Last week, Missouri Senator and 2024 Presidential aspirant Josh Hawley interrupted the traditionally quiet week between Christmas and New Years with an announcement that he would challenge the certification of the Electoral College results. This impotent, attention grabbing stunt served its patently obvious purpose. The chattering class immediately started chattering. Hawley was the subject of a number of profiles. A Washington Post reported described Hawley as “enthralling” — a comment that reveals a dangerous detachment from the life or death consequences of politics for millions of Americans.
On Friday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that as many as 140 House Republicans will join Hawley in voting against certification. Not to be outdone in cynical ambition, Senator Ted Cruz announced yesterday that he and ten other Senators would join Hawley in opposing certification and demand an audit of the election results.
It is important to note that this entire effort is batshit insane (technical term). There is zero evidence of voter fraud or other major problems with the integrity of the election. This effort is no less ridiculous than a bunch of Senators demanding an audit of the moon landing or the roundness of the Earth. Even Donald Trump’s legal team — a group not known for ethics, honesty, and adherence to reality — did not allege voter fraud on this scale in their legal cases. So, why is a chunk of the Republican Party tying themselves to the mast of a sinking ship of stupidity just days before a runoff election in a state Joe Biden won?
Here are some thoughts on what is going on — it is equal parts dangerous and dumb.
Getting High on their Own Supply of Bullshit
There is no question that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz know that they are full of shit, but a lot of other Republican elected officials believe the election was stolen.
We talk a lot about the impact of Fox News and the Right Wing media ecosystem’s impact on Republican voters, but we rarely talk about its impact on Republican politicians. The vast majority of Republican politicians, aides, and activists get all of their information from Fox and its partners in propaganda. This is a generation of Republicans raised entirely in the Fox bubble being fed a steady supply of stupid. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when these Fox viewers get elected and spout that same stupid. At some point the Republicans stopped winking and started nodding at the propaganda designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the Republican base.
It’s what Republican Voters Want
Ted Cruz’s decision to follow Josh Hawley down this dangerously, dumb path was as predictable as the sunrise. Cruz is a man fueled by the oppositional forces of overriding ambition for higher office and crippling insecurity about his unfitness for that office. There was simply no way he was going to let Hawley outflank him. Cruz, Hawley and the rest are pushing this conspiracy theory, because they think it will help them politically.
They aren’t wrong.
According to a December 10th Quinnipiac poll:
• 77 percent of Republicans believe there was widespread voter fraud in the November election.
• 70 percent of Republicans say Biden’s victory is illegitimate.
Trump’s tweets, Right Wing propaganda, and the silent assent of nearly every Republican leader in the country have convinced the vast majority of the Republican Party of something that is patently and obviously untrue. The path of least resistance for any Republican with White House ambitions is to feed into this conspiracy theory without regard to the damage to democracy.
It’s McConnell’s Fault
According to reports, Mitch McConnell is livid at Hawley et al for forcing Republican to go on the record with a vote about the election results. Ideally, McConnell wants all of his members to have their conspiracy cake and eat it too — continue to push false allegations about election fraud to fire up the base without alienating Independents and suburban voters allergic to Trumpy conspiracy theories. But McConnell is reaping what he sowed.
In the days after the election, McConnell refused to congratulate Joe Biden or even refer to him as the “President-Elect.” He didn’t speak out against the lies being spread by Trump and others. McConnell’s silence created a vacuum that was filled by conspiracy theory mongering nuts (Trump) and ambitious snake oil salesman (Hawley/Cruz). I presume McConnell chose this path because he wanted to keep Trump voters fired up for the Georgia elections. But this type of short-term opportunism is how the Republicans ended up with Trump. In 2011, they stayed silent during Trump’s birther crusade back in the hope that it would help them win some elections.
In the post-Trump era, Mitch McConnell is the leader of the Republican Party and he failed his first test.
Pretext for More Voter Suppression
All of the above is about the motivation of individual politicians and the larger insanity of portions of the Republican base, but I believe there is something much more insidious going on. Something that explains why so many Republicans are willing to risk their reputations with election truthing. All of this conspiracy mongering has a purpose. It is to create a pretext to impose even more draconian voter suppression measures.
At the Presidential level, Democrats improved on their performance in 44 of 50 states. The Democratic gains in Georgia, Arizona, and even Texas are a five alarm fire for the Republican Party. Across the country, Republicans are going to try to roll back voting by mail and early voting options. They want to put in place even more onerous voter ID laws. These false allegations of fraud will be the public rationale for measures to make voting harder.
When you make up allegations out of whole cloth, you can make them about anywhere. But the Republicans have focused their energy on claiming election theft in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta because these cities have large population of Black and Brown voters. Despite some marginal gains with these voters in 2020, Republicans still view making it harder for communities of color to vote as the straightest line to electoral success. Challenging the election results helps pave the way.
The End Game
January 6th is going to be a dark day for Democracy and a low point for the Republican Party, but it is also a clarifying moment about who and what we are fighting against. Republicans are going to reveal themselves on a very big stage. Over time, Democrats should be able to leverage this moment for political advantage. We must paint the entire party with a broad brush. It doesn’t matter that a majority of Republican Senators are likely to oppose Hawley and Cruz. This dangerously dumb affront to democracy is the Republican Party. Every Republican enabled this behavior. They bear responsibility for what is happening and we need to make sure that every voter in the country knows it — starting in Georgia on Tuesday.