Republicans have continued to embrace the myth of a stolen election the annual rightwing conclave of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), underscoring how the party continues to sustain the baseless idea months after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 race and the deadly assault on the Capitol.
This year’s gathering of some of the party’s most fervent supporters has a staggering seven sessions focused on voter fraud and election-related issues. Several have inflammatory titles. “Other culprits, why judges and media refuse to look at the evidence,” was the name of one panel discussion on Friday. “The left pulled the strings, covered it up, and even admits it,” was another. “Failed states (GA, PA, NV, oh my!)” is the title of another scheduled for this weekend.
Several speakers on Friday repeated debunked falsehoods about the election. Deroy Murdock, a Fox News contributor, repeated the lie that there were “mysterious late-night ballot dumps” that swung the election for Joe Biden and that there were vehicles with out-of-state license plates unloading ballots in the early hours of the election. Both of those claims have been debunked.
Stoking fears about fraud and advocating for stricter voting rules has become commonplace among Republicans in recent years, but in the wake of Trump’s presidency – and his loss to Biden – it has become a common rallying cry in the party. Even so, some observers said the focus on fanning the flames of the conspiracy theory at CPAC was still alarming.
“One program on lessons learned from voting in 2020 is appropriate to restore trust for half of America, but not seven!” said Eric Johnson, a former Republican lawmaker in Georgia who advised Kelly Loeffler’s US Senate campaign.
“Donald Trump convinced his base – a majority of Republicans, if polls are to be believed – that the election was stolen. Though the CPAC organizers likely know it’s false, they’re using this as a wedge issue to excite the base and sell more tickets,” said Nick Pasternak, who recently left the Republican party after working on several GOP campaigns.
He added: “CPAC’s willingness to make the election lie such a big issue this year is a concerning symbol of what many in the party think – and what they’ll do.”
Even though dozens of judges across the country, including several appointed by Donald Trump, rejected claims of fraud after the election, Murdock and other speakers at CPAC accused judges of being unwilling to examine evidence of fraud.
Hans von Spakovsky, a well-known conservative who has agitated for more restrictive voting policies for years, claimed that judges were reluctant to look at evidence because they feared they would be attacked. “When it becomes an extraordinary election contest, one with national implications and one in which they risk being attacked by one of the political parties, the news media, their reluctance gets even greater,” he said.
Pressed whether judges were afraid to look at the evidence, Von Spakovsky added: “I think in some cases that is true, in other cases they might have had valid procedural grounds, but it sure didn’t look like it to me.”
Asked how much evidence of fraud there was now, Murdock falsely said: “It may be shredded by now.”
Jesse Binnall, an attorney who represented the Trump campaign in Nevada, complained about the short deadline lawyers had to put together a case after the election and claimed judges were pressured by media reporting that noted voter fraud was not a widespread problem. “Right or wrong, they never tried to dig into the facts about voter fraud,” he said. “Our legs were cut off before we even walked into the courthouse.”
Litigants in American courts have to meet procedural thresholds to advance their case, something that prevents courts from having to hear frivolous claims. Again and again, Trump and his allies failed to convince courts that they cleared those bars.
“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Matthew Braun, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, wrote in December as he tossed out an effort from Trump and his allies to block certification of the election results there. “Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by the evidence.”
The comments at CPAC underscore how Republicans continue to stoke uncertainty about the election – even after judges and Republican and Democratic elected officials alike repeatedly examined allegations of wrongdoing and did not find fraud, they continue to insist that there is unexamined evidence. In state legislatures across the country, are pushing new restrictions on voting. There are at least 253 pending bills to restrict voting across the United States, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.
In his remarks on Friday, Von Spakovsky expressed support for efforts to restrict voting by mail and said HR1, the bill pending in Congress that would require automatic and same-day registration, among other reforms, “the most anti-democratic bill I’ve ever seen during my 20 years in Washington”.
Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia, said the focus on elections was a way to gin up support among the party’s faithful base, which remains largely loyal to Trump and his allies.
“I would not equate ‘the party’ with CPAC so I wouldn’t put much stock in it from that perspective,” he said. “CPAC exists to make money and so it’s no surprise to me the organizers have jumped on to this issue as a way to drive engagement of their target market.”