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Kari Lake and the last stand of the election deniers

According to the political website FiveThirtyEight, “the vast majority of election-denying candidates who lost their races have conceded.” They no more deserve applause than would arsonists who, at the last minute, decide to fight the fire that they had set.  

But unlike these candidates, Kari Lake, the two-fisted, election-denying Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, adamantly refuses to concede even though the Associated Press declared that she lost the election by 17,000 votes. No surprise there because Lake had vowed during the campaign only to accept a result in which she was the winner — in other words, “heads I win, tails the election was rigged.” To emphasize her election-denying grit, Lake’s campaign recently began playing on social media the late Tom Petty’s song, “I won’t back down.” 

Time will tell whether the 2022 midterms were the Gettysburg of election denial, the kind of battlefield defeat that in hindsight was a turning point. But, as the midterms demonstrated, election denial is certainly losing traction. Its adherents’ most realistic hope of a revival depends on a replay of 2020 in which Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, loses the 2024 general election in a tight race and then uses election denial to rouse his MAGA mercenaries, at least those no longer serving prison terms, and the lunatic conspiracy theorists, to stop the electoral certification. It will be harder in 2024 since Trump won’t be rabble-rousing from a presidential perch and President Biden will have considerable means available to prevent a Jan. 6 replay.

Without Trump, election denial has no future as a political strategy. Other prominent Republicans simply can’t conjure upon fake realities the way he can, as evidenced by the flop of Kari Lake’s one-woman election denial show. 

The outgoing Republican governor, Doug Ducey, congratulated Lake’s opponent, Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, on her victory. Tom Petty’s estate issued a cease-and-desist order to Lake’s campaign to stop playing “I won’t back down,” which it claims Lake stole. Even Trump devoted relatively little time to election denial in announcing his candidacy for president in 2024.

Lake has none of Trump’s carnivorous, carnival-barker skills but all of his election-denying klutziness. During the Arizona election, technical problems prevented some vote tabulators in Maricopa County from processing the ballots. Poll workers offered voters the option of putting their ballots in a slot marked “3” in the locked boxes below the tabulators.

Lake’s allies began spreading rumors that made what they called “Box 3” sound like an Area 51 conspiracy, and urged voters not to use “Box 3.” When the Lake campaign finally realized that the fear-mongering was depressing their voter turnout, a campaign lawyer had to reassure voters that they had nothing to fear from “Box 3.”

Lake has begun filing lawsuits, but notwithstanding the tabulation problems, they will go nowhere. An investigation by The New York Times concluded that Lake has been unable to establish that any eligible voters “were actually denied the chance to vote.”

Instead, Lake’s campaign has resorted to subterfuges by, for example, posting an edited video from the site Rumble in which a voter complained about his inability to vote at a polling place because of the tabulation problems. But in the full, unedited video, the voter explained that, in fact, he had then cast his ballot at another polling place.

To paraphrase a well-known saying, “Election denial history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor in the Carter and Reagan administrations, where he was a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team that convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is working on a book about a 19th century American journalist who investigated the Siberian exile system. Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.

Tags 2022 midterms Arizona gubernatorial race Doug Ducey Election denialism election deniers Gregory J. Wallance Kari Lake kari lake Katie Hobbs Tom Petty

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