Talking Points

Blake Masters is betting Republicans won't notice he didn't quite endorse election fraud claims

Blake Masters is going all in: In a new video ad, the candidate for the GOP Senate nomination in Arizona announced he thinks former President Donald "Trump won in 2020."

Masters isn't the only Republican politician to endorse some version of the claim that the presidential election was determined by massive fraud. But the Peter Thiel-backed political novice is among its most visible advocates. He's playing a dangerous game.

The video would be bad enough if Masters believed what he was saying, but the rest of this very ad suggests he doesn't. Right after his profession of faith, Masters changes the subject. Rather than echoing theories of stolen votes or hacked machines, Masters contends Trump would have won if mail-in voting hadn't been expanded and social media platforms hadn't censored damaging stories about then-candidate Joe Biden.

Although it's impossible to test retrospectively, that's not a crazy argument. Along with Thiel alum J.D. Vance, running for a GOP Senate nod in Ohio, Masters presented a longer version of his position in a New York Post op-ed focusing on the ostensible influence of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. The problem is there are moral, political, and potentially legal differences between claiming the election was unfair and that it was actually fraudulent. Masters is betting Republican voters and donors won't know the difference. 

He could be right. The release of the video seems coordinated with the announcement of a fundraiser with Trump and may have been a condition of the former president's participation. Even if that's not the case, though, the ad is clearly aimed at state attorney general Mark Brnovich, Masters' main rival. Brnovich has overseen several investigations of the 2020 election — including the controversial "audit" that ended up confirming Biden's victory in Arizona — but he's also avoided making specific charges of fraud or malfeasance, earning Trump's wrath.

Whatever its motive, Masters' disgraceful video is characteristic of highbrow populists who see Trump as a vehicle for their own vision of national restoration. Too cautious to endorse conspiracy theories and anti-constitutional violence outright, they imagine they can successfully channel MAGA energies by taking them seriously but not literally. In 2022 and elections to follow, we may find out the hard way whether they're as clever as they think.