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Election Deniers: Down But Not Yet Out

MAGA Republicans pay a price for denying reality. But they didn’t lose everywhere, and they’re not going away.
November 15, 2022
Election Deniers: Down But Not Yet Out
US President Donald Trump supporters demonstrating against the election results march to the Supreme Court to protest against the Court's decision not to overturn the election, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Thousands of protesters who refuse to accept that President-elect Joe Biden won the election rallied ahead of the electoral college vote to make Trump’s 306-to-232 loss official. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

John Gibbs was everything that MAGA Republicans could have hoped for in a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The former Trump administration housing official running for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District was a true believer in the Big Lie, asserting that for Trump to have lost the 2020 election, despite receiving more votes than he did in his first successful bid for the presidency, was “mathematically impossible.” (It’s not: John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and Grover Cleveland have all done so before.)

Gibbs, with Trump’s endorsement, bumped off incumbent GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, one of just ten Republican House members who voted to impeach the then-president for his role in the January 6th insurrection. Gibbs looked to be the likely general election winner in a West Michigan district that has not elected a Democrat for decades. He checked all the boxes for what a MAGA Republican should be.

A die-hard culture warrior, Gibbs called on his campaign website for critical race theory to be “aggressively terminated” from being taught in the public schools, where it is already not being taught. A proven paranoid, he warned, “Political prisoners are being held in solitary confinement for months on end for misdemeanor crimes” and “The Joe Biden DOJ amasses lists of tens of millions of gun owners.” A black man, he sought to warm the cockles of white folks’ hearts by saying that black people were disproportionately more likely to commit murder and “almost all other types of crime as well.” An election-result denier, he promised a “full forensic audit of what happened in 2020.”

Gibbs even had a campaign issue category labeled “Let’s Go Brandon.”

Despite such stands, or perhaps because of them, Gibbs decisively lost the November 8 election, garnering just 42 percent of the vote against Democrat Hillary Scholten, who got 55 percent. Scholten, an immigration lawyer who has worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, had run for the same seat in 2020. That year she lost to Meijer, 53 to 47 percent.

“It is a new day in West Michigan,” Scholten told supporters the day after the election. Instead of chest-thumping about culture war issues, Scholten pledges on her website to improve access to healthcare, defend reproductive choice, invest in small businesses, strengthen public schools, fight climate change, end partisan gerrymandering, and support “common-sense gun safety reforms.”

A similar dynamic played out in Washington State’s 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, who together with her husband owns a small auto-repair shop, beat Trump-endorsed Republican Joe Kent, who in August ousted incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the GOP primary. Beutler was also among the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Kent is an election denier and January 6th insurgency supporter who promised that his priorities as a member of the House would be “Impeachment, oversight, obstruction.”

Kent’s team is now trying to “cure” ballots that were rejected due to issues like a signature mismatch. As the race was called on Saturday, Kent tweeted “this is not over.” He then appeared in an interview with Steve Bannon on Monday, telling the former Trump strategist “we still have about 30 percent of the ballots that still need to be tabulated” and that many more Republican votes might still turn up in the thousands of ballots that need to be cured.

In Michigan, Democrats won control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time in four decades, riding a wave that delivered a comeuppance to election deniers across the land. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the target of a right-wing plot to kidnap and likely kill her, easily defeated GOP challenger Tudor Dixon, who has claimed that Trump won the state in 2020 (he got more than 150,000 fewer votes). Matthew DePerno, an attorney who worked on an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to block the state’s election results, lost his bid to unseat Michigan’s Democratic attorney general. And Kristina Karamo, who the Detroit Free Press said “leveled baseless claims of election misconduct” in 2020, failed to oust Michigan’s secretary of state.

Karamo, in defeat, proved that old habits die hard, tweeting this on election night:

It’s a sign that MAGA Republicans will not be going gently into that good night.

Across the nation, extreme right candidates backed by the disgraced former president went down in flames, prompting GOP pollster Whit Ayres to air his wit to the Associated Press: “It turns out that trying to overturn an election is not wildly popular with the American people.”

