Why do so many rank-and-file Republicans believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump? Ross Douthat took a crack at answering that question over the weekend, but I think he put too much effort into it with his taxonomy of believers. The answer just isn’t that hard.
Consider the average person. Black, white, male, female, Democrat, Republican: it doesn’t matter. The vast majority don’t really follow politics, and even the ones who do aren’t in the business of diving into primary sources. They form their opinions the way most of us do: by listening to people they trust. On our side that’s people like Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, Barack Obama, and occasionally maybe even me. On the conservative side it’s Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. On both sides, we might accept that our trusted sources sometimes exaggerate or cherry pick a bit, but we assume they don’t routinely lie.
So what have conservatives heard over the past month since the election? I hardly have to tell you, do I? Trump has kept up a tsunami of tweets insisting that Democrats cheated on a massive scale. He has launched lawsuits by the dozens to show that he’s serious. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh (not to even mention lunatics like Mark Levin and Lou Dobbs) have supported the wildest conspiracy theories daily. The Journal editorial page has been more middlebrow about the whole thing, as it always is, but even they have insisted that we should let the challenges run their course because, hey, who knows? And among Republican political leaders, the response to Trump’s Twitter rages has ranged all the way from silence to full-blown conspiracy mongering. Only a tiny handful have finally admitted that Biden won.
So if you’re someone who’s already suspicious of Democrats in general—and doubly suspicious of Democratic election fraud, because that’s been a staple of Republican discourse for years—what reason would you have not to believe that Trump was the victim of massive fraud? If the shoe were on the other foot and Biden or Obama was leading a similar charge, you and I would probably believe too.
This is the Occam’s Razor answer, and I don’t think it needs to be any more complicated. The conservative media ecosystem has rallied around Trump, and conservatives trust their media as much as liberals trust theirs. The result is what we see in polls like the one above: 70 percent believe the election wasn’t fair. Those opinions probably range from folks who think there was cheating here and there, all the way to those who literally think millions of votes were stolen by crooked Deep State officials and their Dominion election machines. What further explanation is necessary?
POSTSCRIPT: This is solely about rank-and-file Republicans. None of it addresses the question of why all their opinion leaders have fallen into lockstep about election fraud, and the motivation is certainly different there. Some are true believers. Think Lou Dobbs. Some are delusional. Think Donald Trump. Some are just kowtowing to their audience. Think Sean Hannity. And practically all of them are in it for the money.