With a few notable exceptions, Republican politicians are backing Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election. While most are not denying that Biden is President, they are reluctant to say that Biden won the election. They are also using the big lie to “justify” passing new restrictive voting laws. As such, they are claiming that the election system was badly flawed and needed extensive fixes. Yet Republican politicians (other than Trump) did very well in 2020. All this leads to a logical problem for the Republicans; so, it is fortunate that they seem to be immune to logic.
In a democracy, the legitimacy of an elected official depends on the legitimacy of the election that placed them in office. To the degree that an election is flawed, its legitimacy is undercut. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the Republicans are right: the election system of 2020 (and presumably earlier) was deeply flawed and allowed for widespread voter and/or election fraud. The flaws were so severe that extensive changes were needed to correct this deeply flawed system.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that the Republicans are right: the election system of 2020 (and presumably earlier) was deeply flawed and allowed for widespread voter and/or election fraud. The flaws were so severe that extensive changes were needed to correct this deeply flawed system. This does entail what most Republicans profess: the legitimacy of the election and Biden’s presidency would be in question. Let us also suppose that things are as bad as some Republicans have claimed: there was so much fraud that the 2020 election is completely illegitimate. This would also call into question previous elections using the same deeply flawed system. At this point, things would seem to be going just as the Republicans wish. And it would be if we simply stopped here and ignored what this also entails.
If the election of 2020 and earlier elections were illegitimate because of the flaws that elected Republicans are now attempting to fix with their restrictive laws, then it would also follow that all Republicans elected under that flawed system would be as illegitimate as Joe Biden. After all, if the defects of the 2020 election suffice to take away Biden’s legitimacy, then they would suffice to take away the legitimacy of the many Republicans elected in that same election and, presumably, earlier elections that had the same defects. This would entail that the Republicans passing laws to restrict voting are illegitimate and that citizens are thus under no moral obligation to heed their illegitimate laws. And now arises the dilemma.
If the Republicans claim that they are legitimately holding office, then they must assert that the elections were legitimate and thus the restrictions they have created are not necessary. The elections worked properly, and such extensive changes are unwarranted. This does not mean that the system cannot be improved, just that there is no justification for the “fixes” they are imposing on non-existent problems. Thus, if the fixes they are imposing are needed because of the widespread election and or voter fraud they are supposed to fix, then the Republicans elected under the previous system would be illegitimate. If they are legitimately holding office, then the elections went as all the evidence shows: correctly and securely.
To use an analogy, this is like a victorious athlete claiming that the system they are competing in is utterly illegitimate and needs to be fixed because the real winner of the biggest event was denied their victory. And, at the same time, they say that their victory in that same system was legitimate and they should be the ones to write the rules of competition going forward.
The obvious counter is to claim that the Democrats were behind it and hence the Republicans are completely legitimate. The easy and obvious reply is that there has been no evidence of widespread fraud and Trump and his fellows have been faring exceptionally badly in their lawsuits. In contrast, things have not been going well for the conspiracy theorists. There is also the fact that if the Democrats were engaged in rigging the election, they would have rigged the election—that is, the Democrats would have done much better in 2020.
While it would be evil and irresponsible to do so, the left could claim that the Republicans were the fraudsters. Interestingly, this has more plausibility than the Republican claims. First, the Republicans did very well in the 2020 election—so perhaps it was rigged by Republicans to get rid of Trump while allowing Republicans to do well down ballot. After all, while Republicans are backing Trump, they almost all expressed loathing for him before he won in 2016 and he was a deeply unpopular president.
Second, leftist conspiracy theorists could also point to the fact that Republicans are a numerical minority and hence should have done worse in a fair election. 49% of adults 18 and older claim membership in or leanings towards the Democratic Party. In contrast, only 40% identify as Republicans or Republican leaning. I do not subscribe to this; Republicans hold office disproportionately to the electorate because of things like voter suppression and gerrymandering rather than widespread election fraud.
Third, it is Republicans who have been accused (with evidence) of or caught committing fraud. In Wisconsin, 10 Republicans have been accused of committing voter fraud. North Carolina also featured an interesting election fraud case involving a Republican. While a conspiracy theorist could use a hasty generalization or anecdotal evidence fallacy to “argue” that Republicans are committing widespread fraud, that would be absurd. While Republicans do seem to be the ones most likely to be engaged in fraud, these cases are extremely rare, and the perpetrators are caught.
Obviously, I think that the election of 2020 was generally legitimate but this legitimacy entails that there is no need for the Republican laws restricting voting. Again, they are in a dilemma: if the election was illegitimate and their laws are needed, then they are illegitimate and lack the right to make laws. If the election was legitimate, then there is no need for their laws.