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Stop the Steal: The Sequel

Get ready—it may be coming sooner than you think.
November 2, 2022
Stop the Steal: The Sequel
(Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Fact: As a political body, the GOP has fully embraced candidates and officeholders who deny the results of the 2020 election.

Question: Given that fact, if those election-denying candidates lose in the 2022 midterms, can anyone reasonably expect them to concede? Who is going to tell them they should? The state parties, donors, and other influential backers who rallied around their Stop the Steal fantasies? Fat chance.

Political observers are right to worry about election deniers and the 2024 election. But there is a more immediate threat. Marquee candidates such as Kari Lake won their primaries due to their dedication to the lost election cause. It’s what has made them famous. That makes it hard to believe that if she, and others like her, lose next week, they will change their tactics.

The only difference is that this time they are likely to have more institutional support from the so-called “normal” elected Republicans, as well as from the Republican voter base, who have happily gone along with various Stop the Steal stunts since 2020.

Some data points to consider:

  • A recent Washington Post tally found that nearly 300 Republicans running for congressional and state offices are election deniers. That means, as a FiveThirtyEight analysis found, 60 percent of Americans will have at least one election denier on their ballot next week.
  • From the New York Times: When asked, six Trump-backed Republican nominees for governor and the Senate in midterm battlegrounds would not commit to accepting this year’s election results.

That all creates the potential for a Stop the Steal sequel. The big mistake people have made is in assuming this could blow up only in an extensive struggle in 2024 and perhaps involving Donald Trump. What seems entirely unanticipated, yet is extremely predictable, is that smaller skirmishes could break out all over the country this year.

The Arizona scenario seems most combustible, especially considering how the state was plagued with the most absurd conspiracies that led to a charade of an “audit” conducted by the “Cyber Ninjas” that consumed the better part of 2021.

Lake may very well win her race for governor outright; as of this writing, she is up 3.2 points in both the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages. But should Lake lose her race, that loss will be certified by her opponent, Katie Hobbs, who has been Arizona’s secretary of state—the state’s top elections official—since 2019. Lake has repeatedly accused Hobbs of engaging in criminal activity throughout the 2020 election. With that baseline, it’s hard to imagine that Lake would, in good faith, assume Hobbs is running a fair election now.

For example, in an October 2021 appearance on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Lake called Hobbs “basically the mastermind of the 2020 election here in Arizona,” responsible for “fraud” and “what appears to be criminal activity,” and said she belongs “behind bars.”

“They broke numerous state laws, they broke numerous election laws, they should have never certified that election and Katie Hobbs sat there,” Lake claimed.

Last month, Jonathan Karl of ABC News asked Lake if she would accept a loss, and she toyed with whether she would trust a certification from Hobbs, calling it an “interesting conundrum”:

KARL: Why is it that you have not said—or maybe you’ll do it now—you have not said that you will accept the certified results of this election even if you lose this election?

LAKE: I will accept the results of this election if we have a fair, honest and transparent election, absolutely, 100 percent.

KARL: So if—if—if you were to lose—and you’re ahead, but if you were to lose, and you had all your appeals; they went through…

LAKE: As long as it’s fair, honest and transparent.

KARL: And certified. I mean, who’s going to determine that? Are you going to determine that, or—or what, if…

LAKE: It looks like my opponent might have to determine that. That’s an interesting…

KARL: Well, she is the secretary—she is the secretary of state.

LAKE: That’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it?

Bank on this: Should Lake lose, that conundrum will need resolving.

Another place for potential 2022 mayhem is Michigan, where the GOP’s nominees for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state are all on record as election deniers.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is behind in her race, but Matt DePerno, the GOP nominee for attorney general, is running neck-in-neck with his Democratic opponent. He is currently under investigation and facing possible criminal charges for his participation in a scheme to seize 2020 voting tabulators.

The GOP candidate for secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, is 8 points behind in her race and is already trying to disqualify votes. Karamo recently filed a lawsuit to invalidate tens of thousands of 2022 mail-in votes in Detroit. Her filing cites unproven claims from Dinesh D’Souza’s conspiracy film 2000 Mules and seeks to require all residents of Detroit, a traditional Democratic stronghold, to vote in person or obtain their ballots from a clerk’s office, even though the state allows all residents the option of voting by mail.

And in Pennsylvania, longshot GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano came out ahead in the primary largely because of the grassroots following he cultivated by embracing Stop the Steal conspiracies. Today, he is, on average, down 6.7 points in his race.

Mastriano is widely considered one of the most extreme political candidates in the country due to his dedication to decertifying the 2020 presidential election, as well as his positions on a range of other issues. But the GOP has accepted him, as well as Lake and other election deniers.

The best evidence of the acceptance of these extremists by the bulk of the GOP may be the alacrity with which potential 2024 presidential candidates have traveled to these battleground states to stump with these candidates. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis might be wary of engaging in 2020 false election claims himself, but he had no problem going to Pennsylvania and Arizona to boost Mastriano and Lake. Similarly, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin spoke to the Michigan Republican convention before hitting the road in five other states. And Lake is projecting such confidence in her race that she’s running advertisements in Pennsylvania and Michigan promoting her endorsement of Mastriano and Dixon.

If election-denying candidates win in 2022, there may be consequences for the 2024 election, as some will be in positions of power, with authority over future elections. But if they lose in 2022, is anyone prepared for the Stop the Steal sequel to come this soon? Even without Trump on the ballot, the GOP is all in.

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.