Earlier this month, Team Trump claimed in court that their efforts to nullify Joe Biden’s victory could not possibly have been fraudulent or be described as a criminal conspiracy, because those in and around the White House had merely been acting on the basis of sincerely held suspicions.
This sparked the latest round in the never-ending debate over whether or not Republicans actually believe that the election was stolen from them. Politically, it is important to push back against the opportunistic ways in which Republicans up and down the country have been using the “big lie”. But if we are trying to understand what is animating the right’s rapidly accelerating radicalization against democracy, binary assumptions of Republicans as either true believers or power-hungry cynics are not very helpful and actually obscure more than they illuminate. In some fundamental way, Republicans are both. What we really need to grapple with is why so many Republicans are convinced the outcome of the election was illegitimate regardless of whether or not there were specific procedural irregularities.
Surveys have consistently indicated that a clear majority, probably about two-thirds, of Republicans consider Biden an illegitimate president. It’s highly likely that many of them are well aware that some of the specific conspiratorial claims emanating from the right – fake ballots? Lost ballots? “Illegals” voting? – are bogus. But they don’t seem to care about the specifics. They just believe Biden shouldn’t be president.
What is most alarming is the underlying ideology that leads so many on the right to consider Democratic victories invalid – even if they concede there was nothing technically wrong with how the election was conducted. It has become a core tenet of the Republican worldview to consider the Democratic party as not simply a political opponent, but an enemy pursuing an “un-American” project of turning what is supposed to be a white Christian patriarchal nation into a land of godless multiracial pluralism. Conversely, Republicans see themselves as the sole proponents of “real” America, defending the country from the forces of radical leftism, liberalism and wokeism.