Elijah Behnke, a Republican state representative in Wisconsin, apparently did not know he was being recorded last week when he chatted with a group of voters at the state Capitol. The group appeared to be made up pro-Trump Wisconsin activists, which apparently led the GOP legislator to be candid in his comments.
That probably wasn't a good idea.
Behnke told the voters, for example, that he remains convinced that there was fraud in the 2020 election. Referring to illegal ballots, he said, "It could be 160,000, it could have been 16,000."
In reality, it was neither, but as The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison reported over the weekend, that's not all the Republican said.
A newly minted Republican lawmaker told a group of visitors to his state Capitol office that Republicans need to "cheat like the Democrats or bend the rules" to win upcoming elections, according to a hidden camera video posted online.... It's not clear who shot the video, but it appears to have been taken near the end of Thursday's Assembly session. One of the visitors appears to be discreetly taking the video and it does not appear Behnke knows he's on camera.
In case it's not obvious, let's go ahead and acknowledge reality: There was no meaningful voter fraud in the 2020 election; Democrats did not "cheat" to win; and no one gained power by "bending the rules." The state representative's assertions are plainly wrong.
But stepping back, the larger concern is that too many Republicans may be thinking along these lines.
For example, at a rally in Arizona last weekend, Donald Trump falsely insisted that Democrats "cheat" in every single cycle. The former president said to cheers, "We have more people than they do, but they know politics and they know cheating. I sometimes say, 'Well, would the Republicans ever do what they did?'"
He added, "I say if it's good for [Democrats], why aren't the Republicans doing the same kind of thing with the ballots?"
Even some of the Trump supporters who've been charged with fraud have pointed to these absurd beliefs as a justification for alleged crimes. According to an arrest affidavit in Colorado from last spring, for example, one Republican cast a ballot for his deceased wife because he believed "all these other guys are cheating."
That wasn't true, of course, but much of the GOP's base has been conditioned to believe that fraud is rampant in elections nationwide. It's against that backdrop that some Republican voices are encouraging their allies to "cheat like the Democrats" and/or "doing the same kind of thing" as the supposed cheaters.
Rank-and-file Republican voters should be wary of such advice: The existing system is quite effective in identifying and prosecuting those who try to game the system.