The Trailer: The very different view of the election from pro-Trump media

Yet for three hours on Tuesday night, Newsmax prepared conservative viewers for something big. In Wayne County, Mich., two Republican officials had declined to certify the results of the Nov. 3 election. Host Greg Kelly claimed that the election could be “reversed,” then brought on Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell to explain what the events in Michigan had meant.

“That’s an excellent development,” Powell said. “I would expect the entire Michigan board to reject the counts from the ballots. The election could not have been more rigged than it was.”

Moments later, the Wayne County Republicans reversed their decision, certifying the election. Twenty-four hours later they’d reverse themselves, again, attempting to retract the certification, which election rules don’t allow them to do. This was surprising, but far less so for people watching pro-Trump media. Those outlets are offering his base an addictive alternate theory of the election. In this theory, one with no basis in fact or evidence but that threatens to undermine how American democracy works, the president claims to have won the election and the rest of the media is trying to steal it from him. 

On Newsmax, on One America News, at websites such as the Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit, the election’s drama is not over, and the plan to keep Trump in power sounds straightforward: Stop key states from certifying the election, and snatch at least 37 electoral votes from Joe Biden

“All your corruption’s going to come out in Wisconsin,” former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon told listeners of his podcast, “The War Room,” on Wednesday morning, predicting that a recount in the state would turn up enough fraud to void the election. That’s fanciful, and it’s not the Trump campaign’s argument, that it can disqualify 100,000 absentee ballots or more in two liberal counties if they were requested online. “Not going to be able to certify Wisconsin. Sorry. Not going to be able to certify Michigan. Sorry. Not going to be able to certify Georgia. Sorry. Not to mention Pennsylvania, you obviously can’t certify that.” (Biden leads in the count in Wisconsin by about 20,600 votes, in Michigan by about 157,000, in Georgia by about 13,600 and Pennsylvania by about 82,000.)

Republicans and administration officials, usually cloaked in anonymity, have said for days that the election challenges are harmless gifts for a president who hates to lose. Fox News cut into afternoon programming on Thursday to air a bizarre, lengthy news conference at the Republican National Committee, with logic-defying claims that had been circulating on pro-Trump media. But Biden’s campaign has taken the same approach to the transition that it took to last-minute allegations of corruption against the president-elect’s son: Ignore, refute, and wait for the facts to prove them right.

“I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” Biden said last week. “The fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge that we won, at this point, is not of much consequence in our planning.”

Conservative election challenges have also divided the Republican Party and failed to generate any energy outside the already supercharged Trump base. A “Million MAGA March” in Washington last week fell around 990,000 attendees short of its eponymous goal; the “campaign-style” rallies that the president was reportedly considering 11 days ago, dramatizing his claims of fraud, haven’t taken place. 

Instead, the president has tweeted links to stories that allege fraud and asserted that he won states that he didn’t. He hasn’t directly addressed the results, on camera, in two weeks. 

“Donald Trump won, I believe, clearly, a 70 percent-plus landslide election in the nation,” Lin Wood, an Atlanta-area attorney, said on Fox News host Mark Levin’s radio show this week. “He probably won over 400 electoral votes.” 

Wood has sued to overturn Georgia’s election; the president’s tweets about Georgia, which finished its audit of the vote today, have embraced Wood’s theory that changes to signature-matching rules, agreed to by a Republican election official, should nullify the results.

In the media that is most friendly to the president — a lot of it being consumed by Trump himself, right now — this is one of many baseless theories getting airtime. Texts and emails to donors insist that “the Radical Left’s plan to steal the Election is starting to crumble.” While Republicans critical of the strategy decline to go on the record, his allies and his campaign are heading to microphones, saying Trump probably won the election, possibly by a landslide, and there’s time to prove it or, at least, to prevent Biden from being sworn in.

Fox News, which for decades has been at the center of the conservative media ecosystem, has a wobbly role in this story. The network blew away the ratings competition on Nov. 3, and its call of Arizona for Biden held up despite Trump campaign claims that it would win there. But it has lagged behind competitors in post-election coverage and clearly lost some market share to Newsmax and OAN, networks that are less available on cable packages but easy to devour online. And after cutting away from an RNC news conference last week, citing misinformation, it split the difference Thursday: It aired more than 90 minutes of accusations, before a reporter summed them up by saying they weren’t true.

