A second insurrection: The real mission behind Republicans' absurd Arizona "audit"

Republicans are recklessly ginning up Trump supporters to believe they have an obligation to take real world action

By Heather Digby Parton
Published June 18, 2021 9:58AM (EDT)
Protesters gather inside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Protesters gather inside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

During the Trump years, it always felt as if the news cycle was running at 110 miles an hour and we were just hanging on for dear life. And it was true. There was always something terrible going on. Most people looked forward to the day that everything would slow down to a normal pace and we'd all be able to spend more time thinking about something other than the latest lunacy coming from the White House.

That time is now. The chaos has more or less, sort of, come to pass. The daily outrage meter has been turned down to eleven and it feels as if the whole government is operational instead of just the oval office and whichever corrupt Trump minion happens to be in the headlines. But there is still a whole lot going on, from foreign policy settling down into something vaguely recognizable as sane American participation in world affairs, to the Justice Department coming to terms with the wholesale corruption of the institution over the past four years to the gripping saga of the Democratic agenda wending its way through Congress. On Thursday, we even saw the Supreme Court once again uphold the Affordable Care Act, eliciting a huge sigh of relief from the 30 million people who had been waiting with bated breath to find out if they were going to have health insurance when they woke up this morning.

The federal government is busy and for the most part, it's doing what Americans employ it to do. It's not always pretty but it seems to be cranking up and becoming at least somewhat functional.

But that doesn't mean the craziness has stopped or that we can assume that the bad dream we just went through for the past four years is over. Sadly, it's not. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte noted yesterday, Trump and his loyal servants in the right-wing media (or is it the other way around?) have whizzed past delusional and have moved into full-blown insanity. She wonders what the Democrats are going to do about it and I agree with her that it doesn't look like much. As Marcotte says, "the [Republican] party has reorganized itself entirely around the goal of making sure that next time Trump tries to steal an election, he pulls it off."

But I actually think it may be worse than that. The various undemocratic power grabs in the state are raising expectations among the faithful to such an extent that they may actually be leading to another insurrection.

The Washington Post's Philip Bump and the Bulwark's Tim Miller both wrote pieces in the last week or so taking a look at the way the "audit" in Arizona and the flurry of similar activity in some of the other states (including those Trump won, which means the point is nothing more than to further discredit the entire electoral system) and they concluded that energy these gambits are producing may inevitably result in more violence.

Bump notes that there were two factors that led to what happened on January 6th. First, Trump's followers were persuaded that the election had been stolen with a steady stream of lies from Trump and the right-wing media. Second, they were called to gather on the specific day the vote was to be formally certified by a joint session of Congress to stand against it. We know what happened. Now they remain agitated and upset over the Big Lie and there hasn't been anywhere for them to focus all of that wrath. In light of this week's FBI assessment that QAnon may be moving away from digital extremism into real-world violence, this bogus Arizona audit may be the catalyst they've been looking for.

In his piece, Miller points out that the GOP establishment is ostensibly dismissing the three-ring "Cyber Ninja" circus happening in Arizona's Maricopa County as a joke while the Trump supporters are taking it very, very seriously. And when this audit eventually concludes, as it surely will, that the Arizona election was definitely stolen, the odds are that some Trump supporters are going to believe they have an obligation to take action.

Miller writes:

Activists in the QAnon movement have described the audit as the first step in "The Great Awakening." And Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward has threatened "arrests" of those who did not comply with the audit. (N.B.: The Arizona Republican Party does not yet have the power to detain citizens for crimes against MAGA.)...

Steve Bannon's War Room, which was the official podcast of the "Stop The Steal" rallies last fall, is playing the same role in unofficial fashion in Arizona and has found an audience for the grift. (At the time of this writing, War Room was the tenth-biggest news podcast on the Apple charts.) The thirstiest and craziest MAGA Republicans around the country have all made the hajj to Maricopa to either learn how they can bring the insurrection to their states or signal their allegiance to primary voters. The frontrunner in the Missouri race to succeed the retiring Senator Roy Blunt, Eric Greitens, is the latest of this latter group.

Miller asks, "doesn't this sound familiar?"

Indeed it does. It was this churning and agitation for someone to "do something" to "save the country" that led all those people to lose their minds that day in January and start beating cops and hunting down former Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Miller then wonders, "when the Arizona audit bell tolls, what exactly is McConnell and McCarthy's plan?"

Unfortunately, I think I have the answer. The New York Times' Jonathan Weissman reported that the GOP plan to win in 2022 is to ensure that America believes it is "in crisis."

There is an economic crisis, they say, with rising prices and overly generous unemployment benefits; a national security crisis; a border security crisis, with its attendant homeland security crisis, humanitarian crisis, and public health crisis; and a separate energy crisis. Pressed this week on whether the nation was really so beleaguered, the No. 2 Republican in the House, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, thought of still more crises: anti-Semitism in the Democratic ranks, "yet another crisis," he asserted, and a labor shortage crisis.

"Unfortunately they're all real," he said, capping a 25-minute news conference in which the word "crisis" was used once a minute, "and they're all being caused by President Biden's actions."

It's highly debatable if they can convince Americans that all those concerns represent a crisis and I don't think Scalise believes it either. He's really ginning up the Republican base about the Big Lie "crisis" which is literally the only thing they really care about. They most certainly believe that all their troubles are "being caused by President Biden's actions" — in allegedly stealing the election. If this audit or series of audits inspire some die-hards to commit a little domestic terrorism for the cause, that's all to the good. After all, that really will be a crisis and Republicans have decided that's just what the doctor ordered. 


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Arizona Audit Donald Trump Elections 2020 Gop Republicans Steve Scalise