“Stolen Election” is the New “Birtherism”

“Scary Philadelphia voted illegally!” “Obama was born in Africa!” The Republican goal is the same: delegitimize the president and obstruct everything.

Donald Trump’s reaction to the election results has been to hunker down in the White House. He hasn’t stood before a microphone since his disastrous remarks on Thursday from the White House Briefing Room. Instead, he tweets about voter “fraud.” As a fact-check, the New York Times contacted election officials in every state. None of them reported any major voting issues.

Nevertheless, most Republicans have encouraged the president to continue his hapless legal battle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump is “100 percent within his right” to pursue recounts and litigation. Republican Senators eyeing the presidency in 2024 have fueled Trump’s fantasies, including Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham. Once again, the Republican Party is standing behind this president and defending the indefensible.

According to a poll conducted by Politico’s Morning Consult, the message Trump and Republicans are sending is having an impact on their base of support. Before the news on Saturday that Biden had won the election, 35 percent of Republican voters didn’t trust that the 2020 election was free and fair. After the announcement, the number jumped to 70 percent. That is dangerous.

But when it comes to proving their case in the courts, Trump and the GOP are failing miserably. So what’s the end-game? 

You might remember that it wasn’t until Barack Obama became the 44th president that the whole “birther” conspiracy theory really took off. While it had been rumbling around in the dark corners of the internet prior to the 2008 election, the notion that the first African American president wasn’t qualified for the office became a right-wing rallying cry soon after he won. Republicans exploited the racism fanned by those claims to delegitimize Obama’s presidency and justify their obstruction of anything he tried to do. 

Last May, McConnell made it clear that, if a Democrat were elected president, he would once again employ the strategy of total obstruction. But Joe Biden is an old white guy, so Republicans need a new twist on racism to make it work this time. 

With a focus on cities with high concentrations of people of color—like Detroit and Philadelphia—they are inflaming the GOP base with questions about the legitimacy of  Biden’s presidency by claiming that it was “those people” who stole the election. That will be their rationale for total obstruction. During an interview on Fox News, Newt Gingrich actually laid out the plan.

Claiming that the election was a Democratic “power grab” financed by (of course) George Soros, Gingrich threw a bone to anti-Semites in the Republican base. He concluded that “it is very hard for me to understand how we [Democrats and Republicans] are going to work together,” which is really his point. This is all pretext for massive resistance to anything President Biden tries to do.

The plan is to deny Biden legitimacy. Right-wing media will give Republicans cover to maintain the lie by obsessing about “investigations” and “reports” of a “stolen election.” Meanwhile, GOP voters will encourage them while failing to hold their leaders accountable for refusing to govern. 

That strategy worked pretty well for Republicans during the Obama presidency. With a few tweaks, they’re teeing it up once again. 

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.