Chris Stirewalt, Fox News political editor during the 2020 election cycle, said during June testimony before the January 6 committee that he had tried to explain to the network’s viewers that then-President Donald Trump would likely have leads in key states on election night which would subsequently decline as states counted mail-in ballots that heavily favored Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“So basically in every election, Republicans win Election Day and Democrats win the early vote, and then you wait and start counting. And it depends on which ones you count first, but usually it's Election Day votes that get counted first. And you see the Republicans shoot ahead,” Stirewalt said. But then, he explained, the mail-in votes that favor Democrats are counted, “so in every election and certainly a national election, you expect to see the Republican with a lead, but it's not really a lead.”
“We had gone to pains — and I'm proud of the pains we went to — to make sure that we were informing viewers that this was going to happen, because the Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they were going to try to exploit this anomaly,” he added.
With the midterm elections underway, the same “red mirage”/”blue shift” phenomenon is likely to play out. But as Biden and other Democrats try to explain that tabulating complete and accurate results will take time, Stirewalt’s former Fox colleagues and fellow travelers in the right-wing media are telling their audiences that the election night counts are what matters and a lengthy counting process in which Democrats pull ahead suggests election fraud.
“Don't listen to the lies they're spewing that this could take days or days, you know, to know who won,” Fox host Jesse Watters said on the eve of Election Day. “This is total B.S. A wave like this, we should know that night, basically, who won the Senate and the House. Anything that happens Wednesday into Thursday is gravy.”
It’s not just Watters.
Others at Fox and throughout the right-wing press have sounded similar notes, with the Pennsylvania Senate race – where Democrat John Fetterman’s campaign has warned that the vote count could take “several days” – emerging as a key flashpoint. Hardcore election deniers are denouncing the “red mirage” itself as a lie concocted to help Democrats steal elections.
Their aim is to ensure that right-wing voters treat any result that isn’t a Republican sweep as inherently fraudulent, and that they treat the legally cast and valid mail-in ballots that favor Democrats as particularly suspicious. This will create conditions that are more favorable for legal and extra-legal tactics to overturn midterm election defeats.
In reality, the extended count in Pennsylvania will be due to Republican efforts, not Democratic malfeasance. The GOP-controlled legislature refused to change the state’s election law, which prevents election workers from “pre-canvassing” mail-in ballots before Election Day, as occurs in other states to allow votes to be counted earlier. Philadelphia officials also enacted a “time-consuming” last-minute change in procedures that will “slow down their ability to report midterm election results” due to a GOP lawsuit.
Republicans are ensuring that the count takes longer, then counting on their propagandists to use that fact to attack the count’s legitimacy if it comes to favor Democrats. If there’s no red wave, their back-up plan is election subversion.