According to Nielsen numbers, first collected by the Associated Press, Newsmax’s viewership has increased tenfold since the election, with more than half a million people watching its prime time streams. OAN, which the president has promoted for years as a Fox News alternative, has gotten boosts from presidential retweets and a stream of interviews with Trump officials who don’t get friendly treatment on other networks.

“Our Constitution does provide mechanisms for if an election is irredeemably compromised, there’s corruption, or there’s foreign influence,” Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis said in an OAN interview this week. The mechanism, she explained, was to “not certify false results.”

Ellis said as much on Twitter, incorrectly insisting that “Republican state legislator” (sic) would get to assign the state’s electoral votes if lower-level officials didn’t certify the Nov. 3 results. (Under Michigan law, which can’t be changed without the agreement of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the legislatures cannot supersede the certified popular vote.) But Twitter, like other social media giants, has been appending warnings to false election information. Pro-Trump media doesn’t do that, instead treating the results as called by the Associated Press and others as an irresponsible display of electoral interference. Neither Newsmax nor OAN has called the election; neither has the Epoch Times, whose map displaying six Biden-won states as “contested” — leaving Trump ahead in the electoral vote count — has been featured in Trump donor appeals. 

There’s no single theory of how the results can be overturned. Instead, pro-Trump sites embrace every theory. Mainstream coverage of the challenges has sifted out the fakery and reported on damaging developments such as Trump campaign attorneys admitting that they have no proof of fraud.

But as consumers of pro-Trump media knew for days, there was no one-shot lawsuit that could overturn the election. Only a cloud of uncertainty could do that. Signal-boosted by the president, rumors about the election could get to local officials, or to the right judge, convincing them that the election’s outcome in their state or county was unknowable. In their Nevada and Pennsylvania suits, Trump attorneys have asked for the states’ electoral votes to either be given to the president or not awarded at all, so long as the number of ballots being questioned are greater than the margin between Biden and Trump.

In court, that argument relies on data that could, theoretically, be collected, like more than 1.5 million envelopes that Pennsylvania absentee ballots arrived in. In pro-Trump media, anything else can fly, from questions about how few mail ballots were disqualified, to a conspiracy theory that the voting software company Dominion allowed results to be altered. While it’s easy for reporters to witness recounts in person — The Trailer did so last week — pro-Trump media has avoided that in favor of coverage of rallies against certifying the counts or speculation about anything that could nullify them.

False allegations that foreign actors altered vote counts ping-ponged across that universe. One theory involving Venezuela was advanced on OAN by a former Department of Homeland Security official; another was flogged by a retired Air Force officer and former Obama birther to that channel, and to Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, an influential Trumpworld figure who spoke at the Republican National Convention. And on Thursday, Sidney Powell closed the loop, using the news conference with Giuliani to inaccurately bring in both George Soros and the Clinton Foundation.

Wild claims like these haven’t shown up in any Trump campaign lawsuits. But they’re cycling through pro-Trump media, influencing the thinking of everyone from the president to the sort of people who become partisan elections officers. A rumor that repeatedly has been debunked, or relies on allegations so wild that they risk defamation, may not get oxygen in mainstream media outlets or in courts. It would not need to, in the preferred Trump campaign scenario, which is shared every day on channels such as OAN — that is, find enough officials in enough states who refuse to certify the election. For conservatives just outside the loop, it’s hard to follow. But they aren’t ruling anything out.

“Do you think Lin Wood and Sidney Powell want to do a replay of Geraldo [Rivera]’s vault?” Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners Tuesday, referring to a moment that humiliated the future Fox News correspondent. “I mean, there is no way.”

That was before Thursday’s news conference, at which Powell, with no evidence, suggested that the results from Nov. 3 were fraudulent and could be nullified because of the machines being used. On Friday, 13 days after the election result was declared, the president is set to welcome Michigan’s Republican legislative leadership to the White House.

Reading list

The drama in Wayne County. 

Will convincing Republicans that the election was unfair turn them out again in January?

How the president-elect is playing this.

Why the capital of the New South may not go the way of Virginia.

Trying to retain the White House, while not doing much with it.

