If you want to get a sense of former President Donald Trump's continued influence in the Republican Party, just look to the gubernatorial recall election in California. Such elections are always dicey for an incumbent — just ask Gray Davis — but recent indications are that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) stands a pretty good shot of keeping his office.
Here's the Trumpist part: Republicans are starting to suggest (without evidence, of course) that a Newsom win couldn't possibly be legitimate.
"The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud, so as they say: Stay woke," Fox News host Tomi Lahren said on Tuesday. "Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California because it's going to have big consequences not only for that state but for upcoming elections." Meanwhile, the state GOP has created an "election integrity" website where voters can report their suspicions.
Such efforts aren't contained to California. Over in Nevada, AP reports that GOP Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt — the son and grandson of former U.S. senators — is already "raising fears of voter fraud" in his challenge to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in next year's midterm elections.
The plan is to "file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election," Laxalt told a conservative radio host last month. He has some experience in such matters — he chaired Trump's 2020 Nevada campaign, which filed lawsuits contesting Biden's win in the state.
Republican-controlled state legislatures have spent the months since 2020 tightening voting laws in an apparent effort to cut down on Democratic advantages at the voting booth. That, of course, is the continuation of a years-long effort. What is increasingly clear, though, is that GOP candidates are also prepared to adopt Trump's backup plan — to generate confusion and doubt among voters whenever Democrats do win close races. The message: Republican candidates can never, ever lose a fair election.
That message would be wrong. But it would do additional damage to American democracy, which depends on voters' belief that elections are fair and legitimate. For now, though, it seems the Republican Party has decided its best electoral bet is to double down on its "boy who cried wolf" strategy.