President Donald Trump has the right to legally pursue his claims of vote fraud, baseless though they are, as judges have consistently ruled so far. That’s how America’s system works. But it doesn’t excuse Sen. Josh Hawley’s misleading and deeply cynical statements lending credence to Trump’s unfounded allegations about a stolen election.
Hawley’s fellow Republican Missouri senator, Roy Blunt, hasn’t exactly been courageous himself, but at least he hasn’t outright endorsed Trump’s conspiracy theories. Hawley, by contrast, has self-righteously vowed to file legislation based on Trump’s unfounded vote-fraud allegations, while pretending there’s something new and sinister about the routine media practice of reporting election winners when the numbers confirm it. As an earlier Republican Missouri senator, Jack Danforth, puts it, Trump is causing “incalculable damage to our country.” And Hawley is giving Trump cover.
Trump’s damage started the morning after the Nov. 3 election. Infuriated that mail-in ballots were, as predicted, heavily favoring Democrat Joe Biden, Trump alleged cheating (offering no evidence) and declared himself the winner.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” he said, without even leveling a specific allegation. He falsely implied people were still voting and demanded it stop. He warned, apropos of nothing: “We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.”
To be clear: There were no mysterious ballots “found.” Trump’s claim that a court had to stop “secret” ballot-counting misrepresented an isolated dispute over social-distance rules for election observers. Republican observers were everywhere, and none has alleged significant irregularities or fraud.
While most elected Republicans held their tongues at Trump’s bizarre assertions, Hawley tweeted: “If [the] last 24 hrs have made anything clear, it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW.”
On Saturday, Hawley was at it again, after the inexorable electoral math led major media outlets, including Trump-friendly Fox News, to report that Biden had won. “The media do not get to determine who the president is. The people do,” Hawley tweeted, piously lecturing about how “lawful votes” have to be counted and “allegations of fraud addressed.”
There were no such Republican protests when the same news outlets, using the same methodology, declared Trump the winner in 2016. Hawley knows perfectly well the news media didn’t “determine” the winner, but merely reported it based on publicly available returns — as they always do — pending official certification. The trope about “lawful votes” is a sneaky way of suggesting there were some other kind, when that isn’t remotely in evidence. Ditto with “allegations of fraud.”
Those who care about electoral democracy should defend Trump’s right to legal review within reason. But they shouldn’t lend legitimacy to his corrosive public rhetoric, which is a different issue altogether. History will judge Trump for that — and it will judge those who stand with him.