The longest wait in the country, in one of its bluest states.

Ad watch

Letlow for Congress, “Get the Job Done.” The runoff for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District is set, with Republicans Luke Letlow and Lance Harris securing both positions on the ballot. Letlow, a congressional aide turned energy industry lobbyist, has a pitch that has worked incredibly well for Republicans in the Trump years: support for the president. “Luke Letlow is the only candidate who’s worked with President Trump and [retiring Rep.] Ralph Abraham to bring jobs back to our district,” a narrator says.

Lance Harris, “Life Experience.” Harris, a member of Louisiana’s legislature, barely made the runoff but is using his overtime to portray Letlow as a Washington  insider with no experience outside politics or lobbying. “He’s pocketed over $1 million from politicians, including Bobby Jindal,” a narrator says, in a recognition of how unpopular the state’s former Republican governor still is, five years after leaving office. (Letlow worked for Jindal during his stint in Congress and part of his time in Baton Rouge.)

Poll watch

Do you believe Joe Biden won this election fair and square, or due to voter fraud? (Monmouth, 810 adults)

Fair and square: 60%
Due to voter fraud: 32%
Don’t know: 6%
Biden didn’t win: 2%

Every pollster that has tested public opinion of how the election was conducted has asked about it in a different way. Monmouth tries a couple ways here, and finds just one-third of the country skeptical that Biden won the presidency. Although 70 percent of Republicans say that Biden’s victory was fraudulent, just 4 percent believe that Trump can still win; among independents, just 23 percent question Biden’s victory and 3 percent say it could be undone. And just 11 percent of people who say they voted for Trump believe that he was defeated. The rest make up the base the president is working with: Most of his 2020 voters, but far less than half the country.

On the trail

CUMMING, Ga. — Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has only ever won close races — a primary for governor, two elections to that office, and a Senate victory two years ago. In January, he’ll take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, responsible for building the party’s majority in 2022. But he got an early start on the job with a trip last week to Georgia, to campaign for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. A lightly edited transcript of his talk with The Trailer is below. 

THE TRAILER: You don’t take over the NRSC until this special election’s over, but tell me how you see it, and your role in helping Perdue and Loeffler now.

RICK SCOTT: The most important thing is to raise money for their campaigns, because that’s money the campaign can spend better than anybody else can spend. And then, I will do as much grass roots as they want me to do. In the southern part of the state, they all have Florida TV. So, they’ve seen me on TV for 10 years. Everybody in that part of state probably knows me. And I told both David and Kelly, I’ll do everything I can to help them. 

TT: What was your reaction when you saw that video of Chuck Schumer telling a crowd in Brooklyn: Now we take Georgia, then we change America?

RS: That’s a good ad! I thought, this is not this is not what Georgia is, right? Georgia is not that dissimilar to Florida. You have a lot of people moved here for lower taxes, better weather and more job opportunity. They’re not into packing the Supreme Court. They’re not into less religious freedom. They’re not into less gun rights. They’re not into higher taxes. They’re not into taking away their private health-care benefits. So, I think it was a godsend, what he did.

TT: Is the current situation complicating that at all? Because there are voters I’ve talked to this week who don’t think that Kamala Harris will be vice president in January. [Had Trump won the election this month, Vice President Pence would have been presiding over the Senate next year and would be the tiebreaker if Democrats won both Georgia seats.]

RS: This election is going to be the first week of January, so the presidential election will be decided. I think just whichever way the presidential election goes, the Republican-controlled Senate is a big deal.

TT: Should the president come down here to rally people?

RS: I think that the president’s got a following. I mean, it’s up to him if he comes out and campaigns. I think will be good for the race, but I know that he’s worried about his race, and I know that they’ve got a bunch of stuff on their plate.

TT: Would the lack of another stimulus package hurt the senators here?

RS: Both Kelly and David have voted for a stimulus bill. We’ve voted for unemployment benefits. We voted for PPP for small business. We voted to open our schools. We voted for more money for tests. We voted for more money for the vaccine. Democrats are the ones who voted against it. It’s just like — take health care. Obamacare has unbelievably increased the price of health care. We have a bill to keep [protections for] preexisting conditions and the Democrats are blocking it. So they’re hypocrites.

