Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s closing argument as the midterms approach is that if Democrats aren’t wiped out, his viewers should interpret the election results as a sign of widespread election fraud by President Joe Biden’s “cabal.” His baseless, conspiratorial claims buttress a widespread right-wing campaign to delegitimize elections in which Republicans lose.
Carlson opened his show on Wednesday by declaring that “the conventional view among people who follow politics is that the Democratic Party is about to suffer a humiliating repudiation in next week's midterm elections.” Carlson predicted that “Democrats will lose both houses of Congress” as well as races like New York’s governorship in a “realignment” election that is happening because “Democrats failed, conclusively.”
“In a country with democratic elections, how could this party stay in power?” Carlson asked. “Honestly, we don't know, but maybe Joe Biden does.” The Fox host then aired a clip from Biden’s speech that night, in which Biden said, “Extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future.”
Carlson interpreted that for his viewers as follows: “So, here we are less than a week before the Democratic Party is expected to suffer overwhelming losses in the Midterm Elections and here you have the leader of that party, Joe Biden, commanding you not to complain about the election results.”
“Here is Joe Biden telling you that, thanks to the changes, the many changes, Democrats have made to our system of voting, all of which make voter fraud easier to commit, we may not know the results of the elections for a few days,” he said. “But don't be alarmed — everything is completely on the level and whatever you do, do not ask questions or else you're a criminal.”
Carlson concluded, “Biden commanded you to accept the election results whenever they arrive, no matter what they may be.”
Carlson has repeatedly suggested in recent weeks that Republican defeats in specific races, like the Pennsylvania Senate race and Arizona gubernatorial race, would be inherently suspicious, and issued full-throated defenses of denying election results. Now he’s extended that penumbra of skepticism to races across the country and pointed to a specific mechanism — the extended time needed to count votes accurately under state election laws — as a reason to doubt results where Democrats win.
It’s entirely possible Democrats will perform poorly on Tuesday. Democrats have narrow margins in both the House and the Senate, and the party that controlled the White House suffered midterm defeats in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018, and the Republican Party has benefited in this cycle in particular from a disciplined right-wing media ecosystem whose most prominent figures work deliberately to win elections, a factor with no analogue on the left.
Plan A for the right is to win the midterm elections at the polls, and they might pull that off. But Plan B is to delegitimize the results if they lose. GOP voters and their chosen candidates overwhelmingly and falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Major players like Steve Bannon have spent the last two years both reinforcing the Republican base’s sense that election fraud explains the party’s defeats, and building an infrastructure to subvert those elections.
That’s why Biden spoke out about the threat to democracy in a Wednesday speech. “As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state — who won’t commit, they will not commit to accepting the results of the elections that they’re running in,” he said. “This is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it’s un-American.”
But Carlson is part of that threat, and he has been diligently working to undermine Biden’s call. On Thursday night, he claimed that the speech is evidence that Biden wants to implement a Soviet-style election system in which his party wins an overwhelming share of the vote.
“In American democracy, the people who control the system only have a right to control that system to the extent the public grants them that right through voting,” he said. “What Biden is describing is the Soviet version of democracy, where elections exist to ratify the status quo, to bolster the cabal already in power. That's effectively what the Democratic Party is saying out loud now.”
But what Carlson himself is “saying out loud” is that elections his party loses are inherently suspicious. And the candidates of the party he supports are openly declaring their intentions to subvert elections and saying that if they are elected, their opponents will never win another election again.
The country is back teetering on the edge of the abyss. Carlson helped put it there, and is prepared to give it a shove.