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November 3, 2020 / Memos

Decoding the Radical Right: How the Republican Party Tried to Steal an Election


To: Interested Parties
From: NARAL Pro-Choice America Research
Date: November 2, 2020 

AT A GLANCE: The Republican Party knows that they lack majority support, so they’ve worked to insulate themselves from the will of the people by waging an all-out war on democracy. This critical election year, they’re going to lie, cheat, and steal to try and maintain their grasp on power. The good news is: We know their strategy, and we know how to protect our democracy. 

By now, it’s no secret that the Republican Party has no interest in even attempting to win free and fair elections. Polling has consistently found that progressive policies hold majority support across a broad swath of issues—including reproductive freedom, racial justice, healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and climate change, just to name a few. In their desperate bid to hold onto power, Republican politicians are fighting public opinion and attacking democracy itself. 

They’re not even hiding it. From refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power to openly engaging in voter suppression and intimidation, Donald Trump and his Republican cronies are doing everything they can to silence voters and cast doubt on our political process. Their attacks on democracy are particularly acute this year, but they are the result of a decades-long strategy to disenfranchise voters and insulate Republicans from the will of the people. 

Trump said the quiet part out loud: “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

The good news is that this strategy is out in the open, and we know how to counter it. Here’s what you need to know: 

THEY’RE GOING TO LIE: Republicans Are Already Leaning on Disinformation to Discourage Participation and Cast Doubt on Any Results That Don’t Favor Them

Disinformation was a key ingredient in Trump’s 2016 victory, and this year the Trump camp’s efforts to deploy disinformation as a strategic weapon have only grown—tripling the reach of their disinformation narratives in the final months of the 2020 campaign (compared to 2016). Across the board, Republicans are flooding the zone with lies to ensure fact-checkers can’t keep up and voters have a hard time telling fact from fiction

Nowhere is their disinformation strategy more obvious than in their widespread assault on the right to vote. Realizing that the raging pandemic would likely increase absentee voting, especially among constituencies that lean Democratic, Trump and his Republican operatives have promoted a tidal wave of falsehoods designed to undermine trust in absentee voting and pushed false claims about nonexistent “mass voter fraud” to lay the groundwork for their plans to dispute the election results in the event of a Biden win. 

They’re also using online disinformation to discourage voters from turning out for Vice President Biden. Recent reporting has suggested that in 2016, the Trump campaign individually targeted 3.5 million Black voters with misleading voter suppression messages. This year, we’re seeing more of the same in misleading memes and Facebook groups designed to target Black and Latinx voters. Meanwhile, a flood of debunked conspiracy theories have aimed to undermine voters’ trust in Biden’s candidacy. 

And of course, these disinformation efforts stretch far beyond attacks on our election infrastructure. Republicans are leaning into disinformation in any and all discussions about the key issues that matter to voters this year—including reproductive freedom, COVID-19, and family separations, among many others. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are taking active steps to undermine fact-checking efforts. In a clear example, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) outrageously tried to cast independent fact-checking efforts as a form of “censorship,” while far-right  websites like Breitbart have been publishing their own disingenuous “fact-checks” to rebut legitimate, nonpartisan fact-checkers like PolitiFact who dare to counter Republican lies.

THEY’RE GOING TO CHEAT: Republicans Are Engaging in Widespread Voter Intimidation Efforts and Working to Suppress Voter Turnout and Undermine the Right to Vote 

Trump and his supporters are actively driving voter intimidation efforts in key swing states.  In September, Donald Trump asked his supporters to “go into the polls” and scrutinize voters, and the Trump campaign later began recruiting followers to engage in a coordinated voter suppression group it calls the “Army for Trump.” Campaign ads have included appeals like:

“The radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father… We need every able-bodied man, woman, to join Army for Trump’s Election security operation… We need you to help us watch them, not only on Election Day, but also during early voting and at the counting boards.” —Donald Trump Jr. 

