Waldron Kraken-Busting

EDNOTE: This article is the product of substantial input by John Sebes, OSET Institute Chief Technology Officer with the balance by Gregory Miller, OSET Institute Chief Operating Officer and non-practicing lawyer.

Following the recent broader disclosure of James “Philip” Waldron’s slide deck presentation that was circulating inside the Trump Administration in the weeks leading up to January 6th 2021, we reviewed the deck in detail and realized that with its wider availability, the “Kraken” we all experienced a year ago has reared its ugly head.  Thus, it’s time once again for some “Kraken-busting,” because this misleading information cannot be left to stand without intellectually honest clarification.  And in the past two weeks we’ve received enough media requests about the content of the Waldron deck that we feel compelled to more broadly respond.

If you’ve seen the deck—now easily accessible—then it’s likely you focused on (or squinted at) Slide 11.  And that’s as good a place to start as any, and probably the most important part of that presentation to straighten out, because one could spend days squeezing the ignorance or intentional misleading out of this whole deck. To be honest, the most difficult part of understanding the Waldron deck is determining whether the underlying author(s) were just simply clueless, or artfully cobbling together something with enough buzz to alarm people who don’t know enough to recognize the foolishness of the presentation.

Focusing on Slide 11

We start by observing the title of this slide is just completely wrong — “Where and How it’s Done.”  First, ask any actual state or local election administrator or official about where central counting is done, and they will tell you:

In our offices.”

And the answer to how it is done is:

On our own election management system with nothing in the AWS cloud, without any Internet connection for that purpose, and no AWS credentials to be snatched.”

They’ll further inform you there are no “Vote Co’s” or “Mid-level Co’s” with access to the “database,” because the so-called “database” is just simply vote tally data on a stand-alone PC in a county elections office.

All of the content in this slide about Clarity, voter registration systems, etc., illustrates fundamental misunderstanding and a mistake about a key point: “tabulation” of results compared to “publishing” those results. Specifically:

  • The election management systems (or “EMS”) performs the tabulation.
  • Clarity, etc. are systems used to publish election results to the public on the Internet World Wide Web.

By analogy it’s very similar to this:

  1. We add up some numbers on an abacus;
  2. Write down the total on a piece of paper;
  3. Then we have the paper notarized;
  4. Next, we take a photo of that notarized piece of paper; and finally,
  5. We upload that photo on to a web server hosted by the AWS Cloud.

Now, it’s certainly possible that malicious actors could access the web server and get to the uploaded image, but they cannot get at (access or manipulate) the original notarized piece of paper itself!

It doesn’t really matter that the election officials used a standalone desktop PC with EMS software rather than an abacus; the principle is the same: the official tallies reside on the PC, in the election office, and not connected to the Internet. That doesn’t mean that the PC is perfectly secure; of course not, but it does mean that the Slide-11 garbage about AWS and “backwards uploaded” and “harvested credentials” is completely nonsense and inapplicable in this setting.

EDNOTE: To be sure, QSnatch is a real piece of malware that can infect a certain class of network attached storage devices, but none of that infrastructure was in use for election administration activities in 2020. It surfaced 2 years ago (late 2019) and a patch for QNAP devices has been available to prevent the malware since August 2020 (well before the election).

Slide-11 is an attempt to fraudulently (and we do not use that word lightly) convince the readers (and importantly, influencers and decision-makers) of an election process that does not exist.  It is a disservice to election integrity; and at the risk of stepping into a lane we’ll leave for legal and policy professionals—we argue it is seditious to our democracy.

Perhaps the most pernicious part of the Slide-11 diagram is the label, “Air Gap Myth” noting the digital transfer of vote tally data from counties to “Secretary of State.”  The is really the “Myth of the Air Gap Myth.”

Yes, a computer in a county office is used to send tally data over a network to a Secretary of State computer. However, the computer that county election officials use to send the data is not the election management system (EMS) machine!  This is critical to understand.  Ask any actual trained and experienced county election official, and they will explain the process of “air gap” very simply, without any myths, ands, or buts. It goes like this:

  1. They copy the data from the tabulation system onto a USB stick or similar portable data storage device.
  2. Then they walk that data stick over to an ordinary Internet-connected desktop computer, and
  3. Use that machine to transfer the data from the stick and upload it across the Internet to a specific machine at the Secretary’s office.

