Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate in Tuesday night’s California gubernatorial recall election, is asking supporters to fill out an online form to report alleged fraud, noting that “statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor.”
The only problem? The election hasn’t happened yet.
And while we won’t officially know whether Newsom holds onto his job until, at the earliest, the wee hours Wednesday morning on the East Coast, it’s already clear that no matter the outcome – which, if polling is accurate, suggests Newsom will beat the recall relatively easily – Republicans from former President Donald Trump on down will cry foul, insisting as they did in the 2020 election that significant voter fraud occurred.
“Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?,” Trump asked in a statement sent from his Save America PAC late Monday. “Millions and millions of Mail-In Ballots will make this just another giant Election Scam, no different, but less blatant, than the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!”
This turn to the new Big Lie is bigger than California and this recall election. What it suggests is that every single time a Republican looks likely to fall short in an election, the Trumpist forces in the party will scream “FRAUD” – and, unfortunately, a whole heck of a lot of people will believe them despite the claim lacking any grounding in the truth.
As Axios’ Sara Fischer noted earlier this week, citing social media data collected by Zignal Labs, there were more than 145,000 mentions of “fraud” in social media posts tied to the recall between June 1 and September 1. The phrases “voter fraud” and “rigged” or “rigging” found their way into more than 60,000 social media posts over that same period of time.
What all that means is that rather than thinking of the 2020 election and the Big Lie propagated by Trump as a one-off or the end of the Trump era, it is actually rightly understood as the beginning of a new era in Republican politics.
After all, almost 6 in 10 Republicans say that believing Trump won the 2020 election is central to being a Republican, according to new CNN polling. And, if you already believe that the 2020 election was taken from you – despite zero evidence – what’s throwing the California recall in to your conspiracy theory too?
What’s even scarier is that – again, if polls are correct – the California recall isn’t expected to even be close. Newom is expected to prevail on the first question by a comfortable margin, making claims of voter fraud or election irregularities all the harder for the normal person to swallow. After all, a heavily Democratic state voting to keep a relatively popular Democratic governor is not exactly a stunning development.
That the likes of Trump and Elder are trying to sell the cheating message even in the California recall suggests that this will be their modus operandi in every election going forward. Take Virginia, which is playing host to a genuinely competitive governor’s race this year between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. Is it hard to believe – given what we”ve seen play out in California – that Trump won’t cry foul if Youngkin loses (or, knowing Trump, even if Youngkin wins).
And every time we have an election where the former President and his minions tell people not to believe in the accuracy of the result, the more ground erodes under the feet of American democracy. If we get to a point where 30% of the country will simply never accept the result of an election unless their preferred candidate won 100 to 0, the more danger we are in of losing the very thing that has made this country truly great over hundreds of years.