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Kari Lake’s line on election results reflects GOP’s new normal

Kari Lake's line on accepting election results is entirely at odds with how democracy is supposed to work, but she's not the only Republican peddling it.


Much of Kari Lake’s gubernatorial candidacy is based on discredited conspiracy theories about Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat. But as we were reminded yesterday, the far-right candidate hasn’t just rejected the results of the last election cycle, Lake is also prepared to question this year’s results, too. NBC News reported:

Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake repeatedly declined to say Sunday whether she would accept the results of the election if she loses. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Lake dodged when she was asked multiple times whether she would accept the results if she loses.

With just three weeks remaining before Election Day, and with several polls in Arizona showing the far-right, first-time candidate narrowly ahead, Lake would only say that she’d “accept” her expected victory — which really isn’t how democracy is supposed to work.

At face value, this might seem predictable. Lake is one of the year’s most outlandish election deniers, so of course the Arizona Republican is refusing to say she’s prepared to accept the election results, regardless of the voters’ verdict.

But circling back to our earlier coverage, what matters is the larger context and the degree to which Lake’s position reflects a radical new normal in Republican politics.

The Daily Beast reported over the weekend, for example, on Lake’s fellow far-right Arizonan, Republican Senate hopeful Blake Masters, who’s also “starting to cast doubt on the outcome of this election — before the votes are even counted.”

Two weeks earlier, Sen. Ron Johnson’s campaign was asked whether the Wisconsin Republican would accept the election results in the event of a defeat. Instead of saying, “Of course,” the senator’s campaign spokesperson said, “It is certainly his hope that he can.”

As regular readers know, it was in September 2020 when Donald Trump first balked publicly at the idea of a peaceful transfer of power. What we didn’t fully realize at the time was that he was helping create new standards for his party. The Washington Post recently published a report on a dozen Republican candidates in competitive races for governor and Senate declining to say whether they would accept the legitimacy of the upcoming results.

The New York Times did the same thing, asking nominees for governor and the Senate in midterm battlegrounds whether they would commit to accepting this year’s election results. The results were similar: Most Republicans either wouldn’t answer or wouldn’t make such a commitment, while Democratic candidates said they would respect the results, win or lose.

We used to be a country in which questions like these weren’t even asked. As we’ve discussed, it was a foregone conclusion for generations: The United States was a stable democracy, and the world’s pre-eminent superpower. There was no real need to wonder: American candidates for powerful offices agreed to honor election results. The entire line of inquiry was unnecessary since the answers were assumed.

Now, as the radicalization of Republican politics intensifies, it’s no longer considered outlandish to ask GOP candidates whether they’ll accept voters’ judgment — and it’s no longer surprising when Republicans fail to say “yes.”

Complicating matters, politicians like Lake and her cohorts are echoing the sentiments of GOP voters: My MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones recently noted the latest poll conducted by Yahoo News and YouGov, in which fewer than half of Republican voters said candidates who receive fewer votes should concede.

A month ago today, as part of an analysis on threats to our democracy, The New York Times’ David Leonhardt explained, “The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.”

It’s amazing to see just how many in the GOP continue to prove him right.