But in fact, a number of election deniers were elected to Congress, and others took key state offices including governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. According to the New York Times, more than 220 of the 370 key candidates the paper previously identified as being deniers or skeptics won their races last week. This includes more than 30 Republicans who “explicitly denied the results of the 2020 election.” Of this latter group, “Most are incumbents, and all were favored to win.”

In races for Congress, said the Times, “more than a dozen Republicans who explicitly said the 2020 election was stolen or rigged have been elected to the House. They include newcomers like Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, who said she believed that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election.”

According to a tally compiled by CNN, eight of the 22 Republican candidates for governor who have at least questioned the results of the 2020 election have won their races, and 13 lost, with one race yet to be called. Among the winners is Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama, who aired an ad during the GOP primary in which she said “The fake news, Big Tech, and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump.”

The losers include Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, who worked ardently to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, including chartering buses to Trump’s riot warm-up rally in Washington. Here, Democrats employed a risky gambit of helping Mastriano in the primary, believing he would be easier to defeat. He ended up getting clobbered by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

In Arizona, MAGA star Kari Lake, who called the 2020 election “corrupt and stolen,” lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s current secretary of state. On Sunday, even before the race was called, Lake charged that Hobbs’s failure to step aside from doing the job she was elected to do constituted “a major ethical problem.” According to Lake, “She will be the one that would certify the election. She has a lot to do with registration, voter registration, all kinds of things . . .”

Lake’s right: The office of secretary of state in Arizona and other states does entail election administration and oversight. However, the issue is not whether someone from one party or another is in charge of these essential functions, but whether they will act corruptly, as several MAGA candidates for secretary of state have all but promised to do.

Of the twelve election skeptics or deniers running for secretary of state, CNN’s tally shows, eight lost and four won. The losers include Mark Finchem in Arizona, who has proclaimed “Donald Trump won” and that the election was “a fraud” and “rigged,” and Jim Marchant in Nevada, who declared that it is “almost statistically impossible that Joe Biden won.” Among the winners are Chuck Gray in Wyoming, who branded Biden’s 2020 election “illegitimate,” and Diego Morales in Indiana, who has called the 2020 election “a scam.”

For the U.S. Senate, 10 election deniers were elected and eight defeated, with the race in Georgia between incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP father figure Herschel Walker headed for a runoff election in early December. Among the winners are newcomer J.D. Vance in Ohio and incumbent Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has baselessly contended, “The fraud happened. The election in many ways was stolen.” The losers include Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Blake Masters in Arizona, and Adam Laxalt in Nevada.

Trump, with characteristic tackiness, lashed out at others including his wife, Melania, for having advised him to back Oz, reportedly describing this as “not her best decision,” according to a tweet from journalist Maggie Haberman. (Cracked Times columnist Gail Collins: “OK, folks. Think about people Melania Trump has decided to align herself with over the course of her life and tell me whether you think Dr. Oz was the worst selection.”)

Naturally, Trump denied there is any truth to reports that he was angry over an election result that clearly cast him as a liability to the GOP. “I wasn’t the one running!” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Remember, I am a ‘Stable Genius.’”

How could we forget?

Over in the Granite state, Bolduc, after winning the GOP primary, tried to back away from the claims he had made that the election was stolen from Trump. But he was never able to rid himself of the stink arising from his Trumpian detachment from reality. In the final week of the campaign, he doubled down on his insane contention that a New Hampshire school was putting out litter boxes for students who identify as “furries and fuzzies,” saying it was up to his critics to prove this was not true: “I don’t need to prove it to them.”

As The Bulwark’s Tim Miller has pointed out, this entirely false claim about the woke educational system’s accommodations to cat children has become a GOP talking point—espoused, according to NBC News, by at least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials. Among them are freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who recently claimed that this was happening in Durango, saying “This is how extreme it is.”

Boebert, who three days after the events of January 6th tweeted: “Hillary must be pissed it took the DNC until 2020 to successfully rig an election,” has a narrow lead in her bid for reelection against Democratic challenger Adam Frisch. The race was much closer than anyone expected—Colorado’s 3rd Congressional district has not elected a Democrat since 2008—and still has not been called; it will almost certainly trigger an automatic recount.

One of the issues that remains to be decided: Will Boebert be saying she won the election fair and square, or that it was stolen from her due to rampant fraud?

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.