Walking that data stick from the tabulation machine to the machine used to upload it to the Secretary’s machine is the “air gap” – the gap between the two machines that requires a human to physically transfer the data.  There is no digital direct connection between those machines, and thus no way any data or digital traffic can “back-flow” across that gap in absence of a human interaction.

Probably the most embarrassingly wrong part about Slide-11 is the blob of words in the lower right corner about adjudication. This, too, is important and simple and we offer 8 clarifications…

  1. First, remember, ballots are pieces of paper.
  2. These pieces of paper are not “routed” or “downloaded” or “re-uploaded” or “manipulated” with a spreadsheet.
  3. The “adjudicated” ballots are just centrally counted ballots (usually absentee ballots) that the ballot scanner choked on because there was an ambiguous mark.
  4. When that happens, election officials gather over them to follow specific processes for multiple people to adhere to state law in interpreting those stray or ambiguous marks; the resulting human interpreted votes are recorded in the EMS, just the same as the votes recorded by the ballot scanner devices.
  5. There is no “malicious actor;” just election officials, and no “whims” either because the tabulation is re-checked during the canvass process.
  6. Nobody can just “on a whim” adjudicate (examine and rule on) a bunch of ballots and make up a bunch of fake votes, because the discrepancies will be detected during canvass.
  7. Anybody who insists that these “whims” happen is basically alleging that everybody in the county elections office, the county canvass body, and the state canvas body, are all corrupt and in cahoots, conspiring to hide these nefarious activities.
  8. However, if you believe that, then you should realize that this sprawling, undetected conspiracy could falsify any election results with far less effort and certainly no help needed from a foreign nation, like China.

OK, the Kraken has been busted on the root of that fraudulent slide deck, which is Slide-11.  We could spend volumes dissecting and correcting the balance of some 34 slides, however assuming you understand that most of this presentation falls apart once Slide-11 is corrected and debunked, we offer some shorter points about the remainder of the content starting by returning to slides 5 thru 10.

Slides 5-9:

The allegation, claim, or idea of “Injections” after a “pause” in counting is confusing the process of counting with the process of reporting.

Counting did not pause after releasing vote totals from in-person voting on election day. In fact, whether on camera or not, LEOs spent a lot of time processing the absentee ballots—and with COVID there were more than usual.  The “pause” was simply a gap in reporting time caused by incremental progress reports at irregular time intervals while election administrators continued counting ballots.

A “spike” due to a new batch being reported is not an “injection” — it’s just a report of some more votes from another batch of ballots, where the proportion of votes reported is different than in previous batches.  To use an intentionally charged word (injection) that is wholly inapplicable and incorrect to describe the reality, is provocatively misleading.  Everyone needs to stop using the intellectually dishonest and wrong word “injection” in this context.

Ask any regular election administrator or official (“EO” we call them) if “a normal vote pattern would look like a natural progression” and they will tell you,

No; absentee ballot counting is released in batches, and there is nothing ‘normal’ or ‘smooth’ about the batches. In fact, it would be really weird if every batch had nearly the same vote percentage for each candidate.”

 

EDNOTE: with all of these references to election administrators, we’re fortunate to have on our team at the Institute and TrustTheVote Project several veteran election administrators from major jurisdictions in Georgia, Texas and Virginia—so we can offer you the real, straight scoop.

Slide 10:

“The Algorithm” in Georgia is simply a histogram—a fancy and often useful statistical picture. In this case, we don’t know what it is supposed to indicate, but whatever patterns it shows are 100% irrelevant to the Georgia presidential election. Those paper ballots were counted — by hand — 3 different times, and we know the outcome. The histogram of Edison-updates is interesting to look at it, but it says absolutely nothing about the results of the hand counts. Again, it’s an intellectually dishonest attempt to fraudulently convince viewers with far less experience or knowledge of election processes (let alone statistics) that something went awry.

Slides 13-21:

Regarding the intellectually dishonest use of content, the China slides are a great example of using lots of detail to tell a story about “suspicious activity” that turns out to be irrelevant.  True, we have no idea if the CCP controls the Chinese company that supposedly tested some Smartmatic software, and it’s irrelevant because of these 3 points:

  1. Obtaining a copy of some software to test it, does not give the tester “complete control” or any control of the software that they test.
  2. Plenty of test labs test U.S. voting system products—its required by the Federal government and every state—and it’s clear to all involved that the labs are testing a copy, while the vendors control the master originals.
  3. Furthermore, changes by the vendor (after testing and certification) are forbidden, and can be detected by election officials.

