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If at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again.
Former President Trump and Republicans are falsely claiming that widespread voting fraud may keep them from winning California’s gubernatorial recall election Tuesday, pushing conspiracy theories to dismiss why Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has pulled ahead in the polls.
“Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged? 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!” Trump said in a Monday afternoon statement.
The leading GOP candidate in the race, radio host Larry Elder, has also pushed those claims in recent days.
“I believe that there might very well be shenanigans, as it were in the 2020 election,” Elder said last week.
He followed that up by arguing the only reason Trump’s frivolous 2020 lawsuits that sought to overturn his election loss didn’t work were “because the lawsuits were filed too late.” Elder pledged to sue over “anything suspicious” — and claimed “a lot of things have been suspicious so far.”
Elder initially said that Biden won the 2020 election “fair and square”—but he reversed course on that after GOP blowback, asking conservative voters to “give me a mulligan.”
The conservative echo chamber has pushed these conspiracy theories both in social media and on cable.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has been pushing the claims for weeks, claiming that Newsom and Democrats had pushed to send mail ballots to every voter because “they abet voter fraud.”
Those false claims show how much the party has woven his lies about election fraud into its DNA, even in deep blue states.
And they come as Newsom has opened up a double-digit lead in recent polls. If those polls are right, he’s likely to win by hundreds of thousands of votes.
“If you think a 20-point loss, and that’s what it looks like, is rigged, you’ve got some real cognitive problems,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, outside Los Angeles. “I think the magnitude of Newsom’s victory is going to put any serious doubts to rest. But there are a substantial number of people in the conservative movement that aren’t rational, to put it mildly, and they’re going to claim voter fraud no matter what.”
That’s evident from the drumbeat of attacks from conservatives.
“The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud,” right-wing commentator Tomi Lahren said on Fox News last week. “Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California, because it’s going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections.”
California does make it easier to vote than almost anywhere else. It began sending mail ballots to all registered voters in the state during the 2020 pandemic, a process that lawmakers extended to this election because the pandemic isn’t over. It’s also long had extended in-person early voting, allows organizations to help collect people’s ballots, and has secure drop boxes. But there’s no evidence that any of this has led to widespread voting fraud.
The Democratic-controlled legislature’s decision to send mail ballots to all registered voters has been the crux of GOP claims that this election is being rigged against them.
But ironically, it was California Republicans who managed to break the rules last election by setting up their own drop boxes. They were forced to remove them after the state sent a cease-and-desist order to the California Republican Party.
Those claims have been buttressed by so-called evidence like a selectively edited video of two women purportedly using a “master key” from a post office to steal mail ballots from mailboxes. The video was widely shared, getting hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook and Twitter after being promoted by conservatives as well as former “Man Show” and “Loveline” co-host Adam Carrolla.
Trump told Newsmax last week that the recall election was “probably rigged” for Newsom.
“The one thing they’re good at is rigging elections, so I predict it’s a rigged election,” Trump said.
Trump has long claimed with zero evidence that California is particularly prone to voter fraud. After losing the popular vote in 2016, he falsely claimed that "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer pointed to California as a state that should be investigated to back up that claim.
But Trump has never dropped those lies. In 2020 he falsely claimed that “millions” of California ballots had been sent to undocumented immigrants.
Trump even set up an official presidential advisory commission to try to prove his wild claims. But after months of work in 2017, it failed to turn up any evidence of widespread voting fraud.
Pitney, former Republican congressional staffer who left the party in the Trump era, warned that Republicans’ ongoing embrace of Trumpian lies about elections is dangerous to democracy.
“For a fair number of Republicans, no victory by a Democrat is legitimate. That’s fundamentally bad for the legitimacy of elections in general and democracy as well,” he said.” A lot of folks think the system is rigged, and that’s really bad. As we saw on January 6 that can lead to dire consequences. There’s a potential for disorder in the future.”