Rigged review: shameless – and dangerous – catnip for Trump’s base

<span>Photograph: John Minchillo/AP</span>
Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

The state of the union is sulfurous. Donald Trump’s defeat did not change that.

More than 80% of Trump and Biden voters think elected officials from the other party “present a clear and present danger to American democracy”. Half of Trump supporters and two-fifths for Biden think secession would be a good idea.

Into the fray leaps Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway with Rigged, 488 pages on “How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections”.

Hemingway’s is an immovable feast. It’s about owning the libs.

“If you believe things went terribly wrong in the 2020 election, well, you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone,” she writes. “But most of all, you’re not wrong.”

In 2015, Hemingway branded Trump a “demagogue with no real solutions”. Now, like so many Republicans, she’s a fan. She discounts Charlottesville, where in August 2017 far-right marchers earned kind words from the president, as a “hoax”. She castigates those who denounce the events of 6 January this year, when Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.

“People who call the few-hour riot at the Capitol by unarmed protesters an ‘insurrection’ are bad people who are harming the country,” she tweeted in July.

The riot was an attempt to overturn the election. Five people died, a police officer among them. Rigged is catnip for Trump’s base.

“They used Covid to rig an election,” Trump whines, in an interview. “There was nothing I could do.”

He has been singing that song since May 2020. And then there is reality: the administration’s performative nonchalance in the face of Covid undermined Trump’s chances of reelection.

That was understood by his campaign as early as spring 2020. According to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post, in April Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, warned that Covid could cost the boss re-election.

“We have seen the enemy and it is us,” Fabrizio wrote. “It isn’t [Trump’s] policies that cause the biggest problem, it is voters’ reactions to his temperament and behavior.”

Hemingway looks in other directions, pointing a finger at Democratic lawyers and voters for supposedly gaming the system amid a pandemic, berating Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for pursuing the wrong legal strategies, and ignoring comments by Bill Barr, who she interviews but who as attorney general let Trump know he had not “seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome of the election”.

It’s true that Trump might have mounted more of a fight. His campaign and the GOP had real lawyers on the payroll and Republicans were secretary of state in Arizona and Georgia. But the party had squandered the advantages of incumbency.

Trump and Hemingway both go at Silicon Valley with a vengeance, reserving a special place in hell for Mark Zuckerberg.

“Big tech got meaner, bigger, stronger, and they were crazed,” Trump says. As for Zuckerberg, he “should be in jail”. One suspects many Americans might agree.

Hemingway criticizes the Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) for funding election operations in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. She contends that such private-public partnerships undermine the public’s faith in electoral integrity.

For the record, courts repeatedly denied pre-election efforts to block CTCL funding. One federal judge, William C Griesbach, a George W Bush appointee, acknowledged the “receipt of private funds for public elections may give an appearance of impropriety” – but dismissed the lawsuit.

Hemingway does not examine Team Trump’s own relationship with Facebook and Zuckerberg. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct company part-owned by the Mercer family, Trump benefactors, used Facebook to illegally harvest personal data. Steve Bannon, who would become Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, was a board member and officer. He denies personal culpability.

There’s more that Hemingway leaves untouched. According to The Contrarian, a recent book by Max Chafkin of Bloomberg News, in a 2019 meeting between Zuckerberg, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and Trump ally, Zuckerberg basically agreed to champion “state-sanctioned conservatism”. Zuckerberg has called the claim “pretty ridiculous”. Thiel, an original Facebook investor, still sits on the board.

It doesn’t end there. A recent lawsuit commenced by the Rhode Island Retirement System against Facebook, Zuckerberg, Thiel and his company, Palantir, alleges “significant damage” caused by the data-harvesting scandal. The suit quotes the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, in alleging that Palantir employees “regularly worked in person, during normal business hours, at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in London”.

Back on the page, it seems Hemingway cannot resist the siren song of race. In Justice on Trial, her last book, about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, she rubbished the legal underpinnings of Brown v Board of Education, the 1954 supreme court ruling that made state-imposed school segregation unconstitutional.

Such decisions, she wrote, “may have been correct in their result but were decided on the basis of sociological studies rather than legal principles”.

It’s a unique take, with which even Trump’s three supreme court picks would not agree. Amy Coney Barrett has called Brown a “super-precedent … unthinkable” to overrule. Kavanaugh has said the same. Neil Gorsuch concedes it was properly decided.

Related: Stephanie Grisham: Trump turncoat who may be most damaging yet

Undeterred, Hemingway now takes aim at the 1964 Civil Rights Act, resurrecting Barry Goldwater’s contention that it evinced “an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government”. Hemingway also derides Lyndon Johnson’s support for civil rights as a blatant appeal to black voters.

In 1964, Senator Goldwater lost to Johnson in a landslide. That was the last time a Democrat accomplished that feat – or won the “white vote”, for that matter.

The news remains a battleground. Ryan Williams, president of the rightwing Claremont Institute, has made it known his mission is to save western civilization.

“We believe in truth and reason,” he recently told the Atlantic. “The question is whose truth and whose reason.”

Williams also said “a third of the country thinks the election was given to Biden fraudulently”. Hemingway is sure to find an audience.

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