To say, “Ergo, they embedded anything they wanted” is to demonstrate the presentation author(s) have less than zero understanding of software testing. Thus, the entire CCP angle is irrelevant; regardless of whether any part of the “money trail” story is true.

Slide 24:

Further, each of the “vote shifting” stories were debunked or clarified in the first quarter of 2021; however, the most telling example is that the Georgia statewide hand counts produced the same election results as the alleged “vote shifting” electronic voting machines (!)

Slide 25:

Perhaps the most ignorant statement is about the assertion: “First disqualify counterfeit ballots so that we count only legal ballots and Trump wins.” (Paraphrasing; see slide 25 of the deck.) Three points:

  1. Once a county has completed its ballot counting process and has archived all the counted ballots, there is no method to look at them all and identify a “counterfeit” — all the counted ballots look alike.
  2. Even if crooked election officials did make fraudulent ballots — without being caught — they would use the same pre-printed blank ballots that voters marked by hand, or by a ballot marking device. There would be no way to “disqualify” a “counterfeit” ballot.
  3. The only people who thought that was possible were those who examined Maricopa ballots for bamboo fibers as though that would be a sign of a Chinese counterfeit. And as we now know, there were no counterfeits found in Maricopa, County, AZ.

Slides 31-33:

Lastly, the most legally embarrassing statement is the one about the Supreme Count “suspending” Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution.  Seriously? Three points:

  1. There is no part of the U.S. Constitution that allows the Supreme Court to “suspend” part of the Constitution!  Those who’ve suggested that the Suspension Clause is applicable may want to do some simple reading to understand the absurdity of that argument—the suspension clause addresses the writ of habeas corpus, which is not at all the issue here.  And similarly, it is unfathomable, even for this SCOTUS to take on such a request to literally “suspend” an element of the Constitution.[1]
  2. In fact, the entire fantasy about a nationwide hand count (by a “Federalized National Guard”) would be a direct violation of the Article 2 specification of elections being the right and responsibility of the states.
  3. There’s no legal framework that we understand for any part of the Federal government to grab all of a state’s already-counted ballots, recounting them, and throwing out ballots deemed “illegal” by the military.  And it is funny that many of the same people involved in producing, distributing, and relying on this Waldron slide deck are quick to complain about any other effort by the federal government to enforce fairness in elections as a federal takeover of a states’ right.

And here is the kicker: whoever authored the Waldron presentation seemed oblivious to the fact that in these closing slides what they were describing is a coup… not a recount.

 

 


[1]     Further, neither Congress nor the president has the power to set aside any other constitutional right. As the Supreme Court explained in the 1866 case Ex parte Milligan, “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.” In that decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that even during the Civil War — undoubtedly the most dangerous emergency this country has ever faced — the Constitution still applied. This from the Brennan Center for Justice, a March 3, 2021 article, “There Are No Extraordinary Powers a President Can Use to Reverse an Election.” See:
https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/there-are-no-extraordinary-powers-president-can-use-reverse-election

Why Millions Think It Is Trump Who Cannot Tell a Lie

Why is Donald Trump’s “big lie” so hard to discredit?

This has been a live question for more than a year, but inside it lies another: Do Republican officials and voters actually believe Trump’s claim that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election by corrupting ballots — the same ballots that put so many Republicans in office — and if they do believe it what are their motives?

A December 2021 University of Massachusetts-Amherst survey found striking linkages between attitudes on race and immigration on one hand and disbelief in the integrity of the 2020 election on the other.

According to the poll, two-thirds of Republicans, 66 percent, agreed that “the growth of the number of immigrants to the U.S. means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity” and the same percentage of Republicans are convinced that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate with voters from poorer countries around the world.”

