The other night I attended a virtual reveal about election fraud from the Loren Culp for Governor campaign. It had all the trappings of a carny wooing passersby into a sideshow tent.
The text tantalized: “This election isn’t over,” it read. “Attorney is engaged and a legal plan is laid out.”
On the screen a time clock ticked toward zero, like a countdown to a rocket launch. Presumably the blastoff would be news about the campaign’s claim the Washington state election was a mass of tampered votes so crooked it robbed Culp, the Republican challenger to Gov. Jay Inslee, of a great victory.
But about a minute into his presentation, Culp campaign manager Chris Gergen did a man-behind-the-curtain clunker:
“For media, press, any of you people wanting me to just spill the beans and produce documentation, it’s not going to happen.”
What would happen, he insisted, is the campaign would file a federal lawsuit, eventually. The big update was that an attorney he had retained had been in touch with “people back East” — lawyers connected to the Donald Trump campaign, as well as “whistleblowers in the intelligence community.” All of this, Rudy Giuliani style, would be coming to a courthouse near you.
When might that be?
“There is a lawsuit, that’s all I can say,” he continued. “You will know when it gets filed … that’s my Christmas present to you.”
Folks, it’s been a month since Election Day. Washington’s 39 counties have all certified the vote, finding very few irregularities in what overall was a smooth ballot-counting process.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Kim Wyman — also a Republican — certified the statewide election. In other words, as the state’s top election official, she vouched for it.
“They have yet to provide a single instance of fraud, let alone anything that would meaningfully change any results,” she told me.
So does it even matter when two of the candidates at the top of our ballots — the Republican president and the Republican candidate for governor — both refuse to concede their losses? And further, that they both actively are whipping up grievance that the election was somehow “stolen?”
In a practical sense, it very much does not matter. In the end these were not very close elections. More recounts may be coming and that’s fine, but the gears of the system have turned and will keep turning regardless of whether the losers are gracious or sore.
One theory holds that by fighting on — or at least pretending to — the candidates can stay relevant as heroic victims and raise gobs of money from riled-up followers.
“Culp’s campaign looks like a long con,” summed up Paul Queary, a former campaign consultant, at a site that analyzes the role of money and politics locally called The Washington Observer.
Likewise it was revealed Tuesday that Trump raised a staggering $170 million since the election for his “Official Election Defense Fund.” Except the fine print reveals the money is going mostly not to fight the election result, but to a PAC that Trump can tap later to fund his travel and staff, even if he never seeks public office again.
It’s a sorry truism of modern politics that refusing to concede as you make baseless claims is far more profitable than owning the defeat with honor.
Both Trump and Culp also are savaging other Republican officials for not running with their unsubstantiated fraud claims. Culp has gone after Wyman and state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.
“Don’t be surprised if there are people in your front yard one day with bullhorns, Mr. Wilcox, the people are upset,” Gergen, Culp’s manager, taunted on Monday.
Again: Should we care if the losers tear down their own party and grift up their supporters?
Wyman argued to me Tuesday that we should. She said Culp has been making hollow claims about the election system since the spring, and that it threatens something bigger than just the election system.
“This is a person who is in law enforcement, making serious allegations of felony-level crimes,” Wyman said. “He’s duty-bound to provide some evidence, or else it’s just destructive of the whole system of government and rule of law. And so far he has not.”
It’s probably no coincidence that another sheriff, this one in Klickitat County, just declared the statewide coronavirus restrictions to be unconstitutional, and so he unilaterally has decided he isn’t going to enforce them. He was of course praised by the Culp campaign. That’s the risk here, that everything comes to be seen as illegitimate — the election, the health guidelines even during a pandemic, the government itself. Thread by thread, maybe it all frays to the point of an unraveling.
Or maybe not. So far, thanks to a few honorable country-over-party officials such as Wyman, the system is holding. Probably the best we could say of the year 2020: the system, battered, held.
Now please stop giving the carnival barkers money, it’s the only sure way to get the circus to go dark until next time around.