Right-wing media are supporting Republican attacks on democracy
News reports over the past several months reveal that Republican candidates and elected officials — as well as allied groups — are using multiple strategies to undermine the upcoming 2022 elections and beyond. Tactics include trying to abolish or disrupt mail-in and early voting, particularly in Pennsylvania; challenging the eligibility of registered Democratic voters in Georgia; preparing legal challenges of GOP election losses; and supporting the fringe legal theory that state legislatures are the ultimate authority of elections. Right-wing media have supported all of these tactics during this election cycle.
Right-wing media have already allied with election conspiracy theory organizations to urge their audiences to volunteer and seek offices involved with running elections in order to help subvert them. They have also supported various election deniers seeking office this year, including a cabal of QAnon-linked conspiracy theorists running for secretary of state in various swing states who are promising to steal elections in preparation for a possible 2024 run by the defeated former President Donald Trump.
But these are not the only Republican strategies to subvert elections, and right-wing media so far have supported or covered for each of the following plots.
Fox News is covering up attempts by Trump allies to suppress voting in Georgia and other states
On September 1, Bloomberg News reported that a group called VoterGA, which is supported by Trump's disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn and election denier Patrick Byrne, “is challenging the eligibility of tens of thousands of Georgia voters” following the enactment of a law in 2021 that encouraged such challenges. According to Bloomberg, similar eligibility challenges are happening in Texas and Florida, “but the challenges in Georgia are the most extensive currently underway”:
The group, VoterGA, filed eight boxes Monday containing what its leader says are 37,500 challenges to voters in Gwinnett County, a once solidly Republican area of suburban Atlanta that has voted Democratic since 2016.
The Gwinnett challenges bring the total this election cycle to about 65,000, due largely to a 2021 overhaul of Georgia voting laws enacted in response to unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in 2020. The law effectively encouraged mass challenges of voter eligibility.
In the month and a half after the Georgia law was signed into effect, Fox News defended or advocated for these unnecessary voter restrictions in at least 270 separate segments. Despite Bloomberg’s recent reporting, the GOP’s allies at Fox News, including in its so-called “news” division, continued to defend the Georgia voter suppression law that made these mass voter eligibility challenges feasible. They also pretended that high early-voter turnout invalidated any accusations of voter suppression while failing to even mention the pattern of voter challenges:
- During an October 9 Fox News Sunday interview with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacy Abrams, Fox anchor Shannon Bream tried to use a net increase in early voting as proof against Abrams' claims of Republican-led voter suppression, proclaiming that “a net increase of 763,380 voters … sounds like the opposite of voter suppression.”
- Fox anchor Harris Faulkner presumptuously stated on October 19, “So no suppression there,” after presenting strong early-turnout numbers.
- Fox host Sean Hannity claimed on October 20 that the high voter turnout was “debunking the media mob and the Democrats' false narrative that Georgia’s election law is Jim Crow 2.0.”
- On October 26, Fox’s The Five co-host Geraldo Rivera said that “it certainly seems unlikely that there is a climate of voter suppression” in Georgia “when you have this kind of record turnout.”
- Fox anchor Bill Hemmer and Fox contributor Sean Duffy criticized Abrams on October 25 for calling out “barriers to access” from the 2021 Georgia law, again citing turnout numbers.
Right-wing media are already laying the groundwork for “scorched-earth legal tactics” to overturn midterm losses
On October 23, Rolling Stone reported on a Trump-directed plot “laying the groundwork to challenge the 2022 midterm election results” through a series of “in-person meetings and conference calls” in recent months where he and his Republican allies “often discuss the type of scorched-earth legal tactics they could deploy.” Rolling Stone reports that Trump is fixated on Pennsylvania, but there are “plans in multiple states.” From the article:
And they’ve gamed out scenarios for how to aggressively challenge elections, particularly ones in which a winner is not declared on Election Night. If there’s any hint of doubt about the winners, the teams plan to wage aggressive court campaigns and launch a media blitz. Trump himself set the blueprint for this on Election Night 2020, when — with the race far from decided — he went on national television to declare: “Frankly, we did win this election.”
Trump has been briefed on plans in multiple states and critical races — including in Georgia. But Pennsylvania has grabbed his interest most keenly, including in the Senate contest between Democrat John Fetterman and the Trump-endorsed GOP contender Mehmet Oz. If the Republican does not win by a wide enough margin to trigger a speedy concession from Fetterman — or if the vote tally is close on or after Election Night in November — Trump and other Republicans are already preparing to wage a legal and activist crusade against the “election integrity” of Democratic strongholds such as the Philly area.
An October 27 Associated Press report suggested this Trump tactic is already happening. According to the report, “more than 100 lawsuits have been filed this year” regarding the elections, “largely by Republicans” to target voting rules, registration, use of voting machines, and the counting of ballots. The AP stated that “the cases likely preview a potentially contentious post-election period,” and that unlike Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, this effort is much more organized:
The current effort, however, is more formalized, well-funded and well-organized and is run by the Republican National Committee and other legal allies with strong credentials. Party officials say they are preparing for recounts, contested elections and more litigation. Thousands of volunteers are ready to challenge ballots and search for evidence of malfeasance.
And as Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explained on October 28, the right is already attacking the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections, using a logjam created by the state's Republican-led state legislature as an excuse to question the validity of election results. Pennsylvania law prevents the counting of early mail-in ballots until Election Day, resulting in early tabulations that could show Republican candidates with a lead that decreases as mail-in ballots are tabulated over time. (This so-called “red mirage” phenomenon was extensively reported on in 2020.)