Following up on the UMass survey, four political scientists — Jesse RhodesRaymond La RajaTatishe Nteta and Alexander Theodoridis — wrote in an essay posted on The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage:

Divisions over racial equality were closely related to perceptions of the 2020 presidential election and the Capitol attack. For example, among those who agreed that White people in the United States have advantages based on the color of their skin, 87 percent believed that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate; among neutrals, 44 percent believed it was legitimate; and among those who disagreed, only 21 percent believed it was legitimate. Seventy percent of people who agreed that White people enjoy advantages considered the events of Jan. 6 to be an insurrection; 26 percent of neutrals described it that way; and only 10 percent who disagreed did so, while 80 percent of this last group called it a protest. And while 70 percent of those who agreed that White people enjoy advantages blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6, only 34 percent of neutrals did, and a mere 9 percent of those who disagreed did.

According to experts I asked, Republican elected officials who either affirm Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was corrupt, or refuse to call Trump out, base their stance on a sequence of rationales.

Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, sees the origin of one rationale in demographic trends:

I believe much of the polarization and discord in national politics comes from changing demographicsRobert Jones of P.R.R.I. writes about this in “The End of White Christian America” and I think this is a source of many politico-cultural divisions and plays out in electoral politics. There is an America (“American dream”) that many whites were privileged to know growing up and it now seems to be evaporating or at least becoming subservient to other cultural ideals and norms. So that spurs anxiety and it is translated to the language and posture of politics.

McCurry went on:

I think otherwise well-meaning G.O.P. senators who flinch when it comes to common sense and serving the common good do so because they have no vocabulary or perspective which allows them to deal with the underlying changes in society. They feel the changes, they know constituents whom they otherwise like who feel the changes, but they cannot figure out how to lower the level of angst.

Some maintain that another rationale underpinning submission to the lie is that it is signals loyalty to the larger conservative cause.

Musa al-Gharbi, a sociologist at Columbia, pointed out in an email that acceptance of Trump’s false claims gives Republican politicians a way of bridging the gap between a powerful network of donors and elites who back free trade capitalism and the crucial bloc of white working-class voters seeking trade protectionism and continued government funding of Social Security and Medicare:

Embracing the Big Lie is an empty approach to populism for a lot of these politicians. It allows them to cast their rivals, and the system itself, as corrupt — to cash in on that widespread sentiment — and to cast themselves as exceptions to the rule. It allows them to portray themselves as allies of “the people,” but without actually changing anything in terms of the policies they advocate for, in terms of how they do business.

For those Republicans leaders, al-Gharbi continued, “who are the swamp, or could be reasonably construed as such, it is important to create an apparent distance from ‘the establishment.’ Flirting with the Big Lie is a good way of doing so.”

Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University and a senior fellow at Brookings, noted in an email that “fear of electoral retribution from Trump — and from Republican voters — drives Senate G.O.P. reluctance to break with Trump.”

The former president, she continued,

has succeeded in reshaping the G.O.P. as “his” party. This electoral dynamic applies in spades to Republicans’ unwillingness to challenge Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection — or like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to back down from their initial criticisms. It seems as if fealty to Trump’s alternative version of the events of Jan. 6 is the litmus test for Republicans.

The underlying policy agreements between Republican incumbents and Trump reinforces these straightforward concerns over re-election, in Binder’s view:

For all of Trump’s nativist immigration, trade, and “America First” views, he was lock step with Republicans on cutting taxes and regulations and stacking the courts with young conservatives. In that light, certainly while Trump was in office, Senate Republicans held their noses on any anti-democratic behavior and stuck with Trump to secure the policies they craved.

Along similar lines, Bruce Cain, a political scientist at Stanford, observes that Republican elected officials make their calculations based on the goal of political survival:

What perhaps looks like collective derangement to many outside the party ranks is really just raw political calculation. The best strategy for regaining Congressional control is to keep Trump and his supporters inside the party tent, and the only way to do that is to go along with his myths in order to get along with him.

This approach, Cain continued, “is the path of least political resistance. Trump in 2016 demonstrated that he could win the presidency” while rejecting calls to reach out to minorities, by targeting a constituency that is “predominantly white and 80 percent conservative.” Because of its homogeneity, Cain continued, “the Republican Party is much more unified than the Democrats at the moment.”

While there was considerable agreement among the scholars and strategists whom I contacted that Republican politicians consciously develop strategies to deal with what many privately recognize is a lie, there is less agreement on the thinking of Republican voters.

