Right-wing media’s pro-Trump echo chamber is not letting President Donald Trump go down without a fight. And its members are more than willing to make faith in the democratic system a casualty of their disinformation campaign.
Election experts long predicted that Election Day would end with a “red mirage” showing Trump in the lead, only for there to be a “blue shift” afterward as key states counted mail-in ballots that heavily favored Democratic nominee Joe Biden. That is exactly what is happening now. Biden’s popular vote margin has soared since Tuesday, and tightening margins in key states are bringing into focus his potential electoral path to victory.
Trump’s response has been to carry out the strategy he has foreshadowed for months. He falsely claimed victory, baselessly declared himself the victim of massive voter fraud, and said that he would be vindicated in the courts. Notably, these fraud claims are absent from his campaign’s actual lawsuits, which “appear mostly designed to generate headlines that Trump is contesting the outcome, rather than cases that could determine the outcome of the race,” as Popular Information’s Judd Legum pointed out after reviewing the filings.
But Trumpist media figures are recklessly touting false and nonsensical fraud accusations to bolster the president’s position. From MAGA social media influencers to right-wing YouTube stars, prime-time Fox hosts to conservative radio giants, their mutually reinforcing web is bombarding audiences with a full-spectrum effort to undermine confidence in the election results, raising tensions and fomenting unrest.
Here’s Tucker Carlson, the most popular cable news host in the country, along with the president’s lawyer Jenna Ellis, touting the since-retracted viral falsehood that Biden mysteriously received 138,000 votes in Michigan.
Here’s Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio host who has been a Republican kingmaker for decades and received the Medal of Freedom from the president this year, pushing the easily debunked viral lie that “Wisconsin now has more votes than people who are registered to vote."
Here’s Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker of the House and longtime Fox contributor, telling the viewers of the president’s favorite morning news show that there need to be Senate investigations and lawsuits due to purported fraud.
The fever-swamp mentality has engulfed right-wing social media and conspiracy-minded Trumpist websites.
It’s also spreading among the president’s more “intellectual” supporters. Here’s Ted Cruz, a prominent Republican senator who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, promoting Fox host Maria Bartiromo touting The Federalist’s baseless claim that “Democrats Are Trying To Steal The Election In Michigan, Wisconsin, And Pennsylvania,” which relies in part on the 138,000-vote lie.
These baseless fraud claims are fueling extraordinarily overheated rhetoric, as leading members of the Trumpist media urge their audiences to be “angry,” “outraged,” “worried,” and “concerned,” and to prepare “to fight” the Democrats who are “stealing your nation from you,” perhaps by trying to “surround” ballot counting locations to exert a “demanding presence.”
As the frenzy builds, Trump supporters have already begun swarming those locations in Michigan and Arizona. In the latter state, election officials briefly stopped the count after being intimidated by the armed protesters, before sheriff’s deputies in tactical gear arrived on the scene. Some pro-Trump influencers appear to be getting ready to add to the scene in Michigan and generate a similar one in Philadelphia.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, all of this will have on the election’s result. But it seems overwhelmingly likely that a large portion of Trump supporters will come to believe that the election is illegitimate and has been stolen from him. His propagandists could try to forestall that, working to dampen tensions -- but instead they'd rather inflame them.