Donald Trump spoke at the third campaign-style rally of his post-presidency in Phoenix on Saturday night and was, well, completely himself: The nearly two-hour speech alternated between fantastical self-aggrandizement and falsehood-packed rants about his perceived political adversaries. He took aim at Hillary Clinton, Mitch McConnell, trans athletes, the Green New Deal — which he charmingly nicknamed "the Green New B------" and ludicrously claimed would result in the abolition of windows — Hunter Biden, China and many others.
The nearly two-hour speech alternated between fantastical self-aggrandizement and falsehood-packed rants.
But there were an overriding focus and a purpose to his rambling remarks — to argue that Republican efforts in Arizona and elsewhere to cast doubt on the results of 2020 election results were part of a "revolution" needed to ensure the "survival of our nation." And as Trump spoke before a roaring audience of loyalists and a wide set of Arizona Republican politicians keen to ride on the coattails of his popularity, Trump's agenda to triple down on his election fraud lies looked like more than just an attempt to burnish his legacy. It showed his commitment and capacity to turbocharge the GOP's agenda to unravel voting rights and underscored how his ability to do lasting damage to the republic is far from over.
Most Republicans running for statewide office in Arizona attended the event, which was organized by Turning Point Action, a right-wing activist organization, and called the "Rally to Protect Our Elections!" A number of them spoke before Trump took the stage, and they clearly considered endorsing or condoning the false claim that Arizona's election results were rigged against Trump as an essential political maneuver. Steve Gaynor, a candidate for governor, fired up the crowd, saying: "This has to be fixed. This can't happen again — there are a million Republicans in our state who believe the election was rigged." Jim Lamon, who is running for the Senate, declared, "There were serious problems with the 2020 election." The crowd directed "lock her up" chants at Arizona's secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who had said before the rally that Trump should "accept [the election result] and move on."
Of course, none of this hysteria about rigged election results is based in reality. Arizona's presidential ballots have already been certified and audited, with President Joe Biden having beaten Trump in the state by about 10,400 votes. Republican hopefuls at the rally were instead discussing evidence-free conspiracy theories and questions raised by an additional "forensic audit" organized by Republican state senators and conducted by an outside contractor. The chosen contractor, Cyber Ninjas, is a small computer security firm that had no experience examining election data before 2020, although its CEO has spread false election conspiracy theories. Not surprisingly, Cyber Ninja's audit has been widely discredited by election experts.
Trump, of course, has never particularly prioritized facts and had no qualms spreading misleading data and disinformation about Arizona's tally of votes, some of which have come from the noncredible Cyber Ninjas investigation. For example, he brought up the debunked claim that 74,000 mail-in ballots in the state "were counted with no clear record of them being ever sent." Maricopa County officials have pointed out that the claim stems from a Cyber Ninjas calculation error, according to PolitiFact.
As in most states, there is simply very little evidence of irregular or fraudulent ballots in Arizona's ballots. An AP investigation has found that 182 ballots in Arizona had problems that "were clear enough that officials referred them to investigators for further review," and out of that number, only four have led to charges — and none to convictions. There is no evidence that any ballots were counted twice. Moreover, the questionable ballots have come from people in both parties, meaning an unexpected discovery of more of them is no guarantee of a better outcome for Trump.
Unfortunately, absence of evidence of fraud isn't dampening Trump's agenda or that of his wing of the party. Instead, the mythology of a stolen election is accelerating a long-term GOP strategic mission to make voting increasingly difficult, based on the belief that Democrats thrive when the voting booth is more accessible. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 18 states have passed over two dozen laws restricting voting access this year — even after a panel of leading government and industry officials found that the election was "the most secure in American history."
Trump may never run for president again. But it's clear that he's relishing his role as Republican kingmaker, and his insistence that the narrative of a stolen election is a top criterion for his approval could end up being of even greater consequence than much of his presidency.