories will be crafted to explain this—that Trump has suffered a set back inflicted by the deep state but he is building his great army for both the Storm (as per the QAnon conspiracy) and retaking the White House that he won. When none of this happens, I do wonder what his supporters will do: will they keep believing in him despite the utter lack of evidence or will they finally become disillusioned with the lies and break with him?
But, of course, what would shut my liberal mouth would be the evidence promised by Giuliani—if he delivers that great proof that exposes the widespread voter fraud and the election is rightfully given to Trump, then I will have been shown to be wrong. And I will say to the Trump supporters: your faith is vindicated; I was wrong, and you were right. But the question is, are there any conditions under which they could do the same—where they could admit to being wrong? I believe that we shall have an answer to that.