TT: They’d say, they just want the ACA to stay in place, and it has those protections, so this is moot

RS: Right, it’s in place, and it caused everybody’s premiums and their co-payments to skyrocket. Remember, Obama: He lied when he said you get to keep your doctor, keep your plan. He lied when he said you’re going to save $2,500 per family. It was the opposite. It’s been a disaster for American families.

TT: Does the Supreme Court’s hearing on the current lawsuit change anything here? Democrats spent, what, $500 million or so tying Republicans to the ACA lawsuit.

RS: I don’t think it worked very well for them. Obamacare is either constitutional or unconstitutional. It shouldn’t matter who the Supreme Court justices are. It should matter what is constitutional. The bottom line is Obamacare is a disaster for this country. Should we should we make sure people get insurance and stay on their parents’ plan? Should we make sure our preexisting condition be covered? Yes, and yes. Two good things. The rest? It’s a disaster.

TT: How do you see the Senate map in 2022?

RS: We’ll have open seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. If you look at three seats where the Democrats won close races, it’s New Hampshire, Nevada and Arizona, On top of that, if you look at states like Illinois and Connecticut, they hate government. They’re fed up with government. I think the Democrat Party is basically become a coastal party and we’re a national party. So if we have good candidates to run good races, and we raise our money, we can be competitive anywhere. And I am going to bust my butt to make sure we recruit good candidates. I’d go to Illinois and recruit companies all the time when I was governor.

TT: Why do you think the socialism line was more effective for Republicans this year? Is it just the existence of [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] AOC? Is it the fact that [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro had praised Biden in the past? The line didn’t hurt Donna Shalala two years ago, so why now?

RS: I won the Hispanic vote all three of my elections. I think Trump did a really good job of holding the Castro regime accountable, and Biden-Obama didn’t. So I think that helped us a lot. I think if you look at why we picked up those two seats, I think that, you know, I think first off, [Carlos Gimenez] is a good candidate. Yeah, Maria [Elvira Salazar] ran a good race. I talked to three Republican women and said, “Look at what Maria did. She didn’t give up.” 

TT: So was it about socialism as an idea, or as a way of talking about tyranny?

RS: I think it’s the fact that they’re talking about big government. Government-run health care, where you take away somebody’s private insurance. I mean, everybody wants to have a good safety net, right? I think that makes sense and everybody’s happy with that. I also think that the Green New Deal is so out there, and a lot of it was defunding the police. Why would you do that?

TT: What do you think it would take for most people, for almost everyone in the country, to look at this election and say: I’m confident that this result reflects what happened?

RS: Some won’t be for a long time. And I think the Democrats have caused distrust. Look at these states that don’t require an ID, where you can register that day whether you live in the state or not. [Twenty-one states allow registration on Election Day, and all require some proof of residence.] You don’t have to have your signatures signed? You don’t have to have your ballot in on time? And then you have guys like Marc Elias go and say, “I don’t care what the voters say, we’re going to win?” We won’t get trust back until whoever runs the election follows a rule, and it’s clear that they’re going to follow the same rule, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats.

In the states

Ahead of Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs, Republicans have continued attacking Democrat Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, over comments he has made in sermons. The latest attacks focus on Warnock citing the Gospel of Matthew, telling his congregation that “nobody can serve God and the military or “serve God and money” at the same time — a comment they’ve construed as anti-military.

This is an insult to everyone who served, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted ahead of Thursday campaign stops with Sen. Kelly Loeffler, whom Warnock is challenging. Raphael Warnock should withdraw. Warnock had no intention of doing so and has continued to treat every Republican criticism of his sermons as a misunderstanding or willful distraction.

“What I was expressing was the fact that, as a person of faith, my ultimate allegiance is to God. Therefore, whatever else that I may commit myself to has to be built on a spiritual foundation,” Warnock told reporters Wednesday. “The folks in my congregation, many of whom are veterans, weren’t confused at all about the message that day. That when you commit yourself to something larger than yourself you become better at that — whether that is serving in the military or serving in the U.S. Senate.” 

Countdown

… 16 days until runoffs in Louisiana 
… 19 days until the “safe harbor” date for states to choose electors
… 25 days until the electoral college votes 
… 47 days until runoffs in Georgia 
… 62 days until the inauguration

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