Today’s Edition: The GOP’s Platform: Election Nullification

September 8, 2021

         The attempt to recall California Governor Newsom is beginning to falter. [California Democrats, note well: If you haven’t already voted NO on the recall ballot, there is still time to do so! Details here.] In response, Republicans are laying the groundwork for election nullification. In the new GOP worldview, there is only one outcome: “We win, or you cheated.” Republican commentators and candidates are floating the notion that if the California recall campaign fails, it is because of fraud. As reported in the Washington Post, Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren said on Tuesday,

          The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud, so as they say: Stay woke. Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California because it’s going to have big consequences not only for that state but for upcoming elections.

          The leading Republican contender to replace Newsom if the recall is successful, Larry Elder, has urged his supporters to report “anything suspicious,” invoking the Big Lie of 2020:

          The 2020 election, in my opinion, was full of shenanigans. And my fear is they're going to try that in this election right here. So I'm urging people to go to [my website]. Whenever you see anything, hear anything suspicious, go to my website. We have a battery of lawyers.

          The comments of Lahren and Elder come straight from the Trump playbook: Allege fraud before you lose, so that when you lose you can claim you lost because of fraud. Lahren’s claim is so wildly irresponsible that Fox should punish her—as many media outlets have done when journalists deliberately lie to viewers. Lahren’s lie is particularly noxious because she extends the lie from a potential failure to recall Newsom to “upcoming elections.” Lahren is poisoning the fields of democracy ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections seasons. Like many Republicans, she is salting the earth for temporary gain, but is endangering the long-term health of our democracy in the process.

          Elder’s call to report “anything suspicious” to “my website” is equally pernicious. If a citizen observes behavior that is potentially illegal, the correct course of action is to notify law enforcement or election officials—whose job it is to enforce election laws. Of course, relying on private litigation to ensure fairness in elections is a longstanding remedy with an honorable place in ensuring fair elections. But Elder seeks to delegitimize and circumvent state and local authorities by invoking the Big Lie while calling for the vigilantism that the Supreme Court tacitly endorsed in upholding the Texas anti-abortion statute.

          While we should not relent in our efforts to defeat the Newsom recall campaign, the GOP’s resort to election nullification is a sign of desperation—in California and across the nation. If it appeared that Newsom was headed for certain defeat (he is not) Republicans would be touting the “will of the people” at work in California. Indeed, the entire point of election nullification is to overturn the will of the people. That is why it has become the GOP platform. And anyone who refuses to endorse the Big Lie is an “enemy of the party,” i.e., Donald Trump.

          A case in point is Rep. Liz Cheney, who has committed GOP heresy by agreeing to serve on the January 6th Select Committee in the House (among other violations of GOP orthodoxy). Cheney disputes the Big Lie and must now be sacrificed at the altar of Trumpism. Trump has recruited a Republican challenger to run against Cheney in 2022—and surprise (!) the candidate who volunteered to take down Cheney was a Cheney supporter earlier this week. As reported in Politico,

          Hageman would be an unconventional candidate, should she choose to run. She donated to Cheney’s 2014 and 2016 campaigns and served on Cheney’s leadership team during her short-lived 2014 Senate run. She lavished praise on Cheney in a 2018 Facebook post and, as of Tuesday evening, her website included a picture of her with the congresswoman.

          Adopting election nullification as a platform is a statement that Donald Trump and the Republican Party are one and the same. Democrats have finally caught on to that message and are making their opponents stand or fall on the strength of their loyalty to Trump. The Atlantic describes how gubernatorial candidates Phil Murphy (NJ, incumbent) and Terry McAuliffe (VA) have put Trump on the ballot in their races:

          McAuliffe and Murphy, as much as they discuss [other] issues, want to keep steering the conversation back to Trump. They know that the former president and his most hard-core followers won’t abide any wavering allegiance. And they know that any mention of the former president in connection with Republican candidates repels many moderates from voting red.

          Trying to maintain a sense of sanity and calm in the face of the constant lies about election fraud is a daunting task. I was sickened to hear that claims of fraud have been raised in California one week before Election Day. But we should recognize those claims for what they are: signs of desperation that are ‘red meat’ to the base but tiresome carping to Independents and Democrats. To the extent you can, ignore the noise and focus on the outcome. Let’s win elections by margins that are not contestable. If we do that, only the most unhinged fringe of the GOP will dare to raise their voices in protest—and most voters will see them for the delusional conspiracy theorists they are.

