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Ronna McDaniel
Ronna McDaniel, the GOP chairwoman, speaks during the Republican National Committee meeting on Feb. 4, 2002, in Salt Lake City.Rick Bowmer / AP, file

On accepting election results, RNC chair pushes problematic line

The RNC chair said her party would accept election results after counts, recounts, canvasses, lawsuits, and court rulings. If only that were true.


It was just last week when Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin hedged when asked whether he’d accept the results of his own re-election bid. It’s part of the new normal in his party: Too many Republicans headed into Election Day by suggesting the only elections they see as legitimate are the ones in which they win.

CNN’s Dana Bash asked Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel whether she agrees with Johnson’s approach. The party leader made it sound as if questioning the integrity of vote counts is simply a normal part of the process. From the network transcript:

“Listen, you should have a recount. You should have a canvass. And it’ll go to the courts, and then everybody should accept the results. That’s what it should be.”

Soon after, in the same interview, McDaniel went on to say that Republicans “will accept the results” after the entirety of the process plays out.

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Part of the problem with the RNC chair’s line is practical. The way the process has traditionally worked, at least in the United States, is that there’s an election, votes are tallied, results are announced, and winners are given the opportunity to govern. McDaniel apparently envisions a revised model in which there’s an election, votes are tallied, results are announced, recounts are held, canvasses are also held, lawsuits are filed, court hearings are held, judicial rulings are issued, and eventually, if we’re all very lucky, the relevant parties “should” honor the eventual outcome.

There are 435 U.S. House seats on the line today, as well as 34 U.S. Senate seats, 36 gubernatorial offices, and thousands of down-ballot contests across the country. As far as the Republican National Committee is concerned, how many of these contests should stick to her needlessly lengthy, multi-step, multi-branch process?

The other part of the problem, however, is the concluding assumption of McDaniel’s pitch: Everybody “should” accept the results, the RNC chair argued, after the counts, recounts, canvasses, lawsuits, and court rulings. But what if they don’t? A Washington Post analysis explained yesterday:

One reason for normalizing this as part of the process is that McDaniel’s second step — everybody accepts the results — simply doesn’t happen. Trump challenged his 2020 loss six ways from Sunday and the result was that he built up doubt and skepticism among his supporters instead of resolving it. Part of this is simply how Trump approached it (with unrelenting dishonesty) but part of it is the nature of the challenges. If you insist that you’re going to court to protect democracy against a system of biased elites, your most die-hard allies are not likely to see an adverse court ruling as proving you wrong. They’re going to think the biased elites won yet again.

Quite right. It might be tempting for reality-based observers to simply relent and give Republicans the counts, recounts, canvasses, lawsuits, and court rulings they’re seeking. “At that point,” some might be tempted to say, “even Republican conspiracy theorists could move forward with full confidence in the integrity of the outcome.”

And if the counts, recounts, canvasses, lawsuits, and court rulings produced such an outcome, the surrender might be worth it — except no such outcome would ever arise. Trump’s conspiracy theories have been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited, but (a) he continues to push them as if they were real; (b) most GOP voters continue to believe them; and (c) the former president occasionally comes up with new conspiracy theories to supplement the old ones.

No amount of proof is ever enough. No standard can ever be met. No conspiracy theory can ever be debunked to the satisfaction of those who want to believe the lies that make them feel better.

Even if McDaniel’s dragged out process weren’t logistically impossible, it wouldn’t work — because her partisan allies still wouldn’t accept it.