In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, a number of Republicans felt … not shame, exactly, but some measure of concern that even their base might not hold with the idea of conducting a violent insurgency to overturn an election. Those concerns were not strong enough to prevent eight senators from voting to refuse to accept the results of the Electoral College even after the Senate filed back into place after the National Guard arrived on scene. It certainly didn’t bother some of the 147 Republicans in the House who voted for the same thing. That included Rep. Mo Brooks, whose speech on the rally stage included repeatedly encouraging those present to take violent action, and who claimed he had “discerned soon after the November 3 election that honest American citizens have been victims of the largest voter fraud and election theft scheme in American history.”
Still, on Jan. 6 itself, overturning the election was a minority position in the Republican Party. Even most of those like Kevin McCarthy, who defended casting their vote to please Trump, did so while making this clear: “The debate and votes were not about overturning an election or federalizing elections. Last night Congress fulfilled its constitutional duty, and Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States.” There were only four representatives on record—Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Ronny Jackson, and Marjorie Taylor Greene—who were willing to stand up and say they felt that the election was decided by voter fraud.
Then a funny thing happened. Republicans did the same prairie dog act that followed every moment of extremism over the last four years. They cautiously sniffed around, issuing statements of concern. They braced to bolt should this prove to be a step too far. Then, when it became clear that nothing is too far for the Q-loving base, they rushed back in to adopt the extremism as if they had never had a doubt about the justice of … calling Mexicans rapists, scorning Gold Star families, sneering at NATO, embracing Russia, calling veterans losers, openly cheering on Nazis, and, yup, attempting to overturn the election.
And over time, the Big Lie moved from something that was the particular madness of one man to an ever more central tenet of the Republican Party.
In Arizona, the “forensic audit” being carried out in Maricopa County by the inexperienced Trump fans at Cyber Ninjas is locked in stasis after the ballots were all counted, machines were all examined, interviews were all conducted, yet the Ninjas keep insisting that it’s not enough. It’s not enough because they didn’t find anything. They didn’t find anything because there was nothing to find. At the same time their count was going on, the state’s county election officials conducted a ballot-by-ballot review of every county, including Maricopa. What they found was a total of 182 objectionable ballots in the whole state. Only a few of these ballots are thought to represent real intentional action, and the whole set is divided about equally between Republicans and Democrats.
What’s clear in Arizona is that the “audit,” which has already missed at least two deadlines, has no real end. It can’t be allowed to end unless they find widescale fraud, and there is no fraud, so it can’t end.
So what happens now? Well … why not do the same thing in Pennsylvania? Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by over 80,000 votes, putting it outside the range of any reasonable recount, or even any imaginable means of fraud. That hasn’t stopped Republicans in the state legislature from waging a months-long war to engage in an Arizona-style “audit” to provide Trump with more ammunition for his false claims. Despite repeated objections from Republican officials across the state, supporting such an audit has become de rigueur for Republicans heading into the 2022 election. The Associated Press is now reporting that supporting such an audit is “a litmus test in an election cycle where an open governor’s office and an open U.S. Senate seat”—and it seems ever more likely to happen.
Who is the driving force behind the demand? That would be state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who claims Trump asked him to run for governor. Mastriano isn’t just pushing for the audit—it’s become the focus of his campaign and his fundraising. Other Republicans are falling into support because they’re more afraid of letting Mastriano be seen as closer to Trump than they are of taking action that at best wastes massive amounts of money fruitlessly, and at worst fundamentally undermines democracy.
But wait. Pennsylvania is not alone in facing their own increasingly probable Ninja-style election slice and dice. Another state where a push for such an action is gaining steam is … Texas.
As The Washington Post reports, the Republican-dominated Texas state legislature is edging ever closer to putting in their own request to get their ballots sniffed for bamboo. Democratic officials have tried to remind Republicans of two things: One, there is absolutely no evidence of any fraud. Two, Trump already won Texas.
It doesn’t matter. Because at this point Republicans have already written the idea that Trump lost because of fraud into the record books. That’s a GOP-given. The new target can be simply described as “voting: how can there be less of it?” Months before the 2020 election, Trump claimed that he couldn’t possibly lose, and that any results showing that he lost are proof of fraud. For 2022, Republicans want to make that an absolute truism by making sure that any result they don’t like can simply be set aside.
In any case, it sure is nice that all these states are stepping up to pay for useless audits designed to do nothing but demonstrate loyalty to Trump and provide more fuel for the Big Lie. Because Trump’s not doing it. Despite having collected $75 million for a PAC supposedly aimed at fighting election fraud, “the group has not devoted funds to help finance the ongoing ballot review in Arizona or to push for similar endeavors in other states.” And really, why should they?
Now that they’ve touched the stove and found it not all that hot, Republicans are increasingly happy about supporting the Big Lie. That’s because, unlike many of Trump’s statements (like hating POWs) that at worst provide no benefit, this one certainly does. Backed by the Big Lie, Republicans are not just calling for nonsense audits, they’re passing hundreds of laws across the nation to make it harder for people to vote, altering the balance to make sure that together with the already lopsided Senate and gerrymandered districts, they can land a thousand-year right. Or reich. Whatever.
Too bad that ending a Senate rule that everyone acknowledges is a relic of the Jim Crow era would cause more “chaos” than allowing democracy to be destroyed. Guess this is why we can’t have nice things.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.