Arizona Republican candidates

Arizona Republican candidate for state attorney general Abraham Hamadeh, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters wave to supporters at a campaign event on August 1, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Reverberations of Trump 'Big Lie' as GOP Sows Doubt Ahead of Midterms

"The cancer that former president Trump injected into our electoral system has spread in 2022 to any number of candidates for important positions," said one observer.

With less than a week to go until the midterm elections, supporters of former President Donald Trump's baseless "Big Lie" that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election have taken numerous approaches to questioning the integrity of the democratic process--including, in several cases, Republican candidates echoing Trump as they suggest they won't accept an electoral loss on November 8.

As The Guardian reported Wednesday, high-profile candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have refused to say they'll concede to their Democratic opponents if they lose their elections--in some cases repeating ideas espoused by Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 and 2020 elections.

"2020 election disinformation never left us and is continuing to drive conspiracy theories that undermine faith in the elections."

Arizona's GOP gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, said at least twice in recent weeks that she had no reason to pledge that she'll respect the election results regardless of the outcome because, as she told CNN's Dana Bash in October, "I'm going to win the election and I will accept that result."

"I'm not losing to Katie Hobbs," Lake also said on the podcast "The Conservative Circus" recently, referring to her Democratic opponent, Arizona's secretary of state. "We have a movement. We are not losing to Katie Hobbs, so don't worry about it."

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, meanwhile, has urged his supporters to be on the lookout for fraud when they cast their votes, and while Arizona attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh told the Associated Press last month that he will "faithfully follow the law," he has also promoted Trump's lies about the 2020 election and claimed that mail-in voting is fraudulent.

Like Lake, Trump said in 2016 that he would accept the results of his first presidential election "if I win," adding that he would file a legal challenge if he found the result "questionable."

As voting by mail became increasingly common amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the former president claimed mail-in ballots are vulnerable to "massive manipulation," despite the fact that numerous states have long conducted their elections entirely by mail and that Trump himself has voted by mail several times.

The former president also called on his supporters to watch their polling places "very carefully" in the runup to the 2020 election, as Masters is now.

"The cancer that former president Trump injected into our electoral system has spread in 2022 to any number of candidates for important positions," Fred Wertheimer of campaign finance reform group Democracy 21 toldThe Guardian. "They're following the Trump playbook."

As The Washington Post reported last month, a majority of the Republican candidates running for federal and state office this year deny or question the results of the 2020 election, while 65% of GOP voters still believe President Joe Biden's victory was illegitimate even though dozens of lawsuits challenging the results, filed by Trump and his allies, were rejected in court.

Lisa Bryant, a political science professor at California State University, Fresno toldAl Jazeera on Tuesday that continued election denialism has created a "feedback loop" between Republican candidates and voters.

With false beliefs about the integrity of the 2020 election prevalent among the GOP electorate, candidates are pushed "to adopt the stance, which in turn lends perceived legitimacy to the false claim that the 2020 vote was marred by fraud," reported Al Jazeera.

"As a candidate, you can use [election denialism] to leverage yourself in a campaign and get a following and get donors and supporters," Bryant told the outlet. "That's why it doesn't matter if it's true. It's that people believe it's true; they want somebody else to confirm that that belief has legitimacy. Candidates go out there and confirm it even if they don't believe it's true because they know it'll work."

Along with several Republican candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and the state's GOP gubernatorial nominee, Tim Michels, declined last month to say unequivocally that they would accept the election results.

In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who organized busloads of people traveling to Trump's so-called "Stop the Steal" rally on January 6, 2021, ahead of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has refused to say whether he will concede to Democrat Josh Shapiro.

The Republicans' refusal to commit to a peaceful concession should they lose comes as counties in Nevada and Arizona are pushing for a shift to hand-counts of ballots, driven by conspiracy theories claiming that voting machines were rigged in 2020; as an independent group in Arizona has recruited volunteers--some armed--to "watch" ballot drop boxes, an endeavor that was curtailed by a federal judge this week; and as election officials have been inundated with records requests in what government watchdogs have said appears to be a coordinated attempt to prevent them from preparing for the election.

Auburn University political science professor Mitchell Brown toldAl Jazeera that the prevalence of election deniers in state legislatures, federal office, and on voters' ballots this year "means continual fighting for a while until we can sort out this period of discord with elections."

"Any kind of democratic system is based off of the will of the people and the belief in the legitimacy of government," Brown said. "And as we saw what happened on January 6, that was the beginning of a real problem that... is being dealt with. But if trust continues to erode in the institutions, that is a real cause for concern."

In a press briefing this week, Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at Common Cause, warned that "2020 election disinformation never left us and is continuing to drive conspiracy theories that undermine faith in the elections. That includes the mainstreaming of the Big Lie by candidates and partisan media sources."

Littlewood said Common Cause and other election protection groups are working "to make sure voters know their rights, what's accurate and true when it comes to voting and how to get help and information, including for voters who get the majority or entirety of their information about elections from social media."

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