'Democracy will be on the ballot': Analysis shows 1/3 of GOP midterm candidates embrace Trump's election lie

'Democracy will be on the ballot': Analysis shows 1/3 of GOP midterm candidates embrace Trump's election lie
US Capitol Grounds East Plaza off First Street and East Capitol Street, Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon, 6 January 2021 by Elvert Barnes Photography

Underscoring the extent to which the increasingly anti-democratic GOP has embraced former President Donald Trump's groundless and dangerous accusations of widespread voter fraud in last year's presidential race, a new analysis by the Washington Post shows that hundreds of Republican candidates expected to compete in upcoming contests have endorsed Trump's "big lie" that the 2020 election was stolen.

"Of the nearly 700 Republicans who have filed initial paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run next year for either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, at least a third have embraced Trump's false claims about his defeat," the Post reported Monday.

At the federal level, there are dozens of "current Republican officeholders, lining up to seek reelection, who have backed Trump's efforts over the past eight months by questioning the validity of the 2020 result, taking legislative votes, or signing on to official efforts to overturn it," the newspaper noted, adding that 136 of the GOP's candidates for next year's vital midterm races are current members of Congress who voted against the certification of President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6.

Trump's falsehood that he would have been victorious last November had it not been for cheating Biden supporters was enthusiastically taken up by the GOP at the state level, too. Despite a complete lack of substantiating evidence, that fabrication continues to be invoked by right-wing candidates hoping to win office this year or in 2022.

"Of the nearly 600 state lawmakers who publicly embraced Trump's false claims, about 500 face reelection this year or next," the Post noted. "Most of them signed legal briefs or resolutions challenging Biden's victory." Moreover, at least 16 of them participated in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, during which a mob of Trump's supporters sought to reverse his loss.

Although the violent coup attempt carried out six months ago failed, the lies that sparked it have been "weaponized," in the words of voting rights expert Ari Berman, to fuel a wave of voter suppression bills nationwide. Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets and GOP lawmakers—who in May voted against the establishment of an independent January 6 commission and last week opposed the formation of a House select committee to investigate the attack—have engaged in a successful effort to minimize the severity of the insurrection or misattribute blame for it, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

As of May 14, Republican lawmakers in 49 states had introduced at least 389 bills that would either make it harder for millions of Americans—especially communities of color and other Democratic-leaning constituencies—to vote, or grant state legislatures more power to shape electoral outcomes in ways that undermine the will of voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice's latest tally.

While 22 of the GOP's proposed voter suppression bills have been signed into law in 14 states so far, 61 bills are moving through 18 state legislatures, and the potential election of more pro-Trump candidates increases the likelihood of the enactment of measures restricting access to the ballot or empowering right-wing lawmakers to overturn results they deem unfavorable.

The Post reported that "dozens of candidates promoting the baseless notion that the election was rigged are seeking powerful statewide offices—such as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, which would give them authority over the administration of elections—in several of the decisive states where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the outcome and engineer his return to the White House."

"What's really frightening right now is the extent of the effort to steal power over future elections," Jena Griswold, the Democratic secretary of state in Colorado, told the newspaper. "That's what we're seeing across the nation. Literally in almost every swing state, we have someone running for secretary of state who has been fearmongering about the 2020 election or was at the insurrection."

"Democracy will be on the ballot in 2022," said Griswold.

The Post characterized the Republican Party's "growing roster" of anti-democratic candidates as "merely the latest step" in the GOP's authoritarian turn, "which includes the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from a House leadership position after she denied Trump's stolen election claims, as well as the censure of state officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), after he refused to contest Trump's defeat there."

Last week, in addition to further empowering dark money groups to manipulate elections through untraceable campaign contributions, the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority upheld voter suppression policies approved by Arizona's Republican-controlled state Legislature, delivering a substantial blow to what remains of the Voting Rights Act and potentially greenlighting the GOP's assault on the franchise and rule of law.

As Common Dreams has reported, pro-democracy advocates have emphasized that by passing the popular For the People Act, known as H.R. 1 and S. 1, congressional Democrats can nullify nearly all of the GOP's voter suppression efforts.

While House Democrats passed H.R. 1 in March without the support of a single Republican, the Senate, which is split 50-50, last month failed to garner the 60-vote supermajority required to pass S. 1 after Republicans deployed the legislative filibuster to block debate on the bill.

That's why progressives have spent months urging Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster rule so the For the People Act—which would increase ballot access nationwide by implementing automatic voter registration, limit states' ability to purge voters from the rolls, require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions, set up a publicly financed small-dollar donation matching system for candidates who reject high-dollar contributions, and enact other democratic reforms—can be passed by a simple majority of federal lawmakers.

In fact, progressives say, the future of U.S. democracy may well depend on eliminating the filibuster and protecting fundamental voting rights by enacting not only the For the People Act but also the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would increase the number of high court justices from nine to 13.

In addition to the key electoral roles played by state attorneys general, secretaries of state, and governors, the Post noted, "Congress has the power to approve—or block—the Electoral College outcome, as it did after the insurrection at the Capitol had finally been contained on January 6. If Republicans take back control of either the House or Senate, Democrats and voting rights advocates worry that Congress might play a very different role in future elections than it did this year."

Allison Riggs, an election lawyer at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the newspaper that she has "real pause about the role the 'big lie' will play not only in campaigns next year but in challenges to a fair and accessible election," adding that "we expect it."

Journalist Charles Pierce, for his part, argued Tuesday in an Esquire column about the GOP's anti-democratic trends that "there is no political remedy for this except its utter electoral destruction."

"It must be made so painful for these politicians to hold these beliefs that they get scared straight," he wrote.

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