Election denialism remains powerful in Republican politics

<span>Photograph: Matt York/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt York/AP

Hello, and Happy Thursday,

I’m writing this as we’re still digesting the results of Tuesday’s primary elections in several states, the latest test of whether Republican candidates who have embraced lies about the 2020 election can get the backing of GOP voters. So far, the results only add to the considerable evidence showing election denialism remains remarkably powerful in Republican politics.

One of the most consequential results on Tuesday was in Arizona, where Mark Finchem, a state lawmaker, easily won the Republican nomination to run for secretary of state, a position from which he would oversee elections. Few people in Arizona have fought as aggressively to overturn the 2020 election as Finchem has – he first tried to block Congress from recognizing Joe Biden’s legitimate victory in the state, and has since sought to spread misinformation and decertify the election, which is not possible.

Finchem now joins Kristina Karamo in Michigan, Jim Marchant in Nevada, and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania as Republican nominees on the verge of claiming offices where they would have enormous power over elections (Karamo and Marchant are running for secretary of state, Mastriano is running for governor, where he would get to appoint the secretary of state). So far, three of the four secretary of state candidates Trump has endorsed have won (the one exception came in Georgia’s primary).

“Having even one election denier in a statewide office would be a five-alarm fire for our elections,” Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action, which is tracking election deniers running for office, said in a statement. “Recent primaries – particularly in Arizona and Michigan – should worry all of us as Americans. But voters have the power here. They can slow this trend in the primaries to come, and they can stop it in its tracks in the general election.”

Before Tuesday’s vote, Finchem, who was endorsed by Trump, encouraged supporters to congregate at voting sites to watch for wrongdoing. “Stand 75ft away from the entrance of the polls,” Finchem told a crowd recently, according to the Arizona Mirror. “The mere fact that you are there watching scares the hell out of them.”

“If Mark Finchem is victorious this November, it could jeopardize the integrity of the 2024 presidential election and possibly could subvert the will of the people for years to come,” Ellen Kurtz, the founder and president of iVote, a liberal group focused on voting rights and elections, said in a statement. “No one who attempts to stop the peaceful transfer of power by attending a violent, deadly attack on our Capitol deserves to be on any ballot.”

There’s deep concern that these officials, if elected, could use the power of their office to attempt to overturn the results of a valid election.

Last week, I asked Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant in Arizona, what he thought Finchem would do if he was in charge of a future election and the result was in doubt. “He would not fall in line. He would follow the Donald Trump script of doing everything possible to be a disrupter if the election outcome is anything but what he wanted. I don’t see any go-along-to-get-along in Mark Finchem,” he told me.

Kari Lake, a Republican who made election denialism a pillar of her campaign, also is leading in the Arizona governor’s race. Votes are still being counted, but if she wins, it would place election denialism front and center in a state where top Republicans have aggressively embraced it.

There was one other big victory for Trump on Tuesday. Rusty Bowers, the term-limited GOP speaker of the Arizona House, lost his primary to a Trump-backed challenger in a state senate race. Bowers played a central role in rebuffing Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in his state and was censured by the state GOP after he testified in front of the panel investigating the January 6 attack.

Acknowledging the headwinds he faced for going against the former president, Bowers told NBC before the primary it would be a “miracle” if he won.

Also worth watching …

  • Arizona’s attorney general debunked a claim from Cyber Ninjas that nearly 300 dead people could have voted in the 2020 election in Arizona

  • Some voters were stealing pens from voting sites in Arizona, egged on by a conspiracy theory

  • A retired supreme court justice hired by Wisconsin Republicans to review the 2020 race publicly said in March lawmakers should consider decertifying the race. Privately, he said doing so was “a practical impossibility”.