In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush by around 500,000 popular votes. But the Supreme Court decided that Bush should be president after ruling on the contentious vote count in Florida. There were lots of arguments about Florida and that state’s electoral votes, but nobody, Republican or Democrat, disputed the fact that Gore had won the popular vote.
Four elections later we arrived at 2016, and a partial repeat of the 2000 scenario. The electoral vote count wasn’t close, with Trump clearly winning there. But Hillary Clinton didn’t just beat Donald Trump by half a million votes — she beat him by almost three million. And Republicans, showing their ever diminishing grasp on reality, are refusing to accept that as fact.
In a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll released on July 26, 47 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans said they believed that Donald Trump won the 2016 election’s popular vote. That is compared to 25 percent of independents, and an amazingly high 12 percent of Democrats, who must have actually been Republicans in disguise.
Forty-seven percent. What on earth has changed over the past 16 years that has caused so many Republicans to reject reality like this? Well, to start with, in 2000 Bush never claimed he had actually won the national popular vote. Bush, his campaign, and Republicans at large maintained that he had won Florida, and a majority of SCOTUS agreed. But never once did W claim that it was massive voter fraud that gave Gore his national popular vote win. And really, why would he have done that? After all, Bush won.
Trump, on the other hand, refused to admit that he had come out on the short end of any measure, and immediately claimed that Hillary’s popular vote margin was due to a huge number of illegally cast ballots. And shortly after taking office, he empaneled a commission to look into the matter. That commission is a rogue’s gallery of vote suppressors, headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has sometimes been referred to as America’s “vote suppressor in chief.” Not long ago Kobach told a stunned Katy Tur on MSNBC that “we may never know” if Clinton won the popular vote.
That muddying of the waters seems to be all that the poorly educated who voted for Trump needed. History professor Allan Lichtman predicted this outcome even before the election.
The “big lie” is the favored propaganda technique of history’s worst dictators: Repeat a lie loudly, over and over until people come to believe it. Republican nominee Donald Trump has now brought the big lie to America with his claim that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is rigging the election against him through widespread fraud at the polling place.
As former Republican and Nixon counsel John Dean noted in his book Conservatives Without Conscience, Republicans are largely “authoritarian followers,” meaning that they are constantly searching for a “strong” leader. When they find that person, they latch onto him or her with a devotion rivaled only by their professed fealty to God Almighty. Anything that leader says becomes gospel. From God-Emperor’s lips (or Twitter feed) to our ears. You only have to look at the number of Republicans who tell pollsters that they still support Trump, scandals, ineptitude, and all, to see authoritarian followers in action.
It’s easy to laugh at this and pass it off as another example of the delusion of Trump supporters. But many Republican officeholders continue the fight to restrict voting rights that they have waged since the election of Barack Obama. And now they are receiving the support of the White House.
Day by day it is coming closer to a guarantee that this story will not end well.