The success of the 'big lie' in GOP primaries endangers the party, and democracy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest in front of the Maricopa County Election Department while votes are being counted in Phoenix on Nov. 6, 2020. (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Last month we listed some encouraging examples of candidates who won recent Republican primaries despite rejecting former President Donald Trump’s false claim of a stolen 2020 election. Now comes The Washington Post to establish, ominously, that this isn’t necessarily the norm in this midterm election year.

An analysis by the newspaper found that more than 100 Republican primary candidates around the country who actively backed Trump’s "big lie" have either won the party’s nomination or have advanced to runoffs. This not only indicates a deep dysfunction in the GOP base, but also presents a clear danger to democracy.

What makes the so-called debate over the 2020 election so alarming is that, unlike most issues Americans argue about, there are just two sides to this one: the factual and the delusional. Joe Biden clearly won the election, with no indication, let alone evidence, of significant vote fraud. That’s a fact, confirmed by dozens of courts and countless state election officials, many of them Republicans.

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On the other side of that non-debate is a blustery ex-president who announced in advance he would cry foul at any election result other than victory for himself. He was attended by cronies who were laughed out of one courtroom after another for proffering baseless and unhinged conspiracy theories, some of whom now face litigation and potential disbarment over their obvious lies. All of this was done in an attempt to keep a president in power after he was rejected by the people — a corrupt quest that turned deadly on Jan. 6, 2021.

In a sane political environment, endorsement of that disgraceful legacy would be disqualifying for any primary candidate of any party. Yet it’s a recipe for electoral success in today’s GOP, where something is clearly very, very wrong.

The Washington Post’s analysis considered the 14 states that had conducted primaries by late May for congressional and statewide posts. It found that at least 108 winners explicitly endorsed Trump’s stolen-election lie, with dozens more implicitly endorsing it with campaigns that treated the Trumpian fantasy of mass vote fraud as a top-tier concern.

Many of the candidates are running for secretary of state or other positions that would give them power over the electoral process. Some, like Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, have called for allowing Republican-controlled legislatures, rather than the voters, to control which electors get seated.

The flashing-red warning here isn’t just that so many GOP candidates have embraced this anti-democracy strategy based on a plain lie. It’s that so many Republican primary voters have embraced those candidates. What does it say when a significant, often decisive portion of a major political party’s voters reward candidates who run on an assertion as obviously false as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster? Republican leaders who still put country ahead of party should view this situation as a partywide emergency.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).