As if on cue, right-wing media are already lying that the Pennsylvania statewide races will be stolen by Democrats, using routine and expected delays in reporting the election results as an excuse:
- On October 28, Hannity told Pennsylvania Republicans to “have poll watchers in every single location” due to delays in counting mail-in ballots forced by the Republican legislature.
- On October 27, Terrance Bates of Real America’s Voice asked GOP Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano if “the fix is in.”
- Convicted criminal and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon declared on October 27 that “the only way” Democrat Josh Shapiro can win the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race “is to cheat.”
- During an October 24 interview with Mastriano, radio host and campaign speaker Wendy Bell said Democrats are already “cheating” because they “lead in the early voting.”
- Fox host Tucker Carlson said on October 26 that it would be “absurd” for voters to accept the Pennsylvania Senate election as legitimate if Fetterman wins.
- Fox and talk radio host Mark Levin said on October 19: “They’re trying to steal the election for Fetterman.”
Trump and his allies are attempting to end early and mail-in voting in Pennsylvania
In addition to Trump’s reported focus on overturning Democratic victories in Pennsylvania, Semafor reported on October 18 that he and his allies are also working to change laws that allow for mail-in voting in the state, and that he’s already “woven talking points” from the campaign to overturn Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law into his rallies in the state:
Former President Donald Trump is increasingly focused on changing voting rules in Pennsylvania, joining efforts to whip Republicans against a bipartisan mail-in voting law that’s become a Trump world obsession since he lost the state by over 80,000 votes.
Trump has spoken in recent weeks with allies who are leading a campaign to overturn the law, known as Act 77. Most recently, on September 6, he met with former Trump official Michael Caputo, Sam Faddis, a former CIA operations officer who ran for Congress in Maryland in 2016, and Pennsylvania county commissioner Doug McLinko at Trump Tower. Trump pledged to lend his support to their efforts, Faddis told Semafor.
In addition to lobbing the attacks on the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections covered above, right-wing media personalities and allied groups have driven conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the state that are putting election workers and volunteers at risk of violence. Right-wing media are also targeting early mail-in ballots in other states, particularly Arizona. While Fox News has ignored reported examples of armed right-wing activists intimidating voters at ballot drop boxes, others are defending and supporting these risks to voters’ lives:
- QAnon supporter Melody Jennings, who founded an organization backing an effort to monitor ballot drop boxes, has taken credit for people monitoring an Arizona drop box during the state’s primaries — which she called a “dry run” for the midterm general elections. This effort has led to multiple complaints of voter intimidation, including one case where armed men in camouflage have reportedly staked out a drop box in Maricopa County. Jennings defended this blatant example of voter intimidation.
- On October 25, Bannon defended armed right-wing activists staking out drop boxes, saying: “It's not intimidation to put a set of eyeballs on these things — not intimidation.”
- Bannon has also repeatedly hosted Jennings on his program so she can promote her organization and its mission to monitor ballot drop boxes.
Right-wing media have endorsed the radical “independent state legislature” theory, which would allow Republicans to steal future elections
Atlantic staff writer Barton Gellman, who has written extensively of Trump's attempts to subvert and even overthrow American democracy, reported in July about a Supreme Court case being pushed by Republicans that could result in the court giving state legislatures ultimate authority over elections, allowing them to disregard constitutions, court rulings, and existing state laws in order to abuse election administration or alter results. As Gellman explained, it’s a “genuinely radical proposition” that “has never been accepted by any state or federal court.” From Gellman’s July 29 article in The Atlantic:
Republican lawyers, taking note of their structural advantage among battleground-state lawmakers, set forth the “independent state legislature” (ISL) doctrine. The doctrine is based on a tendentious reading of two constitutional clauses, which assign control of the “Manner” of congressional elections and the appointment of presidential electors in each state to “the Legislature thereof.” Based on that language, the doctrine proposes that state lawmakers have virtually unrestricted power over elections and electors. State courts and state constitutions, by this reading, hold no legitimate authority over legislatures in the conduct of their U.S. constitutional functions.
The immediate question in Moore is whether the state supreme court, applying the state constitution, can override the legislature’s choice on the manner of drawing election districts. (Until ISL came along, the long-standing answer was “yes.”) But advocates of the independent-state-legislature doctrine have their eyes on a bigger prize: the presidency.
If you give the legislature a blank check on the manner of appointing presidential electors, then a Republican majority could—in the most muscular version of ISL—simply disregard a Biden victory in the state’s popular vote and appoint Trump electors instead.
Fox News personalities approved of the 2020 attempt by Trump to use this bogus legal theory to overturn election results in swing states. Fox host Mark Levin was particularly aggressive in pushing this approach, and his eagerness to end American democracy via the independent state legislature theory has continued unabated in recent weeks. Other conservative media figures have defended it as well:
- Levin has repeatedly claimed that the independent state legislature theory is just a straightforward reading of the U.S. Constitution, even though it has never been accepted by a court. On September 30, Levin said that “even a relatively illiterate person can read that the state legislatures, specifically the legislature, determine the election processes by which electors are chosen to be president and vice president.” On October 3, Levin ranted: “‘Oh, that's the independent state legislature theory.’ No, that's what it says in the Constitution.” And on October 25, Levin even cut voters out of the loop on how presidential electors are chosen: “Article 2, section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which we've talked about endlessly, provides, simply put, that the state legislatures shall determine how electors are chosen. It says legislatures. Doesn't say governors, doesn't say lower courts, doesn't say federal courts. Doesn't say voters. Legislatures.”
- On October 25, radio host Sebastian Gorka mocked Hillary Clinton for warning about the independent state legislature theory.
- Fox host Jesse Watters similarly attacked Clinton on October 25, accusing her of “undermining faith in our democracy” with her warning.