Lane Cuthbert, along with his UMass colleague Alex Theodoridis, asked in an op-ed in The Washington Post:

How could the “Big Lie” campaign convince so many Republicans that Trump won an election he so clearly lost? Some observers wonder whether these beliefs are genuine or just an example of “expressive responding,” a term social scientists use to mean respondents are using a survey item to register a feeling rather than express a real belief.

In their own analysis of poll data, Cuthbert and Theodoridis concluded that most Republicans are true believers in Trump’s lie:

Apparently, Republicans are reporting a genuine belief that Biden’s election was illegitimate. If anything, a few Republicans may, for social desirability reasons, be using the “I’m not sure” option to hide their true belief that the election was stolen.

Al-Gharbi sharply disputes this conclusion:

Most Republican voters likely don’t believe in the Big Lie. But many would nonetheless profess to believe it in polls and surveys, and would support politicians who make similar professions, because these professions serve as a sign of defiance against the prevailing elites, they serve as signs of group solidarity and commitment.

Poll respondents, he continued,

often give the factually wrong answer about empirical matters, not because they don’t know the empirically correct answer, but because they don’t want to give political fodder to their opponents with respect to their preferred policies. And when one takes down the temperature on these political stakes, again, often the differences on ‘the facts’ also disappear.

One way to test how much people actually believe something, al-Gharbi wrote, “is to look out for yawning gaps between rhetoric and behaviors.” The fact that roughly 2,500 people participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection suggests that the overwhelming majority of Republicans do not believe the election was stolen no matter what they tell pollsters, in al-Gharbi’s view:

If huge shares of the country, 68 percent of G.O.P. voters, plus fair numbers of Independents and nonvoters, literally believed that we were in a moment of existential crisis, and the election had been stolen, and the future was at stakewhy is it that only a couple thousand could muster the enthusiasm to show up and protest at the Capitol? In a world where 74 million voted for Trump, and more than two-thirds of these (i.e. more than 50 million people, roughly 1 out of every 5 adults in the U.S.) actually believed that the other party had illegally seized power and plan to use that power to harm people like themselves, the events of Jan. 6 would likely have played out much, much differently.

Whatever the motivation, Isabel V. Sawhill, a Brookings senior fellow, warned that Republican leaders and voters could be caught in a vicious cycle:

There may be a dynamic at work here in which an opportunistic strategy to please the Trump base has solidified that base, making it all the more difficult to take a stance in opposition to “whatever-Trump-wants.” It’s a Catch-22. To change the direction of the country requires staying in power but staying in power requires satisfying a public, a large share of whom has lost faith in our institutions, including the mainstream media and the democratic process.

Jake Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, noted in an email that the “big lie” fits into a larger Republican strategy: “In an economically unequal society, it is important for the conservative economic party to use culture war politics to win elections because they are unlikely to win based on their economic agenda.”

“There are a number of reasons why some Republican elites who were once anti-Trump became loyal to Trump,” Grumbach continued:

First is the threat of being primaried for failing to sufficiently oppose immigration or the Democratic Party, a process that ramped up first in the Gingrich era and then more so during the Tea Party era of the early 2010s. Second is that Republican elites who were once anti-Trump learned that the Republican-aligned network of interest groups and donors — Fox News, titans of extractive and low wage industry, the NRA, evangelical organizations, etc. — would mostly remain intact despite sometimes initially signaling that they would withhold campaign contributions or leave the coalition in opposition to Trump.

Frances Lee, a political scientist at Princeton, took a different tack, arguing that Republican members of Congress, especially those in the Senate, would like nothing better than to have the “big lie” excised from the contemporary political landscape:

I disagree with the premise that many senators buy into the “big lie.” Congressional Republicans’ stance toward the events of Jan. 6 is to move on beyond them. They do not spend time rebuking activists who question the 2020 outcome, but they also do not endorse such views, either. With rare exception, congressional Republicans do not give floor speeches questioning the 2020 elections. They do not demand hearings to investigate election fraud.

Instead, Lee argued, “Many Republican voters still support and love Donald Trump, and Republican elected officials want to be able to continue to represent these voters in Washington.” The bottom line, she continued, is that

Republican elected officials want and need to hold the Republican Party together. In the U.S. two-party system, they see the Republican Party as the only realistic vehicle for contesting Democrats’ control of political offices and for opposing the Biden agenda. They see a focus on the 2020 elections as a distraction from the most important issues of the present: fighting Democrats’ “tax and spend” initiatives and winning back Republican control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, argues that

Trump lives by Machiavelli’s famous maxim that fear is a better foundation for loyalty than love. G.O.P. senators don’t fear Trump personally; they fear his followers. Republican politicians are so cowed by Trump’s supporters you can almost hear them moo.

