Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to say whether he will accept the election results during the October 19 presidential debate is proof that right-wing media’s effort to push the myth of widespread voter fraud is backfiring terribly on the Republican Party.
Since August, Trump has claimed that the election is “rigged,” making the false claim that “People are going to walk in, they’re going to vote ten times,” and saying that there were “illegal immigrants voting all over the country,” including “people that died 10 years ago.” He ramped up the rhetoric at the final presidential debate when he refused to answer moderator Chris Wallace’s question on whether he would accept the election results, saying, “I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.” Trump added “millions of people … are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote.”
These charges -- that people will be able to vote multiple times, that undocumented citizens can vote, that dead people can vote -- come straight from myths that right-wing media have pushed for years. Conservative media have repeatedly claimed that voter fraud is a rampant problem in elections, and similar to Trump’s charges, have often pointed the finger at immigrants and dead people.
In truth, voter fraud is extremely rare. One 2012 study concluded that the rate of fraud is “infinitesimal” and that “in-person voter impersonation … is virtually non-existent.” Another found only 31 cases of potential voter fraud anywhere in the country between 2000 and 2014. Experts have also debunked the claim.
Despite there being no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, Republican state legislatures in recent years have seized on these claims to pass strict voter ID laws all over the country. Conservative media have defended these laws, claiming they are attempts to “fight voter fraud,” and baselessly insisting “the IDs are free and … no voter is turned away.”
Now Trump has aimed that myth back at his own party. By claiming the elections are “rigged,” he is in effect claiming Republicans officials who oversee “the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states” would rig the election against him, as The New York Times noted. Many Republicans have condemned Trump’s allegation, such as Republican campaign lawyer Chris Ashby, who called Trump’s charge “unfounded” and “dangerous,” and Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who said the claim was “irresponsible.” Trump’s debate comments were condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Right-wing media, however, have stood by Trump’s rigged election claims. Fox anchors agreed with Trump that dead people potentially could vote, and radio host Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, “What do you mean elections aren’t rigged? Of course they are!” Even Fox contributor George Will, an outspoken critic of Trump, gave credence to Trump’s accusations of a rigged election, saying “Mr. Trump has a point if he would just make it more clearly.” Some in right-wing media have even attacked Republicans criticizing Trump. CNN’s Scottie Nell Hughes, in response to Republican officials like Husted, said, “They are secretary of states, establishment politicians. They have not been for us since the very beginning.” Radio host Mike Gallagher, while interviewing Trump, said he was “baffled at certain Republicans who are pushing back” at Trump’s “suggestion that we better be careful about a rigged election” because Republicans “have always had concerns about voter fraud.”
In fact, it is possible that Trump’s rigged election claim could lower turnout among his own Republican base. According to The Wall Street Journal, research shows that “[Trump’s] rhetoric could also have the impact of hurting his own campaign” by “lowering turnout among his own supporters.”
It is not clear if Trump will accept the election results. What is clear, however, is that a myth pushed by right-wing media -- which has led to laws that Republicans have admitted help them politically -- is now boomeranging back on them. Because by running with right-wing media’s voter fraud myth to claim that the election could be rigged, Trump and his media supporters have not only called into question Republican officials' ability to oversee the election, but have also potentially hurt GOP voter turnout. And if conservative media continues to stand by Trump’s rigged election claims, the results could potentially be disastrous for both the country and the Republican Party on November 8.