The appeals have been effective. So far during the early voting period, Trump supporters, sometimes in the form of armed militias, have aggressively harassed voters in key swing states. By October 27, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said its Election Protection hotline had received over 100,000 reports of possible voter intimidation, and that number has only grown since. Of course, these voter intimidation efforts overwhelmingly target BIPOC voters. 

At the same time, the Republican Party is pursuing every possible legal strategy to suppress voter turnout and undermine the right to vote. Their anti-democratic attacks have been coming fast and furious: 

  • Overall, Trump and the Republican Party have engaged in over 300 legal battles either attacking election rules that encourage higher voter turnout or opposing lawsuits from voting rights advocates that would expand voting. 
  • Trump openly admitted he opposed necessary funding for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) because lack of additional funding for the USPS would make it more difficult for people to vote by mail.  
  • Republicans’ “voter fraud” falsehoods have also been used as a flimsy excuse to limit ballot drop boxes intended to help people vote during the unprecedented conditions of a global pandemic. 

THEY’RE GOING TO STEAL: If All Else Fails, Republicans Will Try Asking Their Handpicked Supreme Court Supermajority to Halt Ballot Counts in Key States and Override Voters’ Decision

If voters can overcome the barrage of disinformation and make it through the gauntlet of Republican voter suppression and intimidation efforts to actually cast their ballot by November 3, Republicans still have a fallback: their partisan supermajority on the Supreme Court. 

In one of the most blatantly partisan power grabs in modern U.S. history, Republicans denied their past promises and ignored the public’s wishes to push Amy Barrett through an illegitimate Supreme Court confirmation process. At the time, they even admitted their intent to have Barrett installed in advance of the election so she could tip the scales their way if the 2020 election were contested:  

  • During the first debate, Donald Trump confirmed he was counting on confirming Barrett to settle election disputes, saying “yeah, I think we’re getting [the Supreme Court] to look at the ballots.” 
  • Vice President Mike Pence also chimed in, claiming universal mail-in voting in some states and states’ decisions to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day were “all the more reason why we should have nine justices on the Supreme Court to be able to resolve any issues that may arise.” 
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said it was “critically important” for Republicans to confirm Barrett before the election because there was “a very high possibility” of the results being challenged.
  • Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-5) also argued that confirming Barrett before the election was “imperative” because the election results could end up at the Supreme Court.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court overrode the democratic process to hand an election victory to George W. Bush, and Republicans have made it clear that they’re counting on the Court to do the same this year. It helps that they now have three Supreme Court justices who actually worked on the side of Bush’s legal team in that case: Amy Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts. 

SO WHAT DO WE DO? 

This year, the threats to our democracy are formidable. But we know their plans, and we’re heading into this election prepared. For democracy to work for all of us, we must ensure that every vote is counted. Trump plans to attack democracy, so it’s critical we don’t let him control the narrative. Here’s how: 

  • Build confidence in democracy. Local election officials will be making many of the critical decisions on the ground that affect who gets to vote and whether their ballots are counted. Voters trust these local officials as accurate sources of information about the election. We know Trump will try to pressure local officials to end counting early or exclude certain ballots. We need to make sure local officials have the popular support they need to resist that pressure and ensure every vote is counted, and we can do our part by educating the public about the counting process and the hard work local officials are doing to ensure it’s done right. 
  • Center voters’ stories. We need to bolster public support for a thorough counting process, even if it takes more time than we’d all like. We can help build that necessary sense of understanding and patience by clearly describing the barriers many voters faced this year, the resolve they showed, and the need to ensure their efforts are honored and their voices are heard. 
  • Go on the offense against Trump’s disinformation. We know what Trump is going to try and push for an undercount, prematurely declare a victory, and cast doubt on the true election results. We can push back on that by highlighting voters’ power and the importance of counting every vote. We’re already seeing incredibly high voter turnout, and voters want to see their mandate in action—what they don’t want is to have Trump pull the country backward or unfairly undermine their voices. Talking about this now will help inoculate voters against Trump’s inevitable bad-faith complaints. 

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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