After former President Donald Trump’s fanciful allegations of voter fraud sparked a riot in the Capitol, many observers felt there was no turning back: henceforth, conspiracies to cheat among candidates would be common, and the possibility of danger would only increase .
Trump’s most ardent supporters “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” President Joe Biden said in September. Days before last month’s midterm elections, he even linked poll conspiracy to the brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosis’s husband.
And it wasn’t just limited to Trump: In an article titled “Trump Isn’t the Only Threat to Democracy,” Brookings Institute’s Darrell West wrote, “One of the worst things Trump has done is to blame many other aspirants show how to pursue power politics with unethical steps.”
But exactly the opposite happened: voters rejected the most illiberal candidates, almost all of whom chose to respect the results.
One of the most prominent drivers of the 2020 election conspiracies was Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, who won the Republican nominee for governor with the help of a significant cash injection from his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro. Mastriano insisted the results of the 2020 election were falsified, even attending the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol breakthrough and threatening not to certify a Democrat as the winner of Pennsylvania’s 2024 electoral vote.
And yet, just days after the general election, he was two digits behind his challenger Mastriano concededand said, “Josh Shapiro will be our next governor and I ask everyone to give him the opportunity to lead and pray that he leads well.”
In fact, Republican candidates across the country fared worse with Trump’s explicit endorsement than without. It was even worse for those who refuse to vote. And like Mastriano, the majority conceded defeat rather than bemoaned betrayal.
One of the exceptions is Kari Lake, the hot-headed Republican who looked set to be Arizona’s next governor but burst into flames after all the votes were counted. she called the results “BS” and spun bizarre fraud allegations, but their protests don’t carry through. She filed a lawsuit last week alleging voting machines had been tampered with, and on Thursday a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and sanctioned Lake, citing her “false, misleading and unsubstantiated claims of fact” in the lawsuit.
Elsewhere in their state, the electoral conspiracy movement is similarly heating up, as Republicans in deep-red Cochise County refused to confirm the results of their own election, in violation of Arizona law, over allegations of fraud the state had already refuted. On Thursday, the board finally confirmed after a court order forced its hand.
It’s possible voters were swayed by Biden’s apocalyptic rhetoric, but that’s unlikely given his overall ongoing unpopularity. More likely, average Republicans just couldn’t stomach the idea of pulling the lever on candidates like Lake or Mastriano. A recent poll found that 52 percent of Republicans believed the midterm elections were “definitely” or “probably” “free and fair” — still an embarrassingly low percentage, but that’s how it is reason‘s Eric Boehm noted this week that it is also “the highest percentage the group has found in recent polls of registered Republicans’ opinions on elections.”
There is evidence that Republican voters resent openly abstainers: In Georgia, for example, Herschel Walker was 5 points behind Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor. Walker has consistently promoted conspiracies on the 2020 election, while Kemp earned Trump’s wrath for defying the former president’s pleas to undermine his results.
Fortunately, while the electoral conspiracy is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, it is fading among independents and broad swathes of Republican voters.