Trumpism, Begala wrote in an email, “is more of a cult of personality, which makes fealty to the Dear Leader even more important. How else do you explain 16 G.O.P. senators who voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, all refusing to even allow it to be debated in 2022?”

Begala compares Senator Mitch McConnell’s views of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 — “America’s history is a story of ever-increasing freedom, hope and opportunity for all. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 represents one of this country’s greatest steps forward in that story. Today I am pleased the Senate reaffirmed that our country must continue its progress towards becoming a society in which every person, of every background, can realize the American dream” — to McConnell’s stance now: “This is not a federal issue; it ought to be left to the states.”

Republican politicians, in Begala’s assessment,

have deluded themselves into thinking that Trump and the Big Lie can work for them. The reality is the opposite: Republican politicians work for Trump and the Big Lie. And they may be powerless to stop it if and when Trump uses it to undermine the 2024 presidential results.

It is at this point, Begala continued, “where leadership matters. Trump stokes bigotry, he sows division, he promotes racism, and when other G.O.P. politicians fail to disavow Trump’s divisiveness, they abet it. What a contrast to other Republican leaders in my lifetime.”

Like Begala, Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at M.I.T., was blunt in his analysis:

There’s generally a lack of nuance in considering why Republican senators fail to abandon Trump. Whereas Reagan spoke of the 11th Commandment, Trump destroyed it, along with many of the first 10. He is mean and vindictive and speaks to a set of supporters who are willing to take their energy and animus to the polling place in the primaries — or at least, that’s the worry. They are also motivated by racial animus and by Christian millennialism.

These voters, according to Stewart,

are not a majority of the Republican Party, but they are motivated by fear, and fear is the greatest motivator. Even if a senator doesn’t share those views — and I don’t think most do — they feel they can’t alienate these folks without stoking a fight. Why stoke a fight? Few politicians enter politics looking to be a martyr. Mainstream Republican senators may be overestimating their ability to keep the extremist genie in the bottle, but they have no choice right now, if they intend to continue in office.

Philip Bobbitt, a professor of law at Columbia and the University of Texas, argued in an email that Republican acceptance of Trump’s falsehoods is a reflection of the power Trump has over members of the party:

It’s the very fact that they know Trump’s claims are ludicrous — that is the point: like other bullies, he amuses himself and solidifies his authority by humiliating people and what can be more humiliating than compelling people to publicly announce their endorsements of something they know and everyone else knows to be false?

Thomas Mann, a Brookings senior fellow, made the case in an email that Trump has transformed the Republican Party so that membership now precludes having “a moral sense: honesty, empathy, respect for one’s colleagues, wisdom, institutional loyalty, a willingness to put country ahead of party on existential matters, an openness to changing conditions.”

Instead, Mann wrote:

The current, Trump-led Republican Party allows no room for such considerations. Representative Liz Cheney’s honest patriotism would be no more welcome among Senate Republicans than House Republicans. Even those current Republican senators whose earlier careers indicated a moral senseMitt Romney, Susan Collins, Richard Burr, Roy Blunt, Lisa Murkowski, Robert Portman, Ben Sasse, Richard Shelby — have felt obliged to pull their punches in the face of the Big Lie and attempted coup.

Bart Bonikowski, a sociologist at N.Y.U., describes the danger of this political dynamic:

In capturing the party, Trump perfectly embodied its ethnonationalist and authoritarian tendencies and delivered it concrete results — even if his policy stances were not always perfectly aligned with party orthodoxy. As a result, the Republican Party and Trumpism have become fused into a single entity — one that poses serious threats to the stability of the United States.

The unwillingness of Republican leaders to challenge Trump’s relentless lies, for whatever reason — for political survival, for mobilization of whites opposed to minorities, to curry favor, to feign populist sympathies — is as or more consequential than actually believing the lie.

If Republican officials and their voters are willing to swallow an enormous and highly consequential untruth for political gain, they have taken a first step toward becoming willing allies in the corrupt manipulation of future elections.

