Will election denialism become as common as presidential elections?

Election worker inspects a mail-in ballot for damage
Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli
Election worker Donna Young inspects a mail-in ballot for damage at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, June 3, 2022.

The 2020 election may have marked a sad turning point in presidential elections. In the future, the losing side will almost certainly claim the election was stolen, especially if the election was close.

As Republican strategist Karl Rove recently pointed out, Democrats initiated the modern version of the election-was-stolen ploy in the 2004 presidential race.

Actually, it started in the 2000 presidential race. They revived it in the 2016 election. But it was Republicans who jumped on the bandwagon in 2020.

Rove identifies Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who likely saved Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign by endorsing him at a pivotal point, as an election denier in the 2004 presidential election between President George W. Bush, the Republican incumbent, and Democrat John Kerry. Clyburn voted to deny Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush, even though Bush won the state easily. Had those electoral votes been handed to Kerry, he would have become president.

Rove includes some 10 other prominent election-denying House Democrats who sided with Clyburn, including Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) who is chair of the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

Then there’s Democrats’ election denialism of the 2016 presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. As you can see in this YouTube compilation, numerous leading Democrats stated as a matter of fact that (1) the 2016 election was stolen or (2) Trump was an “illegitimate president” because of Russian interference in the election.

The video also includes numerous quotes from Democrats who argue that then-Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, won the 2000 presidential election. That election came down to who won the state of Florida. Bush had the most votes but by a razor-thin margin. After recounts, state election officials confirmed that Bush won the state by 537 votes. Democrats challenged the count, and the issue eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which let the state recount stand.

Again, there were charges that the election was stolen or that the U.S. Supreme Court unjustly handed the election to Bush.

Of course, Democrats made no claim of stolen elections when their man, Barack Obama, won in 2008 and again in 2012. Apparently, stolen elections only happen when the other side wins.

In 2020 it was Trump and his strongest Republican supporters who pressed the stolen-election charge.

No Republican has been able to provide any evidence that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, but neither have Democrats been able to prove the 2016 election was stolen, or the 2004 election, or the 2000 election. But Democrats still maintain they were.

And even though major mainstream news outlets frequently refer to Republicans as conspiracy theorists because of their stolen-election claims, I don’t recall hearing any of those outlets refer to Democrats as conspiracy theorists with respect to the 2016 presidential election. Even though Democrats did, and still do, argue that Russians somehow interfered in the election, throwing it to Trump.

Is this how it’s going to be in future presidential elections? Especially the close ones?

Just consider a Trump-Biden rematch.

If Trump decides to run for president in the 2024 election – something the media are largely predicting, even hoping for – what are the chances he will claim the election was stolen if he loses to Biden, or anyone else for that matter? I would say it’s almost a certainty.

If Biden decides to run for reelection in 2024, as he claims he plans to do, what are the chances he and Democrats will claim the election was stolen if Biden loses to Trump? Again, I think it’s almost a certainty.

Frankly, that’s the last thing the country needs.

Given how divided the country is, and given the distrust between the two major parties, we’re likely to see the election-was-stolen theme emerge again and again.

It even raised its ugly head in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, who won that election. Abrams has never accepted the results of that race, and may be an election-denier again if she loses in the upcoming November rematch with Kemp.

This trend of a stolen election without any evidence to back it up may be the biggest threat facing our democracy.

In 2004, I was riding in a Washington, D.C., cab, and the driver, who seemed to be of middle-eastern origin, weighed in on what he thought was so great about U.S. presidential elections.

He said that in the United States, the president is elected, and everyone accepts the outcome and goes on with their lives. In his country, he said, the losing side gets their guns and starts shooting at the ones who won.

Thankfully, we aren’t there — yet.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags 2000 presidential campaign 2016 election interference 2020 election claims Bennie Thompson Biden big lie Brian Kemp George W. Bush James Clyburn Karl Rove Merrill Matthews Stacey Abrams stolen election voter fraud claims

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