In 2012, I was a moderator for a number of Libertarian forums on Facebook. Back in those far-off, pre-COVID days, there were a slew of supposedly “satirical” news websites — “supposedly” in that, if you dug deep enough into their “About Us” pages, they’d post some legal boilerplate declaring their content to be fictional and “satirical” to limit legal liability. The tone and content, however, didn’t try to be funny or especially outlandish at all. Consequently, when one of these sites published something which confirmed what some Facebook user knew must be true, the article would get shared, sometimes in one of the groups I moderated.
Like clockwork, one of these sites would post something about Ron Paul. Like clockwork, it would get posted in one of the forums I moderated. Like clockwork, I would have to explain in the comments how it was fake news (and, as an aside, how Ron Paul had been a Republican and not a Libertarian for over a decade). Like clockwork, the poster would argue with me about the legitimacy of “mainstream news” and how this website they just found, which was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, was telling the real truth.
I became very skilled at finding the legal boilerplate that served as fig leaves against libel on these sites. Demonstrating its existence was frequently the only way to help anyone see reason.
One particularly egregious example I remember was someone who, after Ron Paul ultimately lost the 2012 primary, kept posting “news” articles about a lawsuit which, once it wound its way through the courts, would prove once and for all that Ron Paul was the only candidate constitutionally authorized to run for president. According to these articles, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had committed some crimes that somehow rendered them ineligible to serve as president. Since Ron Paul had not committed these crimes, he was, by a very incomplete process of elimination which apparently failed to include Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, John Wolfe Jr., and every third-party and non-partisan presidential candidate, the only candidate legally capable of being elected President of the United States.
Naturally, there was a donation page to support this “lawsuit,” as well as a YouTube channel which purported to describe the latest progress of the “lawsuit” each week.
Though this was an especially egregious example, I was already well acquainted with the election fraud industrial donation complex by that point, mainly because I had been receiving emails like this for years:
I also received this call for action from 2011:
More recently, here’s an excerpt from an email blast I received from the Nevada Republican Party in 2013:
AB440 passed, by the way.
Chances are, if you ask anybody who’s been even slightly active in conservative or conservative-adjacent politics in Nevada, they’ve received similar emails and been part of similar conversations for decades, too. When Sharron Angle lost to Harry Reid in 2010, I knew people who swore up and down the loss could only be explained through rampant voter fraud. I’ve even met supporters of failed Republican primary candidates who swore “establishment Republicans” (a phrase that, loosely defined, meant “Republicans they didn’t like or didn’t vote for”) used election fraud to defeat them. Find a former Ron Paul delegate and ask them about the time the lights were turned off — they’ll happily finish the rest of the story for you, don’t worry.
These are people who, to a person, either laugh or scowl at the insularity which produced Pauline Kael’s quote about she only knew one person who voted for Nixon in 1972 (Nixon won in a landslide). Yet, when they can only find one Biden, Reid, Romney or Sandoval voter (you’d be amazed how many Republicans hated our last Republican governor) in their world, they don’t assume they live in an insular bubble of their own. Instead, they assume that seemingly anomalous voter somehow committed mass electoral fraud against them and their friends — and they want revenge.
This is the vein — an old, deep, well explored vein — Trump and his supporters have been exploiting for the past few months, both in Nevada and throughout the country.
When I say exploit, I use the word literally. As Reuters revealed on Veteran’s Day, most donations to Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund” aren’t going to any election-related legal fees at all — instead, most of them are being split between the Republican National Committee and a Trump-affiliated PAC. This puts Trump’s fundraising and lawsuits on similar footing as Jill Stein’s fundraising to “pursue” recounts in swing states after 2016 — a grift which netted the former Green Party presidential candidate millions of dollars and successfully paid for approximately zero recounts.
Like any good con man, however, it’s hard to tell whether Trump is actually in on the con or not. Does he truly believe millions of votes were deleted from electronic voting systems? Does he sincerely believe he won Pennsylvania? Is he completely surrounded by sycophants who realize their gravy train will end in January if they don’t find some way to goad him into overturning the election somehow? Or is he trolling the United States, its people, and its institutions — including Nevada’s court system — to see what he and his friends can get away with?
At some point, it honestly doesn’t matter. He’s leaving the White House in January either way and he’s apparently going to do his Downfall parody impression on his way out. The only question remaining is who’s going to most convincingly peddle his Dolchstoßlegende, both locally and nationally, to curry favor with the base he built after he leaves?
When we look back upon the past four years, one thing we will all need to reckon with is how President Donald J. Trump shined light on corners of the conservative political landscape Republicans fastidiously kept hidden in the dark, both from themselves and the rest of the country, for decades. The idea that widespread voter fraud is both common and the only possible explanation for electoral defeat is just the latest in a long series of such unfortunate corners.
As we reckon with this, however, we can’t afford to fool ourselves. Trump didn’t create these corners. He was just the first president to refuse to be ashamed of them.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].