In that sense, the “big lie” is a precursor to more dangerous threats — threats that are plausible in ways that less than a decade ago seemed inconceivable. The capitulation to and appeasement of Trump by Republican leaders is actually setting up even worse possibilities than what we’ve lived through so far.

Texas Election Audit That Trump Demanded Didn’t Find Any Voter Fraud

Even though he easily won the state of Texas in the 2020 election, Donald Trump still pushed Republican officials in the state to conduct an election audit. They obliged, and over the holiday weekend they released the findings of “phase 1” of their investigation. To no one’s surprise, the findings weren’t there, and there was no widespread voter fraud that could have impacted the results of the election. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins explains what’s happening and why Texas officials tried to bury the story.

Lindsey Graham Compared Rudy Giuliani’s Legal Work To That Of A Third Grader

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wanted Trump to win a second term, but he wasn’t persuaded at all by the so-called “evidence” that Rudy Giuliani presented to him. According to a new book by Bob Woodward, Graham likened the work done by Giuliani to that of a third grader, and those close to Graham who also looked at the material described it as “sloppy” and questioned whether any of it was even real. Farron Cousins explains what happened.

 

*This transcript was auto-generated. Please excuse any typos.
According to Bob Woodward’s new book peril. Lindsey Graham was one of the individuals brought in to the white house on January 2nd. We’re Rudy Giuliani talked to everybody there about how the election was allegedly stolen. And Lindsey Graham, according to the book was pressing Rudy Giuliani. Give me names, right? Give us the evidence you say you’ve got all this evidence. Give it to us. I’m the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, at least for a couple more days, Rudy. So let’s get on this buddy. Give me what you got. Well, a couple days later, Rudy Giuliani came through and he gave Lindsey Graham a packet, a packet that Lindsey Graham passed over to Lee Holmes, who was then the, uh, lead attorney for the Senate judiciary committee. And homes described the work as shoddy homes. When, as far as to question whether or not the sources that Giuliana used were even real, if they even existed. And once Lindsay Graham got his hands on the packet and he looks through it, he likened the work to that of a third grader, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham basically said that Rudy Giuliani’s legal work here because this is what it was. He was setting up the legal challenges, uh, could have been done by a third grader because it was so, so bad. This is Rudy Giuliani folks. And again, all of this is according to Woodward’s new book, but this is Rudy Giuliani, right? This was a man on the cover of time magazine, following nine 11. This was America’s mayor, right? The guy who came close, I guess you would say to, you know, possibly being a president of the United States. This is the guy who just in 2006, went to bat for, uh, you know, the, the big opioid companies and won in court for them. And he had been reduced to basically, you know what? We can surmise from this information, making stuff up to make Donald Trump happy and let’s not get this wrong. Lindsay Graham wanted Donald Trump to win Lindsey. Graham was at the white house that day because he thought there was a chance they could overturn the election. Lindsey Graham didn’t just happen to stumble into the oval office and say, oh shoot, is there a meeting here? Oh, okay. Yeah, I’ll sit and listen. Why not? Right? No. He was invited there and he accepted the invitation because he thought there was a chance, but Giuliani was so fricking terrible at what he does. And he had no evidence at all that Lindsay Graham was like, wow, this could have been put together by an elementary school student. Rudy Giuliani has ruined his reputation. Rudy Giuliani ruined any chance of having a decent legacy all because he decided to throw his lot in with Donald Trump. That was a choice he made because at one point he believed he was going to be rewarded. And now Trump won’t even return his phone calls. Trump won’t help him pay his massive legal bills that continue to Mount Giuliani has been left out in the cold. Donald Trump could not care less about what happens to Rudy Giuliani and Lindsey Graham. Even though you didn’t go along with Giuliani’s plan here, you need to take note of that because you’ve also been a, a loyal lapdog to Donald Trump. And you need to realize that that loyalty is not a two way street, buddy. The second you are no longer useful to him or the second you are in need, you’re going to be cast out and you’re going to find yourself pretty lonely with the exception of course, of having Rudy Giuliani for company. Because Trump won’t talk to him either.

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Don’t Let Trump Steal the Show With ‘Stop the Steal’

You cannot actually debunk Republican accusations of voter fraud. You can show they aren’t true (and they aren’t), but that has no bearing on the belief itself.

