Twenty years ago, after George W. Bush won two recounts, Al Gore chose to pursue county by county, precinct by precinct recounts in order to find the 500 or so votes that, amazingly given the millions of votes cast, would have turned the election in his favor. In doing so, he broke with a long-standing tradition in American politics.
It was understandable, I suppose, given the truly handful of votes that cost him the election. Those of us on the conservative side were distressed, however, that Gore did not show the grace to accept the results (as Nixon had, for example) and put the nation through a month of conflict and uncertainty as he tried to mine votes. Remember hanging chads. As it turned out, the Supreme Court put a halt to the deleterious process and Bush effectively won, as he deserved to win, not because he was anymore in his rights than Gore, but because the process as it existed at the time led to his winning.
Only a statewide recount might have changed the outcome, which Gore never requested because he was not confident it would give him what he wanted.
Now, then, how odd to see conservatives replicating the Gore fiasco with the same conspiracy mindset that historian Richard Hofstader once described as the “paranoid style” in American politics. People like William F. Buckley Jr. and those he mobilized spent near a half century trying to build a conservative movement that was based on intellectual principles, transcendental values and a constitutional framework.
I write as one who did not support Trump, in full transparency, and still don’t. Not because I think he was treated fairly, because he was not in many ways. The impeachment process and the Russian collusion charge were paranoia manifest on the left side of the house and should have been immediately derailed. The obsessive anti-Trump commentary on most of the cable networks and in several major magazines and papers was truly embarrassing and infuriating. Counting masks at the Supreme Court swearing in ceremony for example, but ignoring the pandemic health concerns as tens of thousands of Biden supporters crowded major cities. Hypocrisy on full display, which I will call out in a way that George Will and Bill Kristol and other never Trumpers never have.
But the current claims by Trump and his followers that he was cheated, the election stolen, is overheated rhetoric that could do long-term damage to our nation and the conservative movement. Where is the evidence beyond isolated cases that have mostly been explained even by Republicans who were running the voter counts? As someone who did not support the Democrats or Trump, perhaps I can look at this with a degree of detachment – Republicans are playing with fire and have seeded the possibility of civil unrest that will make George Floyd riots look tame.
Understand, this is not to suggest that Trump has no right to seek recounts and to raise questions, but the anti-intellectualism evident is frightening for a Buckley/Reagan conservative. We were cheated. Therefore we will manufacture evidence to prove it? The logic is mind boggling. We lost. Therefore we were cheated. This is typical Trump narcissism at work and why I did not vote for him. It is always about him, rarely about the country or conservative principles or even the better angels of our nature. No, always his ego must be appeased, which is why he has had more turnover in his cabinet and on his staff than any president in memory, why anyone who disagrees with him his immediately ostracized. This is simply a “cancel” mentality on the right. It is bad enough that the left is trapped in its own paranoia and Stalinist rhetoric mode, do Republicans and conservatives really want to travel that road?
There is really only one interesting claim that has been made worth a second look – that of under-vote ballots. No one on either side has offered a rational review of the issue. Sidney Powell claims there are about 450,000 votes across several states that demarked only Biden. No other candidates on those ballots received votes. That is odd, she and others claim. However, this is about 2% of the total vote in those key states if I understand the math. If those votes are fraudulent, and nothing yet suggests they are, this could turn the election. Facts matter. It is simple enough to produce those ballots and assess their validity by a sample review. Are they signed. Can they be traced to registered voters? Did Trump also have under vote ballots in his tally? Were they signed. Can they be tied to registered voters? Is there anything ahistorical about the under vote this year as opposed to prior years? Yet, rather than simply asking honest questions, the first rhetoric from Trump and his team is inflammatory – and assumes the crime before the evidence is even reviewed. Sound familiar? Yes, indeed, it is the leftist playbook on police violence, Trump and conservatives generally. But if conservatives are no better than the left, why be a conservative in the first place, if the cult of personality rather than grounded principles are going to drive your thinking? A few cases of mishandled ballots across the nation – does not a material case make. Perfection is impossible. But suddenly it is the pro-Trump forces, who apparently could forgive Trump virtually any behavior, including lying about his political opponents in his own party, who feel compelled to take every discrepancy across millions of votes and try to make it look like massive fraud. Show me the evidence. Then I will listen. Until then, stop claiming fraud and start talking about due process given the closeness of the election.
There are other issues that need our attention now, including winning the Senate races in Georgia. Let’s not let the wounded ego of President Trump drag the entire country down with it. We know better. Or should.