Trump’s election lies are thriving. His GOP rivals aren’t challenging them

Donald Trump’s supporters continue to adopt his bogus narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, with nearly 70 per cent of his Iowa caucus voters falsely believing President Joe Biden was illegitimately elected.

Asked whether they believed President Biden was legitimately elected to the presidency in 2020, more than two-thirds of Iowa caucus goers said no, according to entrance polls from last night’s caucuses.

That includes 69 per cent of Iowa caucus goers who supported Mr Trump. Only 11 per cent of his supporters in Iowa believe the president was legitimately elected.

Mr Trump has relied on conspiracy theories and a fake narrative that the 2020 election was rigged against him to cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections he lost. Those false claims have since animated Republican campaigns for public offices across the country and GOP-drafted legislation in nearly every state to change how elections are run.

The false claims surrounding the 2020 election and the electoral process fuelled violence at the US Capitol on January 6, and the former president is facing criminal charges in Washington DC and in Georgia for his spurious attempts to overturn election results culminating in a mob that stormed the halls of Congress to do it by force.

Sixty-five per cent of caucus goers, including 72 per cent who supported Mr Trump, believe he would still be fit to serve as president even if he is convicted.

By comparison, a majority of Iowa caucus voters who believe President Biden was legitimately elected supported former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Among respondents who agreed, 53 per cent voted for Ms Haley, who came in third place among GOP candidates in Iowa.

Both Ms Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who came in second, have stated that Mr Trump lost the 2020 election, but neither have challenged their GOP rival for his elecion lies and the criminal cases connected to them.

“His two main challengers acknowledge that his 2020 election defeat was legitimate. And yet neither made this the central part of their case against Trump, or even a major talking point,” writes Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

“In a normal primary, trailing candidates hammer away at a front-runner’s vulnerabilities. By refusing to hit Trump where he’s weakest, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis gave Trump a free pass to lie about the 2020 election,” according to Mr Waldman. “They didn’t tell Iowans the truth, and they made it too easy for voters to believe the Big Lie. This is a moral failure, but the first round of results shows it to be a strategic failure as well.”

Roughly 110,000 Iowans – less than 4 per cent of the state’s population – joined caucuses across the state to cast what are the first votes of the 2024 presidential election. Mr Trump won roughly 51 per cent of those votes, or about 56,000.

“Radical-left Democrats rigged the presidential election of 2020, and we are not going to allow them to rig the presidential election of 2024,” he told supporters in Iowa on Monday night.

During a rally in the state last month, Mr Trump urged supporters to “go into” cities to “watch” how elections are run in cities with large Black populations, raising alarms among elections officials and voting rights advocates bracing for more threats to elections fuelled by baseless allegations of widespread fraud.

His own White House counsel, campaign attorneys, administration aides, the US Department of Justice, judges and state and local officials from both parties have not produced any evidence of such fraud.

Yet persistent claims of fraud or wrongdoing in 2020 elections, under a banner of “election integrity” efforts from GOP officials, are thriving among elected officials in offices with critical election oversight.

Nearly one-third of members of Congress have denied the election’s outcome or promoted bogus claims about elections, including 127 sitting members of Congress who refused to certify 2020 results.

Though the “election denialism” movement failed to gain any new ground in midterm elections in 2022, at least 25 officials in at least 19 states currently hold a statewide office with election oversight, according to an analysis of nonpartisan democracy advocacy group States United Action.

Those statewide offices – including governor, secretary of state and attorney general – are responsible for certifying results and protecting election workers, among other duties.

Some of the most prominent members of Mr Trump’s former inner circle, including attorneys who advanced discredited theories to push so-called “alternate” electors in states he lost, have also admitted to Georgia prosecutors and to the public that dubious and conspiracy theory-fuelled legal arguments at the heart of their efforts were wrong.

But “the dam hasn’t broken yet on election denialism,” according to Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, speaking to The Independent last year. “There are going to be people wedded to that idea – despite the fact that some of the key players in the case are publicly admitting, under legal duress, that they made this all up.”