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Get Ready for the Foreign-Ballot Conspiracy

The gaslighting has already begun.
September 8, 2020
Get Ready for the Foreign-Ballot Conspiracy
A woman votes at a polling site in Queens during the New York Democratic presidential primary elections on June 23, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

What I’m about to tell you may sound nuts. That is, until you remember who the president is and everything he has done thus far to convince his base that the election is rigged against him. The only question is how far he will push the story.

In this case, President Trump has already given away the plot. Check out this tweet of his from June:

So the president has already laid the groundwork for claiming that foreign intervention will damage the integrity of the 2020 election. And he has an incredibly powerful government ally joining him in pushing the foreign-ballot narrative: Attorney General Bill Barr.

For a profile of Barr published in the New York Times back in early June, reporter Mattathias Schwartz asked the attorney general about Trump’s Twitter broadsides against mail-in voting. Wrote Schwartz: “Barr quickly seized the opportunity to float a new theory: that foreign governments might conspire to mail in fake ballots.” Meaning, this was a message that Barr, a highly trained and experienced lawyer, deliberately wanted to push.

“I haven’t looked into that,” [Barr] cautioned, offering no evidence to substantiate that this was a real possibility. But he called it “one of the issues that I’m real worried about,” and added: “We’ve been talking about how, in terms of foreign influence, there are a number of foreign countries that could easily make counterfeit ballots, put names on them, send them in. And it’d be very hard to sort out what’s happening.”

Lest anyone think this was a one-off comment from Barr, he revisited the topic with the same evidence-free talking points, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this past Wednesday:

BLITZER: You’ve said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people that it might be impossible to detect. What are you basing that on?

BARR: I’m basing — as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m basing that on logic.

BLITZER: Pardon?

BARR: Logic.

BLITZER: But have you seen any evidence that a foreign country is trying to interfere in that way?

BARR: No, I’m saying people are concern[ed] about foreign influence. And if we use a ballot system with the system that some, you know, that states are just now and trying to adopt, it does leave open the possibility of counterfeiting. Counterfeiting ballots either by someone here or someone overseas.

BLITZER: So you think a foreign country could do that?

BARR: I think anyone could do it.

BLITZER: Have you seen any evidence that they’re trying to do that?

BARR: No. But most things can be counterfeited. That’s why we go to the trouble of, you know, counter — of making our money the way we make it.

“Logic.” Yes, it’s logical in the sense that this is how conspiracy theories work. They thrive in part because they are unfalsifiable. No one can prove or disprove a hypothetical. That’s the beauty of them. Just because you’ve never seen the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or a tactical Antifa force unit on a plane doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

All Trump and Barr need is a friend to produce some evidence for their conspiracy theory. Maybe, oh, in the form of a classified report that just so happens to leak to Sean Hannity. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict where this will go: No need to worry much about Russia interfering in the election; China is the real problem. You know—that country already flooding America with counterfeit goods. First, they came for electronic products and designer purses. Then, our ballots.

The good news is that Trump, Barr, and company are like cartoon villains who, in a slow-rolling monologue, reveal their evil plan to anyone watching the show. Election watchers already know to prepare for the possibility of a contested election. One that rests on Trump’s idea alleging the presence of counterfeit Chinese ballots has to be put into that mix.

Maybe, just maybe, though, Trump’s counterfeit-ballot conspiracy theory is a way he’s trying to save face. Given the polling, he, too, has to make preparations. Preparations to lose and explain to the public what happened to the supposed greatest president in history.

He’ll never blame himself, of course. And, in his mind, you can see how it would be a bit of warped, ‘bothsides,’ poetic justice if he could blame his loss on the supposed intervention of a foreign country, in the way he thinks Democrats explained away their loss in 2016. He wouldn’t be a loser; he’d be a victim of the country he’s said has been “ripping us off” all along.

He could demand a congressional investigation. Or demand that the new Biden administration face the scrutiny of a special prosecutor. He could call for the election results to be overturned, even when the process is long over and no mechanism for such an overturning exists. What would stop him? Remember, this kind of evidence-free demand for investigations of a sitting Democratic president is what Trump’s 2016 campaign was based upon. It’s what made him the most powerful man on Earth. It’s what he does. It’s who he is. And it would keep him relevant, especially to his Fox News-InfoWars base, through Biden’s presidency.

All of this only sounds crazy if you haven’t been paying attention.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.