The results of the California recall election won’t be known until Tuesday night.
But some Republicans are already predicting victory for the Democrat, Gov. Gavin Newsom, for a reason that should sound familiar.
Soon after the recall race was announced in early July, the embers of 2020 election denialism ignited into new false claims on right-wing news sites and social media channels.
This vote, too, would supposedly be “stolen,” with malfeasance ranging from deceptively designed ballots to nefariousness by corrupt postal workers.
As a wave of recent polling indicated that Newsom was likely to brush off his Republican challengers, the baseless allegations accelerated.
Larry Elder, a leading Republican candidate, said he was “concerned” about election fraud.
The Fox News commentators Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson suggested that wrongdoing was the only way Newsom could win.
And former one-term President Trump predicted that it would be “a rigged election.”
This swift embrace of false allegations of cheating in the California recall reflects a growing instinct on the right to argue that any lost election, or any ongoing race that might result in defeat, must be marred by fraud.
The relentless falsehoods spread by Trump and his allies about the 2020 election have only fueled such fears.
Since the start of the recall, allegations of election fraud have been simmering on social media in California, with daily mentions in the low thousands, according to a review by Zignal Labs, a media tracking agency.
But singular claims or conspiracy theories, such as a selectively edited video purporting to show that people with a post office “master key” could steal ballots, have quickly ricocheted around the broader conservative ecosystem.
The post office video surpassed one million views, amplified by high-profile Trump allies and members of the conservative news media.
Nationally, Republican candidates who deny the outcomes of their elections remain outliers.
Hundreds of G.O.P. candidates up and down the ballot in 2020 accepted their defeats.
But at the same time, many of them joined Trump in the assault on the presidential race’s outcome, and in other recent election cycles, candidates, their allies and the conservative news media have increasingly expressed doubts about the validity of the electoral process.
And while false claims of wrongdoing have long emerged in the days and weeks after elections, Republicans’ quick turn in advance of the California recall — a race that was always going to be a long shot for them in a deep-blue state — signals the growing normalization of crying fraud.
“This is baked into the playbook now,” said Michael Latner, an associate professor of political science at California Polytechnic Institute.
As soon as the recall was official, he added, “you already started to see stories and individuals on social media claiming that, you know, they received five ballots or their uncle received five ballots.”
Some Republican leaders and strategists around the country worry that it is a losing message.
While such claims may stoke up the base, leaders fear that repeatedly telling voters that the election is rigged and their votes will not count could have a suppressive effect, leading some potential Republican voters to stay home.
They point to the Senate runoff elections early this year in Georgia, where two Republican incumbents, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were ousted by first-time Democratic challengers.
Though the state had just voted Democratic in the presidential election for the first time in decades, the Senate races were seen as an even taller task for Democrats.
But in the months after the November general election, Trump fired off countless attacks against the legitimacy of the Georgia contests, floating conspiracy theories and castigating the Republican secretary of state and governor for not acquiescing to his desire to subvert the presidential election.
When the runoffs came, more than 752,000 Georgians who had voted in November did not cast ballots, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than half of those voters were from constituencies that lean toward Republican candidates, the review found.
“The person that they most admired in their conservative beliefs was telling them that their vote didn’t count,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan of Georgia, a Republican, referring to Trump. “And then the next day he would tell him that the election was rigged, and then the next day he would tell them, ‘Why even show up?’ And they didn’t. And that alone was enough to swing the election to the Democrat side.”
“This whole notion about fraud and elections,” Duncan continued, “it’s a shiny object that quite honestly is about trying to save face and not own reality.
This article appeared in The New York Times.