“Voter fraud” is not a factual claim subject to testing and objective analysis as much as it’s a statement of ideology, a belief about the way the world works. In practice, to accuse Democrats of voter fraud is to say that Democratic voters are not legitimate political actors, that their votes do not count the same as those of “the people” (that is, the Republican electorate) and that Democratic officials, elected with those illegitimate votes, have no rightful claim to power.

In a sense, one should take accusations of voter fraud seriously but not literally, as apologists for Donald Trump once said of the former president. These accusations, the more florid the better, tell the audience that the speaker is aligned with Trump and that he or she supported his attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election. They also tell the audience that the speaker will do anything necessary to “stop the steal,” which is to say anything to stop a Republican from losing an election and, barring that, anything to delegitimize the Democrat who won.

In the last days of the California recall election that ended this week, for example, the leading Republican candidate, Larry Elder, urged his supporters to report fraud using a website that claimed to have “detected fraud” in the results. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in third-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the site readElder himself told Fox News that the 2020 election was “full of shenanigans.”

“My fear is they’re going to try that in this election right here,” he said.

Never mind that the results had not yet come in at the time Elder promoted this website, or that he was a long shot to begin with. The last Republican to win statewide high office in California was Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, when he ran successfully for re-election after winning the 2003 recall vote against the Democrat Gray Davis. Newsom, a Democrat, won his 2018 race for governor by nearly 24 points. Elder was not doomed to lose, but the idea that the election was rigged — that he was robbed of victory by mass cheating and fraud — was ridiculous. But again, the point of voter fraud accusations isn’t to describe reality; the point is to express a belief, in this case, the belief that Newsom and his supporters are illegitimate.

There are other candidates running for office making similar claims. Adam Laxalt, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race, has promised to “file lawsuits early” in order to “tighten up the election.” Laxalt co-chaired Trump’s 2020 campaign in the state and supported the effort to overturn the results. “There’s no question that, unfortunately, a lot of the lawsuits and a lot of the attention spent on Election Day operations just came too late,” he said in a recent interview.

Trump endorsed Laxalt this summer, praising his commitment to the voter fraud narrative. “He fought valiantly against the Election Fraud, which took place in Nevada,” said Trump in a statement. “He is strong on Secure Borders and defending America against the Radical Left. Adam has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

This isn’t just rhetoric, either. The ideological belief in voter fraud is driving actual efforts to delegitimize Democratic Party victories and tilt the electoral playing field in favor of Republican candidates. In Florida, for instance, a member of the state House of Representatives introduced a draft bill that would require an Arizona-style election audit in the state’s largest (and most heavily Democratic) counties.

In Georgia, a Trump-backed candidate for secretary of state, Jody Hice, is running on a promise to do what the incumbent Brad Raffensperger wouldn’t: subvert the election for Trump’s benefit should the former president make another bid for the White House. “If elected, I will instill confidence in our election process by upholding the Georgia Constitution, enforcing meaningful reform and aggressively pursuing those who commit voter fraud,” Hice said in a statement announcing his candidacy in March. As a congressman, he voted against certifying the 2020 election in January and, the following month, told a group of conservative activists, “What happened this past election was solely because of a horrible secretary of state and horrible decisions that he made.”

There is also the question of Republican voters themselves. According to a Monmouth University poll taken in June, nearly one-third of Americans believe that Joe Biden’s victory was the result of fraud, including 63 percent of Republicans. If Republican politicians keep pushing the voter fraud narrative, it is as much because Republican voters want to hear it as it is because those politicians are themselves true believers.

If this voter fraud ideology were just a matter of bad information, that would be straightforward (if not exactly easy) to fix. But as the legal scholar Ned Foley has argued, the assertion of fraud — the falsification of reality in support of narrow political goals — is more akin to McCarthyism. It cannot be reasoned with, only defeated.

The problem is that to break the hold of this ideology on Republican voters, you need Republican politicians to lead the charge. A Margaret Chase Smith, for example. But as long as Trump controls the party faithful — as long as he is, essentially, the center of a cult of personalitythose voices, if they even exist, won’t say in public what they almost certainly say behind closed doors.

It is up to Democrats, then, to at least safety-proof our electoral system against another attempt to “stop the steal.” The Senate filibuster makes that a long shot as well, even as centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin insist that there’s a compromise to strike with Republicans. Let’s hope he’s right because at this stage of the game, it is the only move left to play.