Now listen, I’m just a mild-mannered Midwestern newspaper columnist, but after watching what happened in the California gubernatorial recall election, my manners are feeling less than mild.

We learned Tuesday night that folks in the Golden State voted overwhelmingly to keep Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in office. Once the degree of butt-whupping was apparent, Newsom’s main opponent, conservative radio host and Donald Trump wannabe Larry Elder, conceded.

That all sounds perfectly normal and good, democracy-wise, but it wholly overlooks the fact that Elder and other GOP pundits and politicians, in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, had set the stage for claims of “voter fraud” and “a rigged election.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does.

Elder spoke forebodingly of election “shenanigans,” and a website affiliated with his campaign went live before Election Day claiming that “statistical analyses” had “detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor.” Elder’s campaign was claiming Newsom was reinstated days before he had been reinstated and shouting “voter fraud!” before the votes had been counted.

What if the polls were wrong and Elder had prevailed? What would have happened to all the voter fraud that led Elder’s campaign to predetermine Newsom’s victory?

We all know the answer.

An earlier version of the website referenced “four boxes of liberty,” described as: “The soapbox, the ballot box, the jury box, and the ammo box.” That last box clearly hinted that true believers in liberty might have to take up arms if the voter fraud (for which there was no evidence) produced an unfavorable result (in advance of the results actually being tabulated).

But with Elder’s concession, the voter fraud we were told existed before the votes were counted apparently ceased to exist, allowing the ammo boxes to remain closed. What changed?

I hate to sound cynical, given my mild manners and whatnot, but is it possible the margin of victory in the recall election was too great to allow for a successful con?

And getting to the bigger question, and the thing that has made my manners less mild: Is this “Republicans claim voter fraud!” nonsense something we’re just supposed to live with now in every election?

Will they scream “rigged!” before the vote, keep screaming it if the vote is close and otherwise drop it and move on to the next grift? And are we supposed to sit back and accept that a certain amount of anti-democracy hogwash will come with each vote?

Nuts to that garbage.

What the previous president did before and after the 2020 election, and what that oaf continues to do to this very moment, is small, childish, shameful and, as evidenced by the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, horribly dangerous.

It has created a template for Republicans in thrall to Trump’s fascist tendencies. Elder hopped on the cowardly, “I’m going to lose so I’ll claim everyone else is cheating” bandwagon, bolstered by Fox News pundits with the power of precognition guaranteeing voter fraud and Trump, the most powerful crybaby in the world, calling it a “rigged election.”

And all that was 100% true, right up until it wasn’t and everyone moved on, a ruse even the least moral elementary school child on the playground would know is wrong.

High up on Elder’s voter-fraud webpage is a big red “donate” button that tells you all you need to know about the whole game. Lies and conspiratorial nonsense are an effective means of separating people from their money, and if this con were any more transparent it would be a sheet of glass.

There are not two parties in America right now. There’s one functioning party, wildly imperfect though it may be, and one gang of pickpockets and shell-game street hustlers audaciously fleecing a subset of the population that has had its brains liquefied by Fox News.

We need to isolate and ostracize the nonsense pushers and declare war on stupidity. Anyone hollering about voter fraud before the next election anywhere should get laughed out of the building and run out of town.

I’m not a particular fan of California’s Newsom, but he said something about the Republican Party in the wake of the recall election that’s worth hearing.

“They are quite literally trying to dismantle democracy and trust in this country, our very nation,” he said. “The idea they’re even playing around with this and vandalizing trust and confidence? That’s consequential and has real impact across this country.”

He’s absolutely right.

Trump started whining about the election being rigged months before any votes were cast, and he has never shut up about it, raising millions upon millions of dollars off that lie. Elder was poised to do the same in California if the vote was even remotely close, and as sure as Trump’s pockets are lined with the donations of suckers, there are Republican candidates in every state ready to pull the same stunt.

These are not serious people. They’re hucksters. They should be treated as such.


Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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