A Walmart Supercenter in a working-class neighborhood of Phoenix is about the last place you’d find members of Congress or major media figures from the Beltway or Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
If they ever bother to visit that part of “flyover” country, the pundits and politicians would likely hang out miles away in Scottsdale, surrounded by mountain landscapes, luxury resorts, and golf courses.
Built amid a sea of asphalt and surrounded by the dusty desert of a gritty neighborhood, the Walmart inhabits a different world.
On the day after Christmas of 2015, the Supercenter’s parking lot overflowed with pickups and minivans. No Prius, Tesla, or BMW was anywhere in sight, and the store was packed by mostly White and Latino workers and their families.
The first nominating contest in the presidential campaign in Iowa was still more than one month away. But what I heard at that Walmart changed my attitude toward the upcoming election and Donald Trump’s chances.
In the long lines, many of the post-Christmas shoppers and gift returners weren’t reminiscing about the holiday or the upcoming New Year’s celebrations. They were talking politics.
And politics meant Donald Trump. Not the early GOP frontrunner Jeb Bush, nor Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton wasn’t even an afterthought. It was all Trump.
The Shattered Echo Chamber
When I returned to New York City and the two shows I was then anchoring, I told coworkers what I’d heard, suggesting strongly we might need to take Trump more seriously.
None of us had been. We lived, as so many Americans did then and do today, surrounded by echo chambers that confirm all of our biases.
In those media environments, Trump was a laughingstock whose odds of getting elected president were comparable to me winning Wimbledon.
Admittedly, my Walmart epiphany didn’t involve any deep revelation that surveys weren’t already hinting at. In fact, polls consistently showed Trump near the top of the GOP field. However, only about a quarter of Republicans had him as their first choice.
The Walmart experience notwithstanding, I and my colleagues still believed the GOP majority would coalesce around an establishment candidate and stop the reality TV star in his tracks. And, even if he pulled off a miracle and won the nomination, we thought pigs would fly before Trump won the White House.
Echo Chamber Reversal
Now, six years later, it’s Trump Republicans who are getting lost in their own echo chambers, continuing to obsess about an election their candidate lost, fair and square.
Before you say I’m exaggerating, a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May found that 53% of Republicans believe the election was rigged or the result of illegal voting, and 56% of them think Trump is the actual president.
Honestly folks, you want President Biden to get a mental cognition test, but you may need one yourselves.
I should say that I have never been among those in the media who dismiss concerns about election fraud in general. I have said so publicly.
In fact, I find it infuriating to listen to members of the mainstream media pontificate about how electoral fraud doesn’t exist at all, when it certainly does. And many moves by Democrats to further expand early and mail-in voting are likely to increase the chances of bad electoral behavior.
However, I’m just as infuriated by those on the right, including Trump, who keep insisting that the 2020 election “thwarted” the will of the American people and who are obsessed with limiting access to voting.
Not only did he lose, he lost big, earning only 46.9% of the popular vote to Biden’s 51.3%. That reflects a whopping margin of more than 7 million votes.
I’m sorry, guys, nobody stole 7 million votes. Scores of judges, including Trump appointees, all the way up to the Supreme Court have agreed.
I already hear people saying, “it’s not the popular vote, it’s the electoral college.”
They’re right. But Biden kicked Trump’s butt there too, 306-232.
Inane Conspiracy Theories
I’m hearing the true Trump believers’ voices again: “They didn’t need to steal millions of votes to sway elections in the states that would have allowed Trump to win the electoral college vote.”
Sure. But they would have had to steal about 11,000 votes in both Georgia and Arizona, the tightest state elections. Both states had Republican governors, and Georgia also had a Republican secretary of state. In fact, of the “contested” states, most had Republicans in one or another of those positions.
And Trump would have needed to overturn elections in another handful of states, with far larger vote margins, to win the election.
The conspiracy theories about 2020 electoral fraud are absurd on too many levels to count. Here are a few more:
1) Like all conspiracy theories involving the government, they would first require massive and effective coordination among dozens if not hundreds of people in each state. Don’t Republicans usually think government is incapable of great efficiency?
2) The conspiracy theories would also require absolute secrecy among all those people. Don’t Republicans often complain about how government employees leak like sieves?
3) The Biden presidency, so far, will not go down in history as a successful one, as I detailed in a September column, Republicans are trumpeting Democrats’ failures on inflation, COVID, Afghanistan, the border, and more. So, they want you to believe Democrats are incompetent at almost everything, but they are phenomenal at one thing: electoral fraud.
4) For Trump to have won, Democrats would have had to pull off successful, secret, coordinated conspiracies in half a dozen states. The likelihood of that happening in one state is next to nil. In six? Please.
5) If Democrats are capable of such grand-scale fraud, why wouldn’t they have done it for Hillary Clinton? Nobody expected Trump to win back then, and it was a tighter election.
Danger for Democracy
In promoting the so-called “Big Lie,” Trump and his supporters have managed to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the American representative system, for more than two centuries the gold standard that has set an example for the spread of democracy worldwide.
Only 37% of Republicans are confident the next presidential election with be open and fair, according to an Axios/Ipsos poll last month. That’s a huge drop from 72% in a similar 2019 poll.
Meanwhile, both parties are making moves that the other side considers anti-democratic.
In an Epoch Times piece last week, Victor Davis Hanson eloquently accused Democrats of being hypocrites in their pessimistic appraisals about the future of American democracy. In a long laundry list, he cites efforts to pack the Supreme Court, get rid of the filibuster, and eliminate the electoral college, among many others. While some of his arguments involve hyperbole, many raise valid questions.
Still, two wrongs don’t make a right. And a former president of the United States and other elected officials repeatedly lying about the legitimacy of an election is on a whole other level.
Democracy requires vigilance, not conspiracy nuttiness.
Cover photo: A Trump supporter buys into the former president's claims of election fraud in the 2020 election, holding a "stop-the-steal" sign as members of the Washington National Guard, State Police and a fence surround the state Capitol in Olympia, Washington on January 17, 2021.
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