Trump supporter, angry, finger point
Thousands of Trump supporters converged on a small town for the Georgia Victory Rally in Valdosta, GA, on December 5, 2020. Photo credit: © Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
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It takes a while for the postelection dust to settle and a consensus to emerge about what “happened” and what it all “means.” 

This is especially true when elections have “mixed” results, as did last November’s — call it “Indecision 2022.” Democrats barely held the Senate; Republicans barely took the House; there was no “wave.”

But the one clear takeaway from 2022 is that voters soundly rejected the GOP’s most extreme standard-bearers. In nearly all competitive contests — in the crucial swing states and districts that determine the ultimate distribution of political power — far-right candidates denying the 2020 election results, depicting the January 6 mob as “tourists,” and/or peddling various “deep state” conspiracy theories went down to defeat. Across the country, the voters’ one clear message seemed to be: “Enough already with the crazy!”

It is a message the Republican Party seems determined to ignore. While many observers have noted this, few have asked why. Why would the GOP double down on crazy? 

Can a party be that tone deaf? Or politically suicidal? Or is there some rational plan at work here, some method to the GOP’s apparent madness, something more than a prayer and the conviction that God will drop everything else in 2024 and make sure the “destined” somehow get more votes?

Why would it head into 2024 fronted by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and yes, Donald Trump, singing the off-key lead vocals that got them booed off the stage in the states that matter when it comes to national control? 

Why do they plan to investigate the stuffing out of Hunter Biden and various members of Joe Biden’s Cabinet; strip the likes of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and others who worked to hold Donald Trump and his cohorts to account, of committee assignments; pull funding from Ukraine, the fight against global warming, and various other popular causes; make it still harder to vote or obtain health care and easier to get a gun; etc.?

In short, why govern in a way that is so unpopular, so out of step with public sentiment and against the public interest, as to passionately court electoral defeat, a genuine drubbing in 2024? 

Can a party be that tone deaf? Or politically suicidal? Or is there some rational plan at work here, some method to the GOP’s apparent madness, something more than a prayer and the conviction that God will drop everything else in 2024 and make sure the “destined” somehow get more votes?

Let’s go back to 2020, specifically the months leading up to the election. A consensus formed among pre-Stop the Steal election integrity advocates that a dual threat loomed: the familiar danger that various hidden thumbs could be put on the electoral scales and the new danger that legitimate election results might be challenged, and the peaceful transfer of power put in jeopardy.

The latter threat was signaled by Trump in the run-up to the election and taken seriously enough to draw the attention of mainstream scholars, such as Amherst College Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought Lawrence Douglas, whose book Will He Go? analyzed various disruptive postelection scenarios.

Virtually every forensic indicator, at every level, suggested that, if there had been a steal, it was in the opposite direction. 

Douglas’s concerns proved prescient, as Trump not only refused to concede defeat but built a new brand around his purported victimization, the theft of his “sacred landslide.” Dozens of court challenges ensued and, when they all failed, an unprecedented populist appeal reached a boiling point in the January 6 storming of the Capitol. It also spawned a new politics of election denial, with its avatars on ballots all over the country.

Lost in the Stop the Steal shuffle was an objective analysis of the actual statistics of the 2020 election, first presented in WhoWhatWhy and updated here. Virtually every forensic indicator, at every level, suggested that, if there had been a steal, it was in the opposite direction. 

Not only had Biden’s victory margin been cut nearly in half after being measured at more than 12 million votes by both preelection and validated exit polls, but key Democrats down the ballot saw predicted victories turn to defeats. And there was also data suggesting that millions of intended Democratic ballots had “disappeared” — either not successfully cast or not counted — in various blue strongholds.

Most egregiously, out of the 26 US House contests rated as “toss-ups” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, every one was won by the GOP candidate (and six additional “Lean Democrat” contests also went to the GOP, while the GOP lost none of its own leaners). As the ratings were the product of extensive, aggregated polling — and as chance would produce such a pattern once in roughly a hundred million times — there were only two ways to explain this situation: either a massive, systemic polling failure or a thumb on the vote-counting scales.

But the Democrats, immensely relieved to be rid (they thought) of Trump and in no mood to further rock the boat, let all that pass unexamined. 

In effect, Stop the Steal preempted all other challenges and the Democrats, non-MAGA election officials, and the media all painted themselves into the same corner, asserting that the election was “perfect” — the “most secure ever.”

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The pollsters, for their part, saw fit to “correct” their polls, as Philip Bump recounted in The Washington Post, tweaking their sampling methodology still further to the right so that the embarrassing “failure” of 2020 (and, to a lesser extent, previous elections) would not recur in 2022.

The “correction” seems to have “worked,” as both preelection and exit polls wound up getting Election 2022 “right” (with only a couple of exceptions, of which Florida was the most glaring). So we can expect the rightward tweak of the polls to be sustained in 2024.

Meanwhile, in this November’s election, voters gave a big thumbs-down to all but a very few election deniers running for statewide office with the power to influence the conduct of elections. Though many of the key contests were distressingly close, there was no mistaking the sweeping verdict.

So, to put it all together: The GOP, with or without Trump, seems poised to pursue their unpopular agenda to the max and take no prisoners; the polls have been tweaked far enough to the right now to “cover” outcome-altering voter suppression and vote count mistabulation schemes; and the country — at least the non-MAGA part of it — has had it with Stop the Steal and election denial

What does the confluence of all this portend for 2024?

Unfortunately, it sets Election 2024 up on a tee for the GOP to steal. For 20 years, my pre-Stop the Steal election integrity colleagues and I have made the case that our elections are vulnerable to both overt and covert interference and manipulation. Given the prevailing nontransparency of the counting process, the proliferation of barcode ballot-marking devices, and the generally sorry state of auditing and verification protocols, that vulnerability is still very much with us. 

Were bad actors to exploit it for the benefit of Republican candidates, what would the result be?

Was Stop the Steal in any way intended to trigger the “our elections are perfect” response and thus clear the way for future rigging?

First, the right-tweaked polls would show little or no disagreement with right-tweaked vote counts. Then, whatever disagreement there might be would again be ascribed to “polling failure,” as has become habitual. And, perhaps most significantly, even if a “red shift” were to emerge — large enough to hand Trump, DeSantis, and/or key down-ballot GOP candidates dubious victories — what support would there be for any new Stop the Steal-type challenge from the left? 

It’s pretty clear what the answer would be: none.

To what extent this perilous situation has come about by design is an open question. Was Stop the Steal in any way intended to trigger the “our elections are perfect” response and thus clear the way for future rigging? Did all the election deniers (except Kari Lake) who, surprisingly, conceded their lost elections in 2022 “get the memo,” as those concessions give the GOP standing to shoot down any challenges by losing Democrats in 2024? And is the GOP confident they can be grossly unpopular and still “win” in 2024 because the election is begging to be stolen?

Perhaps none of these speculations holds much water. And perhaps Moore v. Harper — the Supreme Court case that John Eastman, among others on the far right, seems to be counting on to empower MAGA-dominated state legislatures to hornswoggle GOP victories — will turn out to be a dud. 

But then we are left with the impression that the Republicans are simply out to commit political suicide. It remains to be seen whether they go through with it and pull the trigger. But if they do — if they set about thoroughly alienating, frightening, or disgusting voting majorities in states and districts they need to win — it is a fair question whether they are really that collectively crazy. Or whether they, like Dr. Strangelove, have a plan.

Jonathan D. Simon, a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy, was executive director of Election Defense Alliance from 2006 to 2016 and is the author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.


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