Get ready for the fake election audit to "find fraud"
How things could play out if the dodgy partisan Arizona "audit" announces that it's found election irregularities
If you follow the news in America right now, you’re probably reading about Joe Biden’s first foreign trip as President, to Europe for the G7 summit. Perhaps you’re reading about cyberattacks on US targets and the government’s decision to respond to them as a national security threat; perhaps you’re following the collapse of the infrastructure deal as Mitch McConnell pulls the plug on bipartisanship again, or how states are responding to the high coronavirus vaccination rare.
In the MAGAsphere, though, the headlines are different.
Readers, viewers and followers of what Renée DiResta calls “the right-wing demi-media—intensely partisan outlets, such as One America News and Newsmax, that amplify ideas that bubble up from internet message boards”, are living in a different reality entirely.
For the last few weeks, the release of Dr Anthony Fauci’s emails under the Freedom of Information Act has dominated the demi-media, with Trumpist outlets claiming that the emails ‘prove’ that Covid-19 is a hoax, is easily curable with this or that wonder-drug and was deliberately spread by Fauci himself.
But the biggest continuing story in the demi-media — their main motif — is the same story they’ve been writing about for nine months or more: so-called “election fraud” that would demonstrate that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, really won the 2020 Presidential election. And since April, writing about election fraud mean writing about audits.
On March 31, Arizona’s Republican-led legislature ordered another audit of the 2020 ballots in Maricopa County. Arizona had already had a recount and an independent forensic audit, which found no irregularities. That was a problem for the Arizona GOP, so they hired a bunch of MAGA and QAnon conspiracy theorists to run another “audit”.
The Maricopa “audit” is laughable; they’re looking for bamboo in the ballots (because they might be fake ballots from China!) and secret Homeland Security watermarks (a QAnon theory that was popular in mid-November). The whole thing is privately funded by hardcore election conspiracy boosters including Patrick Byrne, former boyfriend/target of convicted Russian spy Maria Butina. It’s also being heavily promoted by Ron Watkins, former administrator of 8chan/8kun who is a leading suspect for being the Q poster himself.
For FiveThirtyEight, Kaleigh Rogers explains just how bad it is. It’s laughable, but it’s not a joke.
First, major GOP figures haven’t opposed the “audit”; quite the opposite. Republicans in Congress have either kept quiet or backed it. Elise Stefanik, now Chair of the House Republican Conference, enthusiastically supported the Maricopa “Audit”.
Secondly, the idea is catching on in other GOP-run states. Delegations from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri and Colorado have toured the “audit” with a view to setting up their own. There are pushes for audits in New Hampshire, where Biden led by 7%, and even in North Carolina, where Trump won!
Third, the “audit” is, as noted, dominating the right-wing demi-media. Millions of Americans think it is the single most important thing happening in the world. The Fauci emails, the Israel-Gaza conflict last month, even all this UFO stuff — that’s all just the Deep State trying to distract the public from the audit. It’s become the next Big Day when the conspiracy will finally be revealed, the first domino that will pull it all down and expose the fraud. Finally, the proof that Trump was right all along.
Ah, yes, Trump. Trump himself is obsessed with the Maricopa “audit” too, pushing for other states to follow suit and telling friends he expects to be magically installed as President this summer because of what the “audits” will find.
When the audit finishes up and announces, in all likelihood, that it found “fraud” (or, at best, “serious irregularities that raise”, things are going to go a little nuts.
In Arizona, the results of the “audit” will of course be taken seriously by the GOP-controlled legislature, however dubious they may appear to be. They might pass a motion formally rejecting the 2020 results and order further hearings or commissions of inquiry.
There will also be pressure for the Arizona Criminal Investigation Division, the state’s equivalent of the FBI, to open an investigation. After all, if there was a fraud, there must be criminal fraudsters.
Conservative media will go into hyperdrive; not just the demi-media but more mainstream outlets like Fox News and maybe the Wall Street Journal. The “fraud finding” will receive wall-to-wall coverage, with conservative talking heads demanding audits in other states, pushing for the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate “election fraud”, and saying that Joe Biden’s presidency is now illegitimate.
Donald Trump will of course be boosting these claims too. With no Twitter account, his ability to make headlines is more limited, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be calling into his favourite Fox News shows, maybe holding rallies and generally demanding impossibly to be reinstated and calling for the whole Biden Administration (and various Republicans) to be arrested.
The Republican Party
The real test will be the wider Republican Party at the state and national level.
Republican-controlled states that Biden won will be under immense pressure to immediately begin their own partisan “audits”. Some will resist, and some will be legally barred from doing anything like what’s happening in Arizona. But some, surely, will vote to hire their own dodgy conspiracy theorists to conduct their own “audits”. That will keep the story alive into the autumn or beyond, and these “audits” would also be expected to produce “evidence of fraud” too.
Nationally, a dam will burst.
After the 2020 election, most Republican Senators and Congressmen were too nervous to accept that Joe Biden had won. As long as Trump insisted that the election was fraudulent, they stuck to the line that things were still in dispute and that the courts would look at the evidence and decide.
Well, the courts did look at the evidence, and they repeatedly decided that the claims were incoherent, or wild evidence-free speculation, or just straight-up lies.
Despite that — and despite the Capitol riot a few hours earlier — most Republican House members voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Even among the Republicans who resisted the pressure and didn’t vote to overturn, many stressed that it was due to a lack of evidence.
Well, this “audit” is going to provide “evidence”. How many Republicans in the House and the Senate will resist it? They’ll be bombarded with calls from constituents, surrounded by audit news on Fox and the rest of the conservative media, and pushed hard by Trump to do something too.
Do what? Perhaps announce that they no longer consider Joe Biden to be the President. Perhaps years of hearings if the GOP takes the House in 2022. Probably demand a Special Counsel or some other independent investigation. Certainly contribute to the atmosphere of Trumpist grievance that’s undermining democracy in the United States.
Preparing for the worst
Perhaps the people doing the Arizona audit, despite being conspiracy whacks, are honest conspiracy whacks. Perhaps they’ll accurately announce that they found no soy sauce on the ballots or alien intervention and that the Maricopa county election was totally fair.
That’s unlikely, though. They’re being pushed hard by even more malign forces to deliver a report that at least looks like a fraud claim.
Pre-emptively attacking the Arizona “audit” can look like an attempt to hide something. Mocking it isn’t enough.
Attorney-General Merrick Garland has announced that the Justice Department is looking into the Maricopa “audit”. He’s also warned that other states choosing to go down the same path could face a Civil Rights investigation.
I worry that it’s too late. Arizona state authorities have fired back threats to the DoJ, rather than cooperation.
For now, all I can suggest is to get ready for a new, bigger wave of election disinformation. This wave will look a lot like the “evidence” people have been waiting for. It will convince a lot of on-the-fence Republicans, dominate conservative media, and empower both Trump and the grievance culture he depends on.
Buckle up. It could get messy. Again.