Even though election denialists were largely crushed in crucial elections in the 2022 midterms, denialism isn’t going away anytime soon. Besides the election of over 200 election denialists to offices around the country, it’s also turned into a lucrative grift, and no one really wants to turn off the spigots.
The Election-Denialist-in-Chief, Donald Trump, of course, continues to milk his claims of ongoing election fraud as a fundraising gimmick. But his election-denialist minions—particularly losing candidates like Arizona’s Kari Lake and Washington state’s Joe Kent—are likewise continuing to pump the fundraising levers alongside halfhearted attempts to contest their electoral losses.
Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who lost narrowly in November, last week filed a lawsuit, as promised, challenging certification of the state’s election results. Lake’s 70-page lawsuit also seeks a court order declaring her the winner.
The lawsuit claims that, due to supposed malfeasance by Maricopa County election officials, Lake is now “entitled” to the governor’s office, results notwithstanding. However, she indicated a willingness to accept a court order for a do-over election.
The New York Times observes: “The 70-page filing relies on a hodgepodge of allegations, ranging from voter and poll worker accounts to poll numbers claiming that voters agreed with Ms. Lake on the election’s mismanagement. Some of what is cited comes not from last month’s election but from the 2020 contest. Other allegations accuse officials of wrongdoing for taking part in efforts to try to tamp down election misinformation.”
When Lake last filed an election-related lawsuit, her attorneys ended up being sanctioned afterward for filing false and frivolous claims. There’s little likelihood the trajectory of this lawsuit will be much different.
Lake, however, is indifferent to such drawbacks since she has bigger projects on the hook—like landing a spot as Donald Trump’s 2024 running mate. In the meantime, the grift keeps her in the headlines and gives her an opportunity to continue fundraising.
Meanwhile, Kent, who also narrowly lost his House race in southwestern Washington state’s 3rd congressional district, has filed a request for a recount that has little likelihood of altering the outcome. That’s okay: As the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat recently reported, keeping the election denialism going has proven a great way to keep the right-wing fundraising dollars flowing.
Kent’s PAC, called Keep Electing New Talent, had raised $130,000 through late October, the most recent federal reports available. He gave away only about $38,000 of this to 16 election-denier candidates (14 of whom lost). But his consultant, External Affairs, a company run by a former Trump campaign official, raked off nearly $70,000 in “PAC strategy consulting” fees, more than half the total.
As Westneat notes, Trumpists in Washington state have proven to be especially gullible suckers both for candidates like Kent—but for Trump himself. The ex-president took in $2.7 million from donors in the state for his phony “Election Defense Fund,” which was a shell that spent nothing on legal defense (Trump hoovered up $175 million nationally in the scheme).
Since then, according to federal records, he’s raised another $2.2 million from Washington donors for his Save America PAC while flogging election-denial conspiracy theories on a daily basis. Trump’s been using the PAC to pay for attorneys and MAGA witnesses in his various criminal investigations.
The intellectual dishonesty of the election denialists manifested itself in the lawsuit to overturn the result filed by Mark Finchem, an ally of Lake’s and the GOP nominee to be Arizona Secretary of State. In public, Finchem has made claims of outrageous fraud committed by nefarious conspirators—but the filings themselves are mostly concerned with minor technical complaints and innuendo.
“To the courts, Finchem and other losing candidates offer up a seemingly sober assessment of how the results were somehow questionable,” observed Philip Bump at The Washington Post. “To the public, though, they make baseless claims of illegality both because they’re unbound by the restrictions of legal filings and because it works much better for engagement. In essence, then, the legal standpoint of the Finchems of the world is that they aren’t election deniers, even as they publicly deny elections.”
Election denialism is one of the more overt strategies used by the far right in their ongoing war on American democracy, and it’s not hard to see why: Elections are the beating heart of our democratic institutions, and a loss of faith in them because of a pandemic of disinformation is the most direct route to hollowing them out and rendering us vulnerable to the autocratic takeover that right-wing extremists envision.
Jessica Goodheart at Capital and Main observes that election denialism is one of the most potent threats to our democracy. “Recent refusals by election boards to certify the votes in Cochise County, Arizona, and Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, may be outliers,” she reports. “But local officials declining to perform a function that is purely ministerial does expose a weakness that those seeking to undermine a fragmented election system can exploit.”
“We have a very decentralized election system. There are many pressure points where we rely on people to act in good faith. And if they don’t, we don’t always have a good way of dealing with that,” UCLA law professor and election law expert Richard Hasen told Goodheart.
The growing gap in information environments—particularly between the alternative universe occupied by authoritarian MAGA followers and reality—is fueling the dysfunction.
“Shared facts are foundational to a functioning society,” observed Rachael Dean Wilson of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
Wilson adds that Twitter—“one of the few shared spaces for exchanging information”—is under siege from its red-pilled billionaire new owner, Elon Musk, who appears intent on maintaining its viability as a safe space for democratic exchange. “You can’t miss what’s going on with Twitter right now,” she said.
Importantly, a thread of election denialism has been running through Musk’s recent “Twitter Files” project involving writers for hire like Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss supposedly exposing how Twitter unfairly censored the “Hunter Biden laptop” story, as well as Trump himself prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and afterward, too. In a recent exchange, Trump confidant Tom Fitton opined that “this is damning evidence of election interference.” Musk replied: “Unequivocally true. The evidence is clear and voluminous.”
Trump himself crowed at his Truth Social platform that Musk’s “Twitter Files” proved “conclusively in one more way that the 2020 Presidential Election was Rigged and Stolen. … Big moment in history! Thank you!”
Election denialism lost the big races involving critical swing states in 2022, but its adherents still won election to some 220 offices around the country, ranging from U.S. Senators like Ohio’s J.D. Vance to rural county auditors in places like Mason County, Washington.
“Voters in swing states sent a message that they were not receptive to election denialism. They didn’t send that message everywhere,” Daniel I. Weiner, director of the Brennan Center’s elections and government program, told The Guardian.
Weiner added: “There is going to continue to have to be built a greater consensus amongst Americans across the ideological spectrum that this is out of bounds. This election was reassuring. It certainly doesn’t mean the election denialism has gone away, though.”
“It has nothing to do with patriotism. It’s a machine, a money-making effort,” said Rusty Bowers, the longtime Republican Arizona House speaker who was defeated in his primary. “They found how to do it. The formula works. […] It would seem obvious to somebody with rational thinking that I am being played for my wallet.”