So much for GOP "Team Normal": They're all backing election deniers now

No more profiles in courage for Mike Pence, Nikki Haley or Larry Hogan, please: They learned the Liz Cheney lesson

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 2, 2022 9:46AM (EDT)

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Oct 19, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Oct 19, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As we gird ourselves for the possibility that hundreds of Republican election deniers will win their races next week, some of them in highly influential positions, it's important to remember that their party has been crying about "voter fraud" for decades. Republicans began organizing in earnest around the issue back in the 1980s, when Jesse Jackson's campaign successfully registered many African Americans and younger voters during his Rainbow Coalition campaigns, and sharp-eyed GOP operatives perceived the dangerous potential for a new Democratic majority. After Bill Clinton signed the Motor Voter Bill in 1993, making it easier for those folks to register through the DMV, Republicans really went to work.

By 2000, the GOP had organized partisan election lawyers all over the country, many of whom descended on Florida that November to help George W. Bush's team press every favorable electoral and judicial lever in the state governed by his brother to ensure a so-called victory. Luckily for them, Florida had taken their advice and "mistakenly" purged the voter rolls of thousands of eligible voters, and after the Supreme Court halted a recount (which might have reversed the outcome all by itself) Bush was successfully installed in the White House.

After that, "voter fraud" became a standard GOP talking point. Long before Trump was anything but a Manhattan real estate gadfly cavorting at Mar-a-Lago with mobsters, mid-level celebrities and child sex traffickers, Republicans were spreading the fictional narrative that elections were routinely stolen by Democrats. They did that even as they themselves ramped up efforts throughout the country to suppress likely Democratic votes and make it harder to get them counted.  

So let's not forget that the groundwork for doing what Trump did had been laid years earlier, although there's no doubt that he took it to a more extreme level than anyone could have anticipated. He successfully persuaded tens of millions of voters — with no evidence whatsoever — that a massive fraud was perpetrated in six different states simultaneously, requiring a conspiracy of dozens or hundreds of public officials (many of them Republicans), just by repeatedly asserting that it was so and ordering his accomplices to file a torrent of specious lawsuits. On Jan. 6, Trump incited his followers to stop the peaceful transfer of power by a violent assault on Congress, and followed that up by creating a structural threat of violence against election workers for the foreseeable future.

Following the usual pattern that occurs every time Donald Trump is exposed as the radical nihilist he really is, Republican officials balked at first, expressing the reactions of normal human beings when confronted with such monstrous. Then they settled down, recovered their priorities and focused on the upside. Most came to terms with Trump's Big Lie within a few months, understanding that their voters were now hooked on propaganda assuring them that the majority of Americans are people "like us" who are being cheated out of their rightful dominance.

Leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy quickly mended fences with Trump, and even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who clearly loathes Trump, said he would vote for the ex-president again if he is the GOP nominee in 2024. There are a few, of course, who have been embraced by the Beltway media as the sane and normal Republicans because they balked at the Big Lie and gained a reputation for courage and fortitude in standing up against the assault on democracy.

Every time Donald Trump is exposed as a radical nihilist, some Republicans have the horrified reactions of normal human beings. Then they settle down, recover their priorities and focus on the upside: winning elections.

Most famous among them is Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, vice chair of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, who lost her seat to a Trumper over her Big Lie apostasy. She has recently endorsed Democrats in races against election deniers, putting her principles where her mouth is. The Jan. 6 committee's only other Republican member, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, decided to retire rather than face the inevitable and has also endorsed several Democrats. That's clearly the only sane thing to do if you believe that the 2020 election was not stolen and see grave danger to democracy in perpetuating this lie.

So where are the other "sane Republicans" these days — the "Team Normal" adults in the room who proclaimed boldly that the election was not stolen and were going to challenge the GOP's extremist faction and set the course for a return to responsible conservative leadership? Well, guess what? As the Washington Post reports, they're out there stumping for election deniers.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Take, for instance, Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and then Trump's UN ambassador, who went on TV and promised that everyone she's helping in 2022 acknowledges that "the elections were real." Sounds great! Except it's not true. Haley has campaigned for Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, who was in charge of overturning the election for Trump in that state, and also showed up for GOP extremist Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, a former general who won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate based upon his support for the Big Lie. Those are two of the most critical races in the country; if Democrats lose both, they have virtually no chance of holding a Senate majority.

Or how about the sainted Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, widely acclaimed for his opposition to Trump and for rejecting claims of election fraud. He too is backing an election denier in New Hampshire. Hogan's neighbor to the south in Virginia, alleged fleece-vest moderate Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who cagily suggested that he believed the Big Lie just a little bit in order to win election in a purple state, is now lustily backing the worst of the worst among GOP gubernatorial candidates, Kari Lake of Arizona and Tudor Dixon of Michigan, both of whom are all-in on election denialism.

Then there's New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who declined to run for Senate himself, citing the toxic atmosphere of politics and the paralysis in Washington. He too is also backing Bolduc now, even though the latter repeated fake news about schools putting litter boxes in classrooms for kids who identify as cats, and clearly still believes the election was stolen. Sununu suggests that, heck, nobody really cares about that stuff and he doesn't have to agree with a fellow Republican on every single issue — as if refusing to accept the results of elections unless you win were just a minor policy disagreement.

Finally, what can we say about former Vice President Mike Pence, the sad man without a constituency? He has campaigned for Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, an election-denying extremist and abortion flip-flopper who recently took a call from Trump advising him that backing the Big Lie is an absolute prerequisite if he actually wants to win. Pence has also stumped for Burt Jones, the Georgia nominee for lieutenant governor, who was involved in that state's phony elector scheme. Seriously: The guy the Jan. 6 mob wanted to hang is now campaigning for their friends and supporters.

Of course these people all have something in common, besides monumental hypocrisy. Most or all of them are strongly considering running for president in 2024, which accounts for all that attention to New Hampshire. Sure, some of them will back off if and when Trump announces and others will flame out early. (Quite likely all of them, in fact.) But they're all hedging their bets, in the belief that election denial and fear-mongering about election fraud are now baked into the Republican brand. That's been part of their game plan for decades, but Donald Trump was the first to make it pay off on a grand scale. 

By 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.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Election Deniers Elections Glenn Youngkin Larry Hogan Mike Pence Nikki Haley Republicans