WASHINGTON — Despite facing decades in prison for the fallout from his last round of lies about the 2020 election, Donald Trump is already claiming — again without any evidence — that the 2024 election will be stolen from him, too.
At one campaign event after another, the former president claims that Democrats are already scheming to steal the election from him, and that the only way to stop them is to win so overwhelmingly to make it impossible for them to get away with it.
“We have to stop them from cheating in elections, because if we don’t win this next election, 2024, I truly believe our country is doomed,” Trump said during a particularly dark campaign speech in Waco, Texas, in March.
“They rigged the 2020 election, and now they’re trying to do the same thing all over again by rigging the most important election in the history of our country, the 2024 election,” he said in a video released Aug. 30 from his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
And, in a new milestone, two of his well-regarded campaign advisers put out a statement under their own names repeating Trump’s baseless claim as the reason the party should essentially end the 2024 primary and declare the coup-attempting former president the winner.
“The Republican National Committee should immediately cancel the upcoming debate in Miami and end all future debates in order to refocus its manpower and money on preventing Democrats’ efforts to steal the 2024 election,” wrote Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, both Republican consultants with decades of experience working for a variety of mainstream candidates.
Neither Wiles nor LaCivita responded to HuffPost queries about their choice to repeat Trump’s baseless claim. Former colleagues from the GOP political world said it was yet another example of Trump dragging people down to his level.
“Prolonged exposure to Trump is injurious to intelligence and fatal to principles,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican consultant in Florida. “It is like a disease. You are exposed to it, become infected and succumb to it. The people I know who I once thought well of who have now lost their minds are legion. It’s depressing.”
To those who worry that Trump’s January 6, 2021, coup attempt has already been normalised by the Republican Party and perhaps by the public at large, the fact that long-respected political operatives are pitching Trump’s election lies is another warning sign for American democracy.
“This is the next iteration of the big election lie,” said Amanda Carpenter, who once worked for Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and is now with the Protect Democracy research group.
Added Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor and authoritarianism expert at New York University: “We have just been introduced to the talking point designed to create the circumstances for another ‘Stop the Steal’ when the time is right.”
A Long History Of Crying ‘Fraud’
Lying about elections, of course, is not at all new to Trump.
“I will remind you that he accused the Iowa caucus of being stolen,” said Oscar Brock, an RNC committee member from Tennessee, referring to the 2016 GOP primary. “If he doesn’t win, he just says it was stolen, it’s someone else’s fault.”
In that very first electoral contest of his life, the former real estate developer and television game show host lost to Cruz — and the very next morning began claiming that the election had somehow been taken from him.
“Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong any [sic] why he got more votes than anticipated. Bad!” Trump posted to Twitter, followed shortly by a demand for a do-over. “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”
Then, after he secured the Republican nomination in 2016, he told supporters at his rallies that Democrats were working to rig the election against him. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged,” he said at a rally in Ohio. “The only way we can lose, in my opinion…is if cheating goes on,” he said days later in Pennsylvania.
Winning that election, though, did not end Trump’s lying about it. It bothered him that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had received nearly 3 million more votes nationally than he had, and he began claiming it was only because undocumented immigrants had illegally cast ballots for her, some of them multiple times.
In one version of this theory, the illegal voters had fooled election workers by going out to their cars to change shirts and hats before going back into the precinct to fill out another ballot. Trump created a commission to look into all the illegal voting; it was disbanded less than eight months later without issuing a report.
But as Trump’s re-election attempt geared up in 2020, so did the lying about it being “stolen.”
At first, it was related to the arrival of COVID, with elections officials of both parties in states all over the country expanding mail voting as a way to limit transmission of the disease. Even though Republicans had pioneered absentee ballot programs decades earlier to great advantage, Trump began claiming — without any evidence — that it was being done to encourage fraud to defeat him.
“You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place,” he said April 7, 2020, at one of his infamous, rambling coronavirus press conferences in the White House briefing room.
In an August 7 news conference at his New Jersey country club, Trump actually claimed that ballots for the election would be printed overseas and sent here for tabulation. “It is a much easier thing for a foreign power, whether it’s Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, many others, people ― countries you wouldn’t expect — it’s much easier for them to forge ballots and send them in,” he said.
By that summer and autumn, claims that the only way he could possibly lose the election was if Democrats cheated had become a standard part of his stump speech.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” he said at an August 17 rally in Pennsylvania.
And after laying months of foundation about “fraud” and a “stolen” election, Trump declared in the wee hours of election night that that was exactly what had happened. “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election,” he said. “Frankly, we did win this election.”
Trump continued to amplify that lie right through the Jan. 6 insurrection, his last-ditch attempt to remain in power, and he continues to repeat it to this day.
Subverting An Election In Advance
In a sense, Trump’s claims about the next election being stolen from him are just a continuation of his 2020 election lies, often in the same section of his speech.
Democrats are already planning to steal 2024 from him, just as they stole 2020 from him, he states, falsely, and the only way to stop it would be to win by such a large margin that it would be impossible to create the necessary number of fake ballots without public detection.
Protect Democracy’s Carpenter said the fact there has been such little criticism of Trump’s claim demonstrates just how entrenched his corrosive view about elections has become in the Republican Party. Even worse, Trump folding his attacks on police and prosecutors for indicting him into his “election interference” conspiracy theory has also been adopted by many in the party, including most of those who are, in theory, running against him for the nomination, she said.
“This idea has a lot of purchase, and is very ingrained, and they’re far ahead of the curve of where they were in 2020,” Carpenter said.
She pointed to Trump’s campaign visit in March to Waco — a mecca for anti-government conspiracy theorists because it was the site of the fatal showdown with David Koresh’s cult in 1993. “That was the main theme of that speech. That the government is out to get us,” she said. “It’s not very subtle.”
Trump’s alternate reality of a system “rigged” specifically against him has so deeply pervaded Republican culture, in fact, that opposing candidates avoid trying to counter it. In response to Wiles and LaCivita’s statement, for example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s campaign denounced Trump’s attempt to effectively end the primary more than three months before the first ballots are cast.
“Donald Trump should defend his record to the American people and debate Ron DeSantis on their vision and specific plans to stop American decline and restore our country,” said campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin.
But the campaign declined to address the stolen election portion of the Trump campaign statement. Even former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the few 2024 GOP hopefuls to forcefully condemn Trump’s election lying and coup attempt, did not address that element of Wiles’ and LaCivita’s statement in his response.
“He’s a hypocrite and a coward who will do and say anything to advance his own interests and silence some of his critics by ducking and trying to cancel debates,” Christie wrote in a social media post barely an hour after the Trump campaign released the call to end the primary.
RNC members, for their part, say they do not intend to cancel debates to help Trump.
“That’s just not going to happen,” said Brock, pointing out that, at this point, Trump has even refused to sign the RNC pledge that he would support the eventual nominee. “Right now, Donald J. Trump is not qualified to be on the debate stage, because he refused to sign the pledge,” Brock said. “And the pledge was designed for him, not for anybody else.”
Jim Dicke, an RNC member from Ohio, said he doesn’t think much of Trump’s claims of 2024 election theft. “I don’t think they stole the last one,” he said, adding that he has not heard of any move to comply with Trump’s demands. “By and large the RNC members take the neutrality pledge seriously.”
For Democrats likely to face Trump, again, as the general election candidate next year, Trump’s words are, again, a call to action.
“As President Biden said last week, our democracy is under constant threat from MAGA Republicans like Donald Trump who recklessly lie to undermine faith in our elections,” said Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee. “It’s telling that the Trump campaign is already laying the groundwork to attack future elections.”