The ex-President’s power to force elements of his Republican Party to reject democratic values is in evidence yet again as his acolytes seek to discredit an election that took place 10 months ago, that was certified by states and the US Congress and that he lost fair and square to President Joe Biden.
Hours after Trump published a public letter to Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott demanding an election audit, the office of Texas’ secretary of state announced Thursday that the process had already begun in the two largest Democratic counties and the two biggest Republican counties, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin. Trump wrote in his letter that “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties. Let’s get to the bottom of the 2020 presidential election scam!”
The audit will take place even though there is no evidence that the election in the Lone Star State was compromised or saw any significant voter fraud. And Trump won the state easily. The Texas Tribune reported in May that an official in the secretary of state’s office had earlier reported to state lawmakers that 2020 voting in Texas was “smooth and secure.”
The move is part of a wider effort by Trump to initiate partisan reviews like the one in Arizona to convince Americans of his lies that he was cheated out of office. Audits could also be used by pro-Trump Republicans to justify sweeping state election laws across the country that make it more difficult for minorities and Democrats to vote and easier for partisan officials to interfere in the certification of elections.
In the case of Texas, the audit appears to be another sign of how Trump is able to force state officials — especially those, like Abbott, who may be hoping to mount future presidential runs and need to stay in good standing with the ex-President’s base — to carry out his undemocratic will. The process will also raise questions about whether a partisan state administration can be trusted to report fairly on how the election was conducted in Democratic counties.
The stunning news from Texas came hours before American democracy was due to cross another dangerous new threshold, when Republicans in the Arizona state Senate present results of the chaotic election audit they ordered in a state that Trump lost. The investigation went ahead despite the fact that there had been multiple official hand counts of votes and multiple courts cases that had debunked Trump’s claims of fraud, that the election had been certified and Biden is rightfully President. The firm charged with the audit by Republicans, Cyber Ninjas, had no experience in elections, has links to Trump’s orbit and conducted a bizarre process carried out in secrecy.
But the release of the report into vote counts, voting machines and other aspects of the election will still offer the allegations a veneer of respectability when it is unveiled amid the imagery of officialdom by Republicans in the Arizona Legislature. And it will create a precedent of interference in vote counting and election certification, which was previously seen as walled off from politicization, that threatens to taint elections in 2022, 2024 and for years to come.
The Arizona “audit” has also, as CNN’s Fredreka Schouten reported on Thursday, seeded a flurry of attempts to hold copycat reexaminations of already certified election results in battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump lost — and even in some states where he won.
All of these ongoing threats to faith in American democracy arise out of Trump’s election night claim, “Frankly, we did win this election.” The path that the ex-President took led to a cascade of consequences that underscore that while he left the White House on January 20, the threat he poses to American democracy is still growing.
- New evidence emerged this week that Trump was working off a step-by-step plan for a coup as Congress certified Biden’s election win on January 6, drawn up by conservative lawyer John Eastman.
- The Senate select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection issued four subpoenas on Thursday striking at the heart of Trump’s orbit as it seeks to find out what was going on around the ex-President on that fateful day. The panel, in its first round of letters, targeted former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, former adviser Steve Bannon and Kash Patel, a former chief of staff to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.
- Multiple Republican-run states have passed laws designed to suppress Democratic and minority votes — all justified by Trump’s false claims of fraud.
- Some 78% of Republicans, according to a recent CNN/SSRS poll, now believe — after months of Trump’s propaganda — that Biden didn’t win the election.
- Trump’s lie is infecting the next US election, as he wields his valuable endorsement to make acceptance of his debunked voter fraud claims the price of entry for Republican candidates. Many of these endorsements appear designed to insert his allies into power in offices like state secretary of state and attorney general, where they may be able to influence future elections.
Taken together, these steps, plus the Texas and Arizona audits, reveal a broad effort by Trump and his acolytes to fog the truth about the 2020 election. But they are also meant to provide a rationale and power base for a possible new Trump tilt at the White House in 2024 and to potentially establish a mechanism to steal power.
Trump still fuming over Arizona
Arizona is an especially sore point for the ex-President, who was furious when Fox News, which he regarded as an extension of his team, called the state for Biden on election night, well ahead of other news organizations.
The state was also one of several, including swing states like Georgia and Pennsylvania, where elected officials from both parties and professional election staff stood firm against extraordinary pressure from Trump to change the results. The former President quickly turned against a former favorite, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who presided over the certification of the election results after saying he was sworn to uphold the law.
The ex-President was still fuming over Ducey’s role on Thursday, calling him a “lousy governor” and a “true RINO” (Republican in name only) in an interview with John Fredericks on Real America’s Voice, a conservative network. And the ex-President showed that he has high expectations for the Arizona sham audit. “I think the report is going to be very good. I hope they don’t soften it,” Trump said in an interview that he also used to make a delusional claim that he had won not just Arizona, but also Minnesota in 2020, where he lost to Biden by 7 points.
Arizona was much closer. Biden won the state and its 11 electoral votes by just over 10,400 votes after prevailing in Maricopa — the most populous county — following a cliffhanger count that dragged on for days, by 45,000 votes.
Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, an elected Republican who is responsible for election administration, last month published a 38-page open letter stating bluntly that “The November 2020 Election Wasn’t Stolen.”
“Nobody stole Maricopa County’s election,” he wrote. “Elections in Maricopa County aren’t rigged.” In an op-ed piece for CNN.com this week, he blasted the Republican-commissioned “forensic” audit. He said Cyber Ninjas hadn’t been transparent, and that it refused to disclose information on its auditing practices and used “bizarre” ballot examination methods. CNN reporters also exposed the secrecy and unscientific conditions in which much of the audit was conducted.
Given the lack of a genuine need for the investigation, it has long been clear that the process had two aims. First, to discredit Biden’s victory in the key county, Maricopa, that helped him become the first Democrat to win the Grand Canyon State since 1996 on the way to the White House. The second and even more important goal was to appease Trump and curry favor with his core supporters, whose devotion is the driving force within the GOP today.
Just the fact of a fake audit being conducted by a party whose candidate lost an election certified as free and fair marks a political aberration. But the willingness of so many people to buy into a demonstrably false “Big Lie” to keep or win power that mushroomed from the then-President’s egotistical refusal on election night to admit that he lost to Biden is extraordinary.
The process is also a symbol of the shameless misinformation and assault on truth now perpetrated by large sections of the Republican Party and a conspiracy-theory-driven conservative media. And it’s one of the more extreme expressions of the culture of the confidence trick at the center of Trumpism.