The credibility crisis on the right
Whataboutism can't excuse this.
To my readers who lean right, let me begin with a couple of acknowledgements that will alienate my readers who lean to the left. I’ll be lucky if anyone makes it to the end of this column.
First, the sources of public influence in this country – traditional media, big tech, academia – are biased against conservatives and conservative viewpoints. Historically, this bias was mostly subconscious. But, with the widespread adoption of woke ideology, it is becoming increasingly conscious and purposeful.
Second, the entire political class in this country has become untrustworthy, Democrats included. A modern-day Diogenes wouldn’t even bother checking the ranks of elected officials.
That acknowledged, there is a particularly acute crisis of credibility on the right, brought into sharp relief by two recent developments, one local and one national. Both have to do with destructive misrepresentations about the integrity of our elections.
Whataboutism, rationalizing bad behavior on your side because of bad behavior on the other side, can’t whitewash this away.
The local one was the revelation that investigators for former Attorney General Mark Brnovich did a deep dive into all the allegations of fraud and maladministration of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona and concluded that there was nothing to them. Yet Brnovich not only didn’t release the findings, he made public comments calculated to misleadingly cast shade on the integrity of Arizona’s election administration and results.
This is a much more widespread indictment than just a personal failing on the part of Brnovich. It is an indictment of all those who irresponsibly fanned the flames of angst over the election results among populist conservatives. Karen Fann and Warren Petersen for launching an incompetent and fraudulent “audit” of Maricopa County’s conduct of the election. Those who produced the audit alleging improprieties that the AG investigators found without foundation.
Some of the most prominent false purveyors of fraud – including Mark Finchem, Sonny Borrelli, and Wendy Rogers – were given the opportunity to provide evidence of such to the AG investigators. None did. Rogers wouldn’t even meet. Finchem and Borrelli declined to even repeat to the investigators accusations they were freely making in public. The investigative report speculates that this might be because making a false claim to a law enforcement official is a crime.
Borrelli is now the GOP state Senate majority leader. Rogers heads up the Elections Committee.
The national revelation came in the form of a motion for summary judgment in the defamation lawsuit Dominion Voting Systems has filed against Fox News. One of the false allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election was that Dominion tabulation machines, which are used by Maricopa County, were programmed to change votes for Trump into votes for Biden.
Fox provided ample air time to three individuals peddling this slander: Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell. Fox continued to give them air time after internal communications demonstrate that its management and on-air personalities had concluded that their accusations against Dominion were untrue. With minor exceptions, their claims were treated uncritically, and sometimes even supportively, on-air.
Fox is the heavyweight in conservative media. It claims that it was just covering the news. And there is something to that. Giuliani, Powell, and Lindell were major figures in the Trump orbit and his efforts to challenge the 2020 election results. I think what public officials and figures say should be reported. I disagree that the news media should suppress comments or claims made by public officials and figures based upon a judgment that they are false or inflammatory.
However, there is a difference between reporting and promoting. And it is fair to conclude that with respect to Dominion, Fox promoted accusations it believed were untruthful.
All of this is testimony to the intellectually and morally corrupting influence of Donald Trump on the right.
Trump falsely claimed that he didn’t lose the 2020 election, it was stolen. He attempted an unsuccessful coup to stay in office. And major figures on the right, in office and in the media, not only have been unwilling to call him on it, they either went along with it or sought to sidestep it.
This was not only intellectual and moral cowardice. It was a tactical blunder for those governed by raw political calculation, in a couple of respects.
The Democrats want to create national election standards, including eviscerating important voter-fraud protections, such as establishing an eligible voter roll in advance and requiring identification to vote. Conservatives and Republicans oppose this. But what’s the case to keep control of elections local if they produced a fraudulent outcome in the 2020 presidential election?
By catering to and being complicit in Trump’s delusions about the 2020 election, conservatives and the Republican Party have cornered themselves into a Trump trap. The man is an electoral liability. But by humoring and promoting the view that the 2020 election was illegitimate, they undermine the ability to make that case to Republican base voters and persuade them to move on to more electable candidates. If Trump was cheated, what’s the evidence that he’s unpopular and a political liability?
Given the extent to which leaders on the right mortgaged their soul to Trump, who among them has the credibility to be taken seriously about anything?
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.