For election-deniers, allegations of dead voters casting ballots have become a staple of Republican conspiracy theories. This is especially true in Arizona, where GOP legislators urged state law enforcement to investigate specific claims that resulted from the absurd Cyber Ninjas “audit.”
And so, the Grand Canyon State’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, got to work, assigning an Election Integrity Unit to investigate the allegations. As The New York Times reported, the results couldn’t have been clearer.
Accusations that hundreds of ballots were cast in Arizona in 2020 in the name of dead voters are unfounded, the state’s Republican attorney general said on Monday in a sharply worded letter to the president of the Arizona Senate, who has advanced false claims of voter fraud.
Brnovich said some of the claims were “absurd,” adding that “the names and birth dates didn’t even match the deceased, and others included dates of death after the election.”
It’s striking enough to see another GOP conspiracy theory about the election fall apart, but it’s important to emphasize the political context: It was in the Arizona attorney general’s interest to come to the opposite conclusion, but he couldn’t manufacture evidence that doesn’t exist.
As we discussed several months ago, Brnovich is in a politically tricky position. On the one hand, he’s a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in a crowded primary — the election is today — and he’s eager to please Donald Trump and his party’s far-right base.
On the other hand, he’s also Arizona’s top law enforcement official, who’s faced intense lobbying from the former president to “help” with the party’s crusade against the 2020 election.
The more Brnovich boosts Trump’s Big Lie, the more it’s likely to help his statewide campaign. The more he uses his office responsibly, and sidesteps ridiculous conspiracy theories, the more he risks being seen as a villain by the former president and his followers.
As Politico put it, Brnovich is effectively “caught in a vice.”
None of this is lost on Trump, whose pressure campaign has been overt and public. Indeed, Trump has publicly criticized the state attorney general for not going far enough to kowtow to the former president’s anti-election nonsense. Trump even issued a written statement last year, saying Brnovich was “nowhere to be found” in helping spread ridiculous ideas about the 2020 race.
“The lackluster Attorney General of Arizona, Mark Brnovich, has to get on the ball,” Trump wrote. He also held a rally in Arizona in which he told supporters, in reference to Brnovich, “I think he’s going to do his job — we’ll find out.”
Subtle it was not.
It was against this backdrop that Brnovich really tried to find evidence of widespread voter fraud and/or irregularities in the 2020 race — but he couldn’t find anything because there was no evidence to find.
Trump, right on cue, lashed out at the state attorney general soon after for failing to go along with the lies.
The result is one of the year’s strangest electoral dynamics: An ambitious state attorney general wants to help his Senate campaign by making conspiracy theorists happy, but he can’t do that because he’s stuck with reality as it exists. The former president, meanwhile, is so convinced that his own lies are true that he sees the attorney general as disloyal for failing to pursue investigations into crimes that only happened in his overactive imagination.
In other words, Brnovich isn’t quite corrupt enough for Trump, and the Arizonan’s career is likely to end as a result.