The results of the California recall election won’t be known until Tuesday night. But some Republicans are already predicting victory for the Democrat, Gov. Gavin Newsom, for a reason that should sound familiar.
Soon after the recall race was announced in early July, the embers of 2020 election denialism ignited into new false claims on right-wing news sites and social media channels. This vote, too, would supposedly be “stolen,” with malfeasance ranging from deceptively designed ballots to nefariousness by corrupt postal workers.
As a wave of recent polling indicated that Mr. Newsom was likely to brush off his Republican challengers, the baseless allegations accelerated. Larry Elder, a leading Republican candidate, said he was “concerned” about election fraud. The Fox News commentators Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson suggested that wrongdoing was the only way Mr. Newsom could win. And former President Donald J. Trump predicted that it would be “a rigged election.”
This swift embrace of false allegations of cheating in the California recall reflects a growing instinct on the right to argue that any lost election, or any ongoing race that might result in defeat, must be marred by fraud. The relentless falsehoods spread by Mr. Trump and his allies about the 2020 election have only fueled such fears.
“I very honestly believe there were irregularities and fraudulent activity,” Elena Johnson, 65, a teacher in Los Angeles County who was in the crowd at a rally for Mr. Elder last week in Ventura County, said of the presidential contest last year. “It was stolen.”
Because of her concerns about voter fraud in the 2020 election, Ms. Johnson said, she would be casting her ballot in person on Tuesday instead of by mail. She said she was supporting the Republican because she thought California, her adopted home after immigrating from the Philippines 40 years ago, was on the brink. “California is where I came, and California is where I want to stay,” she said.
Since the start of the recall, allegations of election fraud have been simmering on social media in California, with daily mentions in the low thousands, according to a review by Zignal Labs, a media tracking agency.
But singular claims or conspiracy theories, such as a selectively edited video purporting to show that people with a post office “master key” could steal ballots, have quickly ricocheted around the broader conservative ecosystem. The post office video surpassed one million views, amplified by high-profile Trump allies and members of the conservative news media.
Nationally, Republican candidates who deny the outcomes of their elections remain outliers. Hundreds of G.O.P. candidates up and down the ballot in 2020 accepted their defeats. But at the same time, many of them joined Mr. Trump in the assault on the presidential race’s outcome, and in other recent election cycles, candidates, their allies and the conservative news media have increasingly expressed doubts about the validity of the electoral process.
And while false claims of wrongdoing have long emerged in the days and weeks after elections, Republicans’ quick turn in advance of the California recall — a race that was always going to be a long shot for them in a deep-blue state — signals the growing normalization of crying fraud.
“This is baked into the playbook now,” said Michael Latner, an associate professor of political science at California Polytechnic Institute. As soon as the recall was official, he added, “you already started to see stories and individuals on social media claiming that, you know, they received five ballots or their uncle received five ballots.”
This is the GOP now. Every win is honest, every loss is a rigged election, even in a ridiculously blue state like California. The whole point of this is to justify the next round of violence. It worked on January 6th. It will work in other instances of political terrorism.
And why shouldn't Republicans claim voter fraud every single time? We refuse to give them a downside to doing so. There is no downside to claiming fraud for every single Republican loss, especially in states run by the GOP. And eventually in those states, elections where Democrats win are simply going to be overturned by Republicans in charge of states and elections.
I expect that in 2022, and I expect a lot of it, including entire state electoral slates, to simply be given to the Republican running in 2024. You will see states throw out Democratic wins and replace them with Republicans, full stop.
That's where this is going, folks.