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Amid Jan 6 revelations, election lies still dominate Republican Party

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The Republican response to the Jan 6 hearings reflects how central the lie of a stolen election has become to the party’s identity.

PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – It was all a lie, the tales of stuffed ballot drop boxes, rigged voting machines and constitutional “flexibility” that would have allowed Vice-President Mike Pence to nullify the 2020 election results and send them back to Republican state legislatures.

The first three hearings of the House Jan 6 committee have deeply undercut, if not demolished, the post-election myths repeated incessantly by former president Donald Trump and his supporters and embraced and amplified by Republicans in Congress.

A parade of Republican witnesses – his attorney-general William Barr, his daughter Ivanka Trump and his own campaign lawyers – knew he had lost the election and told him so.

Mr Trump was informed that the demands he was making of Mr Pence to block his defeat unilaterally were illegal. Even the most active coup plotter, conservative lawyer John Eastman, conceded before Jan 6, 2021, that his scheme was illegal and unconstitutional, then sought a presidential pardon after it led to mob violence.

Yet, the most striking revelation so far may be how deeply Mr Trump’s disregard for the truth and the rule of law have penetrated into the Republican Party, taking root in the fertile soil of a right-wing electorate stewing in conspiracy theories and well tended by their media of choice.

Republicans stuck on Trump

The Republican response to the hearings – a combination of indifference, diversion and doubling down – reflects how central the lie of a stolen election has become to the party’s identity.

In Washington, Republicans in Congress have neither broken with Mr Trump nor expended much energy trying to rebut the investigation’s findings.

And from Nevada’s secretary of state race to Michigan’s contest for governor, Republican candidates have embraced the fictional conspiracy in their 2022 campaigns.

“I have been fighting for safe, honest and transparent elections since before Jan 6, and that fight continues,” said Michigan state Representative Steve Carra, whose reelection run has been blessed by Mr Trump and who said on Friday (June 17) he has watched some but not much of the hearings.

“Absentee ballots sent out unsolicited, signature verification relaxed, drop boxes all over the place, especially in Democratic area – it all deserves further scrutiny,” he said.

Like mint in the garden, the seeds that the Trump team planted between Election Day 2020 and Jan 6, 2021, are now growing out of control, aided by the former president’s allies.

Mr Jarome Bell, a leading candidate to challenge Representative Elaine Luria, of Virginia, has been travelling her Republican-leaning district showing voters a film by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza that pushes the bogus fraud claims. The hearings, Mr Bell said on Friday, have had “no impact on me. ‘2000 Mules’ has a bigger impact on what truly happened.”

He added, “the 1/6 commission is the cover-up”.

Mr Jon Rocha, a candidate for state representative in Michigan who has Mr Trump’s backing, also cited the film and bragged that he had watched none of the hearings, “not even a 30-second clip”.

No push-back

One reason the falsehoods have flourished is the failure of Republicans who do not believe them to push back.

Before the Jan 6 hearings began, Republican leaders promised a robust “rapid response” effort to counter the narratives that would emerge. But there has been no such pushback from the Republican National Committee or any other organisation to revelations that Mr Trump continued to pressure Mr Pence to overturn the election results, even after having been told doing so was illegal.

No Republican leader offered a response to the testimony of retired federal appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig, a revered conservative, who said on Thursday (June 16) that Mr Trump gave Mr Pence an order whose execution would have prompted “the first constitutional crisis since the founding of the Republic”.

None bothered to counter the panel’s finding, revealed on Monday (June 13), that Mr Trump and his campaign raised hundreds of millions of dollars from supporters based on the false pretence of massive election fraud, using money collected for an election defence fund that did not exist.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, has chosen not to engage on the issue at all.

And to the extent that they are trying to counter-programme the hearings, House Republicans have been prodding voters to look elsewhere – to rising gas prices, inflation and migrants at the southern border.

Only Mr Trump seems particularly irritated by the exercise, appalled by the testimony of his daughter, who shared details of his abusive phone call with Mr Pence on the morning of Jan 6 and said she trusted Mr Barr’s judgement when he said that the 2020 election was not stolen.

“It’s a one-way street, it’s a rigged deal, it’s a disgrace,” a thoroughly unrepentant Mr Trump said on Friday at a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, in which he called Jan 6 “a simple protest that got out of hand” as he continued spinning out false claims and grand conspiracy theories of election fraud.

Riding on Trump’s coattails

In a Republican primary season fueled by pro-Trump fervor, many candidates have emerged as their party’s nominees for top offices in large part because they campaigned on the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen by President Joe Biden.

The Republican nominees for governor in Pennsylvania, secretary of state in Nevada, Senate in Nevada, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and attorney-general in Texas all tried to overturn the 2020 election or embraced false claims of voter fraud.

Ms Mayra Flores, a Texas Republican who won a House seat in a special election on Tuesday (June 14), has declined to say whether Mr Biden won in 2020, telling The San Antonio Express-News: “I’m speaking just in general. There is voter fraud.”

And there is more to come. Colorado state Representative Ron Hanks – vying to challenge Senator Michael Bennet in the state’s Republican primary on June 28 – marched to the Capitol on Jan 6 and launched his campaign with an ad showing him shooting a fake Dominion voting machine, a device central to a sprawling conspiracy theory about votes purportedly stolen by foreign powers from Mr Trump.

In Arizona, the leading Republican candidate for governor, Ms Kari Lake, has made her “stolen election” claims central to her campaign.

Mr Mark Finchem, a candidate for secretary of state, was at the front steps of the Capitol on Jan 6. And Mr Blake Masters, who hopes to challenge Senator Mark Kelly, the incumbent Democrat, suggested baselessly that “one-third of the people outside of the Capitol complex on Jan 6 were actual FBI agents”.

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