Has election denialism gone mainstream?

With November's election coming into focus, more and more "moderate" conservatives seem sympathetic to the view.

Eyes on the Right

As we inch closer to November, election denialism continues to color the conservative movement. For example, controversy recently surrounded Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when The New York Times revealed that an upside-down flag — a symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement — had been seen flying outside the Justice’s home only days after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Alito denied any involvement with the flag, claiming it was “briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.” 

Once a symbol of anti-slavery and anti-war movements, the inverted American flag has since been co-opted by those affiliated with the contemporary far-right. 

“It’s very, very common in MAGA communities and QAnon communities,” Alex Newhouse, a University of Colorado-Boulder academic who studies online extremism, told the Times. “It caught on among hard-core MAGA people in the ‘Stop the Steal’ ecosystem in 2020.”

Given recent controversies surrounding the highest court, a historical first code of conduct was implemented. The code stresses “the appearance of impropriety in all activities” and explicitly states that “family, social, political, financial or other relationships” must not “influence official conduct or judgment.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Alito to recuse himself from any cases regarding Donald Trump or the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

“Flying an upside-down American flag — a symbol of the so-called ‘Stop the Steal’ movement — clearly creates the appearance of bias,” Durbin said in a statement. “Justice Alito should recuse himself immediately from cases related to the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection, including the question of the former President’s immunity in U.S. v. Donald Trump, which the Supreme Court is currently considering.” 

Meanwhile, a recent interview with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had the one-time Trump opponent doubling down on similar talking points to those in the Stop the Steal movement. 

When asked by “Meet the Press’” Kristen Welker if he would accept the results of the 2024 regardless of outcome, Rubio became hostile. 

“No matter what happens? No. If it's an unfair election, I think it's going to be contested … by either side,” he responded. Rubio then said that Welker and other members of the press should be harder on Democrats, who have questioned the integrity of election outcomes like in 2000, when former Vice President Al Gore disputed the outcome of Florida’s pivotal vote count, and 2016, when former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton insisted that Russian interference has impacted the election. 

While these statements are true, it’s important to note that, in both instances, these candidates conceded that their opponent had won — as compared to former President Donald Trump. 

But Rubio wasn’t satisfied with such slanted perspectives. The senator then attempted to spread more conspiratorial talk points surrounding the 2020 election.

“I think what undermines people's confidence in the election is when you have places like Wisconsin with over 500 illegal drop box locations, when you have places like Georgia where liberal groups were paying people $10 per vote,” Rubio said.

“What undermines elections is when NBC News and every major news outlet in America in 2020 censored the Biden laptop story, which turned out to be true, not Russian misinformation, unprecedented. You couldn't even talk about it on social media, they would de-platform you. People look at all this. They look at what happened in Arizona, 200,000 ballots that the signatures didn't match,” he continued.  

The denialism on display, whether at Justice Alito’s home or Marco Rubio’s misleading pandering, should be troubling; what was once a “fringe” position has become commonplace for the American right. And as Election Day clock ticks down, be prepared for more obfuscating. It’s only a matter of time before another mundane aspect of our electoral process becomes scrutinized in bad faith. 

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Jamie Larson