After former President Donald Trump's fanciful claims of election fraud spurred a Capitol riot, many observers felt that there was no going back: From now on, conspiracies of fraud would be standard among candidates, and the possibility of danger would only increase.
Trump's most fervent supporters "represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," President Joe Biden said in September. Days before last month's midterm elections, he even tied election conspiracism to the brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband.
And it wasn't limited just to Trump: In an article titled "Trump is not the only threat to democracy," Darrell West of the Brookings Institute wrote, "One of the worst things Trump has done is to show many other aspirants how to engage in power politics using unethical steps."
But the exact opposite happened: Voters rejected the most illiberal candidates, nearly all of whom chose to respect the results.
One of the most prominent boosters of 2020 election conspiracies was Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who clinched the Republican nominee for governor with the help of a significant cash infusion from his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro. Mastriano insisted the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent, even attending the January 6 rally that preceded the breach of the Capitol, and he threatened not to certify a Democrat as the winner of Pennsylvania's electoral votes in 2024.
And yet, just days after the general election as he trailed his challenger by double digits, Mastriano conceded, saying that "Josh Shapiro will be our next Governor, and I ask everyone to give him the opportunity to lead and pray that he leads well."
In fact, all over the country, Republican candidates fared worse with Trump's explicit endorsement than without. Election deniers fared even worse. And like Mastriano, the majority conceded defeat rather than crying fraud.
One of the exceptions is Kari Lake, the firebrand Republican who looked poised to become Arizona's next governor but flamed out after all the votes were counted. She called the results "BS" and spun bizarre accusations of fraud, but her protests aren't catching on. She filed a lawsuit last week alleging that voting machines had been manipulated, and on Thursday a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and sanctioned Lake, citing her "false, misleading and unsupported factual assertions" in the suit.
Elsewhere in her state, the election conspiracy movement is similarly running on fumes, as Republicans in solid red Cochise County refused to certify the results of their own election, in violation of Arizona law, over fraud allegations the state had already disproven. On Thursday, the board finally certified after a court order forced its hand.
It's possible that voters were swayed by Biden's apocalyptic rhetoric, but that's unlikely given his overall persistent unpopularity. More likely is that average Republicans simply could not stomach the idea of pulling the lever for candidates like Lake or Mastriano. A recent poll found that 52 percent of Republicans believed the midterm elections were "definitely" or "probably" "free and fair"—still a shamefully low percentage, but as Reason's Eric Boehm noted this week, it's also "the highest percentage the group has found in recent surveys about registered Republicans' opinions of elections."
There is evidence that Republican voters are souring on overt election deniers: In Georgia, for example, Herschel Walker ran 5 points behind Brian Kemp, the state's Republican governor. Walker has consistently promoted conspiracies about the 2020 election, while Kemp earned Trump's ire for bucking the former president's entreaties to subvert its results.
While election conspiracism is unlikely to go away anytime soon, among independents and wide swaths of Republican voters, it is thankfully losing its luster.
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