Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Trumpists Still Pushing Election Fraud Claims and Conspiracy Theories

Regent University livestream gets bonkers.
by Jim Swift
March 24, 2021
Trumpists Still Pushing Election Fraud Claims and Conspiracy Theories
Michele Bachmann, hosting a livestream about the 2020 election, March 23, 2021.

Because I am a masochist, I subjected myself to a cavalcade of crazy yesterday. I watched / listened to much of the seven hours of a nutso livestream from Regent University masquerading as an academic forum on “election integrity.”

Enough falsehoods were spewed by the speakers sponsored by Pat Robertson’s school yesterday to merit two-dozen rebuttal articles—but in the interest of time, I’ll just give you some broad strokes.

First, I would like to note that the emcee of the event was former Republican congresswoman, failed presidential candidate, and dean (!) of the Robertson School of Government, Michele Bachmann.

This is a woman who, after election day last year, asked God to #StopTheSteal in a prayer. I am not kidding:

Her opening statement yesterday was . . . really quite something. Do our votes even count anymore? she wondered. Did the pilgrims give us Biblical principles that are no longer being followed today? What about the elites and their pursuit of continued power? Is cancel culture coming after people who question the results of the 2020 election? (Brad Raffensperger, don’t answer that.)

Already I knew it was going to be a long day.

After Bachmann spoke, there was an opening prayer offered by Eric Metaxas—the Trumpist childrens’ book author, supposed Bonhoeffer scholar, and alleged sucker-punch-assault perpetrator. Surprisingly, as he offered up a prayer to “Father God,” there was nary a MyPillow promo code to be seen. Praise be.

Eric Metaxas

After Metaxas came Dr. Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and former housing and urban development secretary. In his Teddy Ruxpin tone, Carson insinuated that the media never talks about election fraud. Don’t tell the right-wing media.

Next up was John Fund, who was the ghostwriter for Rush Limbaugh’s first book, spent many years at the Wall Street Journal, and now writes for National Review. Much of Fund’s writing, including two books, has focused on voting, elections, and concerns about fraud. Yesterday, he said that the voting-reform bill H.R. 1 was the “single worst” piece of legislation he’s seen in his forty years of commenting on American politics. As hyperbolic as that may seem, it is at least slightly toned down from what Fund said about H.R. 1 at CPAC last month: There he called it “the worst bill that’s of a non-fiscal nature that has ever been introduced in Congress.” Worse than the Sedition Act? The Indian Removal Act? The Fugitive Slave Act? Prohibition? The act backing up FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans? To say nothing of the countless horrible bills that were introduced but never passed.

Fund yesterday also had some fun ‘2016 whataboutism’ to justify 2020 truthers because there was a poll where a certain percentage of Democrats thought that Trump stole the 2016 election. Which is true: Every election, some percentage of Americans, more often on the losing side in the election, doubt the validity of the results. And in 2016, recall that the first news reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election emerged just a few days after the election. But comparing that small, lingering resentment in 2016 to what happened after the 2020 election, when a false belief in massive electoral fraud became a defining feature of the Republican party, and when the defeated president pushed that lie and instigated an insurrectionist mob at the Capitol, is risible.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke yesterday, too, telling anyone who would listen that he would file a lawsuit and tell the feds to “pound sand” if H.R. 1 were to become law. Ashcroft apparently has a fetish for in-person voting, which comes across as a bit unseemly for an attorney, much less an elected official who oversees elections. In the Q&A, Ashcroft, Fund, and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky were referred to as the “three smartest people on the planet.”

Whoever made that reference (I think it was Bachmann) needs to get out more.

Next up were Jim Hoft and his twin brother, Joe. You probably don’t know who these guys are unless you’re extremely online, but Jim runs a blog that, according to Joe, gets “670 million hits” a day. Which seems totally legit. (Anybody who knows anything about how web traffic works knows that “hits” is a useless figure.) If you go to their website, you’ll see ads posing as stories—like these two I saw yesterday:

  • Top Surgeon: This One Thing Will Entirely Empty Your Bowels [Spoiler: Apparently, bananas.]
  • Brain Scan Uncovers the Real Root Cause of Tinnitus — And What You Can Do About It.
Jim Hoft

Joe and Jim had an Abbott and Costello routine going, where they went through some of the claims of fraud posted on their website—like the supposed incident in which a van with an out-of-state license plate brought ballots into Pennsylvania, thereby throwing the election—all of which have been thoroughly debunked. It tells you a lot about Regent—none of it good—that Jim Hoft, a raving conspiracy theorist, would be given prime billing at a conference like this.

But it gets worse.

Peter Navarro, a left-wing gadfly who got a job in the Trump administration because he hates free trade, has an election “report” and he and the others want to tell you about it. Navarro seems to believe that the Democrats, of which he was one until Trump descended from that brass escalator in his gaudy highrise, “stole just enough votes to win.” Odd strategy. Perhaps losing seats in the House was just cover?

Navarro went on and on about “fake ballots” and “fake fire alarms” to prove his case, but let one thing be known: Graphic design is Peter Navarro’s passion:

Navarro, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, talked about election turnout that supposedly was “above 100 percent” and claimed “this election was stolen.” He also name-dropped his buddies Steve Bannon; Raheem Kassam, an alt-right British journalist; and John Solomon, a discredited propagandist.

Then came Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who ran the post-2016 election-fraud investigation that then-President Trump concocted—an investigation that failed to find any evidence of widespread fraud—and then ran for a Senate seat last year and lost in the primary to Roger Marshall.

Despite tech issues, Kobach, now a private citizen, was able to make clear his views that voter ID doesn’t necessarily stop voter fraud, and that we need signature verification at a level that might make a bank-fraud analyst blush.

The moral of the story? Voting should be harder than it is. For good measure, Kobach also attacked the ACLU.

I tuned out for a bit to put my kids to bed, but came back to find on my screen Mark Steyn, the Canadian commentator better known for his cat crooning than any expertise in the intricacies of election integrity, sharing such gems as this: “The minute you’re driving it [the ballot] around, it becomes less secure.”

Mark Steyn

Also, Steyn suggested, without reference to any—what are they called again? oh yeah—facts that widespread mail-in voting and voting via digital machines that count your vote “enable fraud” and that judges have the ability to “amend an election,” whatever that means.

Many of the panelists brought up (you guessed it) GEORGE SOROS. I didn’t count how many times this bogeyman’s name was invoked, but if you had watched yesterday’s livestream while playing a drinking game with the sole rule of having another shot every time someone said “Soros,” you’d soon have been under the table. Which, come to think of it, might have been the best way to experience this travesty.

The event’s organizers saved the “best” for last: David Clements, a professor at New Mexico State University. Clements staged a talent show of absurd MAGA whataboutism that made all the day’s other participants, even the Hofts, look cautious by comparison. Judges? Cowards. Why not jury trials? Do I even understand basic legal concepts? Probably not. Sidney Powell? She’s the “gold standard.” Why not have an eight-month-long mock trial? She’s so brave. We should rally around her.

David Clements

The ballots brought in from a rented truck with out-of-state license plates? ALL THE HALLMARKS OF ARTIFICIAL MARKING. President Biden? The “fraud in chief.”

Michele—excuse me, Dean—Bachmann closed off the circus by saying “I don’t think we’ve heard the real story yet.” That may have been the truest thing said all day—just not in the way she meant it.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.