Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake showed Sunday how a new generation of Donald Trump proteges are using the former president’s anti-Democrat playbook to taint another election.
Lake appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” Jan. 6, 2021 The House Select Committee investigating the rebellion revealed new evidence that Trump knew he was going to lose in 2020, but decided to claim victory anyway.
His answers made it clear that even before Trump voted to cast doubt on the result, some GOP office-seekers believe it’s a legitimate tactic two years later.
Pressed by CNN’s Dana Bash, Lake repeatedly refused to accept the outcome of his election, said the vote counting that took place after election night was not legitimate and insisted that the 2020 presidential election was corrupt despite high-ranking officials. The Trump administration and several courts denied this.
“I will win the election, and I will accept that result,” Lake said.
His response underscored the possibility of a crisis in November’s midterm elections if the losing GOP candidates decide not to accept the outcome. And he recalled a similar statement made by then-Republican presidential candidate Trump in Ohio in October 2016, when he said: “I would like to promise and pledge to all my voters and supporters and to all the people of the United States that I will absolutely accept the results of this great and historic presidential election.” , if you win.”
Many GOP candidates endorsed by or supporting Trump repeat false claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate. The prospect of some of them winning key statewide offices that end up controlling elections alarms free-election advocates — a particularly dangerous scenario without the courage of some Republican officials who thwarted Trump’s bid to steal the election in 2020.
Lake’s speech also highlighted how the most significant political division in the country is not between the left and the right, but between the candidates who will play with the rules of democracy and those who are ready to undermine it further. Trump, who remains the dominant Republican electoral force in the country, has exacerbated this situation by making his acceptance of voter fraud the price of acceptance in many GOP primaries and an effective condition for his acceptance.
He said he won key 2020 swing states, including Arizona, despite no evidence of impropriety, helping to convince millions of Republican voters that he was unfairly ousted from office and damaging the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency among many conservatives.
For all Trump’s evasiveness and willingness to face allegations of election fraud in 2020, Lake also showed Sunday why he could be a potential future voice of Trumpism once its author leaves the stage.
As a veteran former Phoenix TV reporter, Lake is an accomplished television performer. His answers seem convincing, even when he’s giving false or questionable information, and he’s adept at twisting an answer out of an issue that will please his voters. However, his political prowess will not be tested on the debate stage, as Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs has declined to debate.
Lake also showed a facility to demagogue undocumented migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border. Trump won the presidency after making this the focus of his 2016 election campaign.
Lake’s escape mirrors Trump’s position ahead of the 2020 election. And it’s one that does a lot of damage to democracy because every time a Democrat wins it means fraud has occurred. If GOP candidates tell their supporters that the system is corrupt, many will believe it.
Any candidate has the right to challenge the result of an election if they believe it is unfair. But increasingly, officials and those who simply deny the facts established by the courts use the specter of fraud as a political tool. This is a very corrosive tactic because free and fair elections allow defeated candidates to lose. Once that is gone, democracy is in deep danger.
Trump repeatedly raised questions about the fairness of the 2020 election before voters went to the polls and suggested it could only be defeated by illegal means. While Lake may not be as fair as the former president, his refusal to say without a doubt that he will accept the outcome in a tight race today does not bode well. A recent CNN poll showed no clear leader in the race between Lake and Hobbs among likely voters.
Trump is still pushing falsehoods of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, repeating many of his baseless accusations in an order issued after the House Select Committee voted Thursday to subpoena testimony and documents. Even if his claims are false – for example, that he should win in 2020 because he got more votes than in 2016 – they have helped to spread distrust of the electoral system among his supporters. Trump won more popular votes in 2020 than in 2016. But Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump and won a comfortable majority of the Electoral College. Skepticism about the Trump-driven election persisted after he left office, however. In an April 2021 CNN/SSRS poll, for example, 70% of Republicans did not think Biden won enough votes to be elected.
Lake deflected a question about why he was using the declassified information about the 2020 scam as a platform in his 2022 gubernatorial bid.
“The real problem, Dana, is that people don’t trust our elections,” he said. When asked in 2020 that many courts and Trump appointees, including Attorney General William Barr, had said there was little or no voter fraud, he insisted there was plenty of evidence but presented none.
“The problem is the media won’t cover it,” Lake insisted.
CNN’s Daniel Dale reports how many GOP candidates have challenged, rejected or tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election in November, at least 11 for secretary of state and more than half of the gubernatorial candidates. It’s a scary proposition in states where those electors have a big say in how elections are conducted and how votes are counted in 2024, when Trump is expected to run again.
Lake’s responses to Bash put Hobbs, the current Arizona Secretary of State, on the hook for his rival’s responsibility to present some evidence of voter fraud.
“This is absolutely disqualifying. This is someone who will have some degree of authority over our state’s elections, the ability to sign new legislation into law, the responsibility to ensure future elections.”
“And, as you’ve heard, he’s not just saying whether he’s going to accept the results of this election, but whether he’s going to guarantee the 2024 presidential election if he’s governor.”
Hobbs, however, has refused to discuss Lake directly, warning that he could use any discussion to create a “spectacle”. But his stance makes it impossible for Arizona voters to compare each candidate side-by-side.
As Bash put it, “If you think it’s as dangerous to democracy as you say it is, is it your responsibility as a candidate to lead Arizona to show and explain what his alternative is?”
Hobbs insisted that the type of interview he was doing on CNN would be impossible on the Lake stage.
“I guarantee you, the people who are fighting in Arizona right now are not going to make a decision on whether there was a fight between me and Kari Lake. They’re going to make a decision by the person who understands the fight and has real solutions to try to resolve that fight.”
One of the big questions in the upcoming election is how much Democrats’ warnings about the fate of the free and fair election system are influencing the vote. With annual inflation at a 40-year high and gas prices rising again, voters are likely to consider bigger concerns than the fate of democracy as they decide the fate of House, Senate and statewide races.
So, even if democracy itself is on the ballot next month, it could come out of the election even more tarnished.