Former President Donald Trump presented a ludicrous series of specific lies about the 2020 election he lost at a rally in Iowa on Saturday night. He claimed, for example, that the state of Pennsylvania and the cities of Detroit and Philadelphia both had more votes cast than real voters, even though none of this is accurate.
The second-ranking House Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, did not repeat any of Trump’s specific fraud fantasies in a television interview the next morning. But, despite its ambiguity, what he accomplished was no less hazardous.
When asked three times whether the election was “stolen” by Fox News host Chris Wallace, Scalise refused to give the only correct answer: no. Instead, Scalise avoided a direct response by arguing that states had broken their laws in holding the epidemic election.
When Wallace pressed Scalise, he answered, “What I said is there are states that did not follow their legislatively imposed rules.”
For Scalise, legalistic avoidance provides the best of all worlds. He can avoid sounding like a deranged conspiracy theorist, as Trump does when he goes into detail about fictitious fraud shenanigans, while also avoiding Trump’s wrath, remaining in the good graces of millions of Trump supporters who believe the election was rigged, and delegitimizing the current President whose agenda he is attempting to delegitimize.
Scalise is in a good spot: he can promote Trump’s falsehoods while maintaining plausible deniability. Scalise’s middle ground, on the other hand, isn’t a middle ground at all for American democracy.
Scalise offers just as much support to dangerous, destructive electoral lies as his colleagues who repeat them outright by refusing to declare Trump lost fairly. Millions of Americans are convinced that charges of an illegitimate election are more than a pathetic joke thanks to Republican officeholders and the Republican media’s cooperation, almost as much as Trump’s unrelenting dishonesty.
By effectively arguing that the problem wasn’t even voter fraud but ballots cast in good faith under procedures put in place by state authorities during a pandemic, Scalise effectively tells Americans that if you don’t vote Republican, not even following the rules is good enough for Republican leaders. Do you think Scalise would be whining about the legality of state procedures 11 months after Election Day if Trump had won more electoral votes under the same rules as Joe Biden?
Scalise has been attempting to walk this good path for months. Scalise used the same reasoning regarding incorrect state procedures on January 6 to justify his vote some of Biden’s electoral votes. The same rationale was used in the controversial Texas-led case, which Scalise backed, to throw the election out.
The complaint was dismissed. Other lawsuits challenging state procedures had the same result. While several courts avoided delving into the substance of the Republican claims (the Supreme Court dismissed the Texas-led complaint about lack of standing), no court has backed Biden’s assertion that he won a state because the state broke its laws.
This has been completed. Or at least it should be.