          Coda: The effort to recall Newsom gained momentum because of his aggressive efforts to control the spread of coronavirus in California. One of the primary organizers of the petition to recall Newsom has contracted Covid—for the second time.  (He is unvaccinated, of course.) He then infected his wife. See Talking Points Memo, “One Week Out From CA Recall, Lead Petitioner Who Griped About Newsom’s Health Orders Gets COVID.”

Politics as a driver of the Delta variant surge.

          Paul Krugman has written an op-ed in the NYTimes that addresses the political dimensions of the Delta variant surge. The essay contains two charts that are eye-popping. The first compares the increase in deaths in the U.S. to the U.K. and Canada. Spoiler alert: Death rates have spiked in the U.S. but are substantially lower and flat in the U.K. and Canada. The second compares increase in deaths between states that voted for Trump and states that voted for Biden. Per Krugman, the wildly disparate infection rates between countries is driven by politics:

          There’s no mystery about why this has happened: It’s political. . . .  [T]he systematic refusal to get vaccinated, refusal to wear masks, etc., is very clearly tied to the unique way that common-sense public health measures have been caught up in the culture war.

As to the differences at the state level, “According to a recent NBC poll, 91 percent of Biden voters have been vaccinated but only 50 percent of Trump voters. . . . Blue states look more like Canada or Germany than like Florida or Texas.”

          The anti-mask, anti-vaccine demagoguery of Governors Abbott and DeSantis are killing people. Oh, and by the way, if elected, Larry Elder will end all mask and vaccine mandates “and then take a break for breakfast.”  If you are a California voter, vote “NO” on the recall (the first question on the ballot).

Biden’s speech on Hurricane Ida and climate change.

          President Biden toured areas of New Jersey and New York affected by flooding from Hurricane Ida. He gave a speech that is typical of speeches by presidents who tour disaster areas. The speech is here: WhiteHouse.gov, “Remarks by President Biden on the Administration's Response to Hurricane Ida.” It was not a great speech by any measure, but it is a remarkable speech because Biden continues to explicitly link natural disasters to the need to fight climate change. He has been “on message” on that topic since the beginning of his presidency. Both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation resolution would inject billions into the effort to slow the effects of human-caused climate change. Tell your representatives in Congress that you support both the infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation resolution. As always, you can contact your representatives by using the links at Chop Wood, Carry Water 9/7 - by Jessica Craven.

Concluding Thoughts.

The Texas anti-abortion statute encourages citizens to “report” neighbors and friends for violating the Texas statute. One anti-abortion group set up an anonymous “whistleblower website.” Two things happened. The website has been repeatedly kicked off the internet by the IP hosting services, and the site has been overwhelmed with reports that prominent Texas politicians have violated the statute. See The Guardian, “Texas abortion ‘whistleblower’ website forced offline.” One must presume that some of the anonymous “tips” are baseless but are intended to overwhelm the system to prevent the anti-abortion organization from following up on “legitimate” tips.

          On the one hand, falsely reporting that Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott have unlawfully “aided and abetted” an abortion does not seem like a healthy exercise of democratic accountability. On the other hand, the Texas anti-abortion statute expressly overrides the ability of courts to award sanctions against a party who files a claim in bad faith. See 87(R) SB 8 at Section 171.208(i). (“Notwithstanding any other law, a court may not award costs or attorney's fees under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.”) Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 13 normally allows a court to impose sanctions on a party or attorney who brings a suit “in bad faith or . . . for the purpose of harassment.”

          Like state statutes that immunize drivers who intentionally run-down protestors in the streets, the Texas statute immunizes those who file claims in bad faith. By giving everyone a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, Texas should not be surprised that enterprising opponents of the law are taking advantage of the immunities under the statute to flood the system with baseless reports of violations.

          To be clear, I am not endorsing the filing of bad faith claims. I am saying that we should not govern ourselves by removing sanctions against parties who abuse the system by filing bad faith claims. But in their zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade, the legislators in Texas have succeeded (for now) in overturning the rule of a law—and have created the chaos that now surrounds enforcement of the unconstitutional statute. Texans should retake the legislature from the hands of those who seek to convert the law from an instrument of justice into a partisan weapon. It can’t happen soon enough.

          Talk to you tomorrow!