Kelly Hawes

In 2012, when President Barack Obama won a second term, Trump called the election a “total sham” and insisted the United States was “not a democracy.”

“We can’t let this happen,” he tweeted. “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”

He offered a similar refrain when he lost the Iowa caucuses in 2016.

“Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it,” the future president tweeted. “That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!”

Then, in October 2016, facing off against Hillary Clinton in the general election, Trump sought to cast doubt on the outcome even before most of the votes had been cast.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary,” he tweeted, “but also at many polling places – SAD.”

Even after the election, the new president continued to insist he had been cheated.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he said, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

To be clear, Trump came up almost 3 million short of winning the popular vote, and there was no evidence of millions of ballots being cast illegally.

Nevertheless, the former president has succeeded in convincing a lot of supporters there’s something fishy going on with American elections.

A recent survey for CNN found nearly 80% of Republicans believe Joe Biden did not really win the 2020 election. More than half believe there is solid evidence of that, in spite of the fact that no such evidence exists.

It does not matter that a recent audit in Arizona concluded that Biden might actually have won that state by an even bigger margin than originally announced.

Sarah Longwell, executive director of the organization Defending Democracy Together, says the audits in Arizona and elsewhere aren’t really about counting votes.

“It has to do with creating a cloud of suspicion around the elections,” she told CNN, “and keeping their fraud narrative front and center.”

That CNN survey found growing cynicism among voters. Just over half of respondents say they lack confidence that American elections reflect the will of the people. That same survey found 51% of respondents saying it’s at least somewhat likely an election will be overturned by elected officials because they don’t like the result.

Think about that. More than half of respondents think there’s a pretty good chance the party in power will toss out an election result that doesn’t go its way.

George Orwell couldn’t have come up with a more frightening scenario.

And just to be clear, that’s precisely what Jan. 6 was all about. The sitting president lost the election and then started scheming to stay in office.

He bullied election officials to change vote totals. He incited supporters to storm the Capitol. He exhorted his vice president not to certify the results.

Of course, that’s not the way a lot of Republicans see it.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found Republicans growing less concerned that Jan. 6 rioters be caught and punished. Six months ago, nearly eight in 10 Republicans thought it to be at least somewhat important for that to happen. In the latest survey, the number had fallen below six in 10. About a quarter deemed it “very important,” down from half six months earlier.

The survey found 57% of Republicans saying the riot was getting too much attention. It found 77% expressing doubt that the ongoing congressional investigation would be fair.

For a significant number of Republicans, this isn’t about preserving democracy. It’s about loyalty to Donald Trump.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.

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