Top Republicans are already rushing to buy into Trump’s 2024 election fraud narrative

Top Republicans are already rushing to buy into a new 2024 election fraud narrative sown by ex-President Donald Trump in their zeal to appease their party’s presumptive nominee.

Leading party figures are increasingly warning they will only recognize the result of November’s presidential vote if there is no fraud. But there is no indication that there will be irregularities in the election. And their warnings come despite many Republican state legislatures taking steps to tighten voting rules — based on Trump’s lies about fraud in 2020.

The new Republican trend of casting doubt on the integrity of the 2024 election in advance was exhibited by Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday in an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. The Texas lawmaker, who in 2016 fell in line behind Trump despite the ex-president’s insults about his father and his wife, falsely stated that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud. Despite Trump’s claims of voting irregularities, multiple courts, including the US Supreme Court, rejected the former president’s claims he was cheated out of power. And Trump’s then-attorney general, William Barr, looked into his claims and decided that there was no widespread fraud that would have changed the result of the election.

But Cruz told Collins that a question about whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election was “ridiculous.”

“So you’re asking, ‘Will you promise, no matter what, to agree an election is legitimate regardless of what happens?,’ and that would be an absurd thing to claim,” Cruz said. “We have an entire election law system: that people challenge elections, elections get overturned, voter fraud gets proven. That happens all the time.” Cruz, who objected to election results in Arizona, which Trump narrowly lost to Biden, on January 6, 2021, went on to suggest there was significant fraud in 2020. And he implied the same could happen this year.

“If the Democrats win, I will accept the result, but I’m not going to ignore fraud regardless of what happens,” Cruz said.

A sign of Trump’s power

The equivocating of senior Republicans appears motivated by a fear of crossing Trump, the twice-impeached GOP leader who has the power to end careers in the party simply by turning against an individual lawmaker. The positioning looks a lot like laying the groundwork for a challenge to the fairness of the 2024 election if Trump loses in November. Undermining an election even before it happens represents a grave threat to democracy.

The attempt to raise the specter of election fraud this year is especially corrosive because of the likelihood that the 2024 vote will be decided in a handful of swing states by mere thousands of ballots and raises the possibility of prolonged legal action by Trump’s camp that would tarnish yet another US election. Trump is still claiming falsely that Mike Pence had the constitutional authority power to overturn the 2020 election result, and the former vice president has been largely ostracized within his party for following the Constitution and overseeing the certification of Biden’s victory.

Cruz is just one of the latest senior party figures to try to avoid getting on the wrong side of Trump when asked whether they will accept the result of the 2024 election. The attempt to win Trump’s favor follows an interview that Trump gave to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper earlier this month. “If everything’s honest, I’ll gladly accept the results. I don’t change on that,” Trump said. “If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.” His comments carried the implicit threat that he will decide if he loses, as he did in 2020, that the election was not fair. Trump frequently claims he did better in the popular vote four years ago than any incumbent president, creating a false argument that it was therefore impossible to lose to Biden, who got more votes.

Trump’s renewed election denialism is disturbing for several reasons. First, it mirrors his pre-election spin in 2020, when he suggested that the election might not be fair — which he later built upon after losing to Biden with a widespread campaign that culminated in the mob attack by his supporters on the Capitol that was designed to thwart the certification of Biden’s victory. Trump often leaves the impression that any election he loses cannot, by definition, be legitimate. His false claims about election fraud in 2020 are now believed by millions of Republican voters despite the fact that he has been indicted twice — in a federal case and in Georgia — for his attempts to steal the election and stay in power.

Comments like Cruz’s on Wednesday serve to create an expectation among some voters that the coming election will not be fair, even though there is no indication that this, or any other US election, will be tarnished by fraud, which historically has only taken place at very low levels.

Republican senators try to demonstrate loyalty to Trump

The Texas senator is far from the only senior party figure to buy into Trump’s claims, a trend that shows the sheer power of Trump in the GOP. It also follows the announcement by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday that she will vote for Trump despite having called him “unhinged” and unfit to serve in the Oval Office again during her primary campaign earlier this year. Her move appeared to be an attempt to retain viability in the Republican Party for any future run for president.

It seems like it should be easy for Republicans just to state that they will accept the result of the 2024 election and that US presidential votes in the modern era have not been tainted by fraud. But they can’t seem to do it.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, whom Trump mentioned as a possible vice presidential contender on Thursday, said on CNN the same night, “I will accept the results if it’s done in a fair and transparent way,” going on to raise doubts about mail-in voting.

Also on CNN Thursday night, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds — who’s also been mentioned as a possible Trump running mate — was asked if he’d accept the results if Trump loses. “If the states and localities actually follow the rules and procedures and everybody sees the rules followed, then of course, you accept what’s done,” Donalds said.

Earlier this week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who ran against Trump in 2016 but has since adopted Trumpian positions, was asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether he would accept the result of the election “no matter what happens.” He replied: “If it’s an unfair election, I think it’s going to be contested by either side.” He claimed that Democrats have “opposed every Republican victory since 2000” and added: “If it’s unfair, we are going to do the same thing Democrats do … we’re going to use lawyers to go to court and point out the fact that states are not following their own election laws.”

Rubio’s comment is misleading because, while there were some claims by small groups of Democrats that the elections of 2004 and 2016 featured some fraud, the Democratic candidates in each case quickly conceded to Republicans, unlike Trump, who has never accepted that he lost. The 2000 election was contested by Republicans and Democrats over a recount controversy in Florida, the pivotal state. The Democratic candidate, then-Vice President Al Gore, eventually conceded after the case was adjudicated by the Supreme Court — a step that Trump never took as he sought to disrupt the American tradition of peaceful transfers of power.

The idea that the 2024 election may not be free and fair was also raised recently by Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who is reported to be on Trump’s shortlist as a potential vice presidential nominee. He told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” earlier this month that “I totally plan to accept the results of 2024,” while holding out the possibility that the election may not be fair if Trump were to lose.

“I think that Donald Trump will be (the victor). And if it’s a free and fair election, Dana, I think every Republican will enthusiastically accept the results. And, again, I think those results will show that Donald Trump has been elected president, been reelected president.”

Vance argued that parties in the election had to be willing to prosecute their cases if they believed there was election fraud. But academic studies and multiple legal cases have shown that fraud in presidential elections only occurs in isolated cases. That’s not stopping Republicans demonstrating their loyalty to Trump by casting doubt on the integrity of the 2024 election before it even happens.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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