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Trump and Johnson build alliance on the falsehood of the stolen election

USA
 

House Speaker Mike Johnson will stand Friday with Donald Trump at an appearance that will amplify the former president’s most damaging falsehood: that America’s democratic elections are catastrophically tainted by fraud.

The country’s most powerful elected Republican, who is seeking to save his job under threat from Trump-aligned members of his own party in Congress, will travel to meet the true power in the GOP at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The visit comes as the the ex-president’s allies are eviscerating his authority and even threatening to topple him.

It also takes place three days before Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, becomes the first former president to go on trial, with the beginning of jury selection in a New York case related to a hush money payment to an adult film star. And there will be another twist Friday in the legal saga over Trump’s forthcoming trial in Florida over his hoarding of classified documents. Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon, whose no-rush management of pre-trial litigation means it’s increasingly unlikely the case will be adjudicated before November’s election, will hear an attempt by two of Trump’s co-accused to have the case dismissed.

The two GOP leaders are expected to draw attention to what they say are state proposals and lawsuits that would allow non-citizens to vote, CNN’s Kristen Holmes and Fredreka Schouten reported Thursday. Some cities or jurisdictions do allow non-citizens to cast ballots in non-federal elections — for positions on school boards for example. But federal law bans non-citizens from voting in federal elections and any who do risk fines, prison terms and deportation. Given these punishments, many voting rights groups assess there’s no widespread problem to address. The state of Georgia, with nearly 8 million registered voters conducted a statewide audit and found that 1,634 potential non-citizens had tried to register to vote between 1997 and early 2022 but none were successful.

But given Trump’s incessant attempts to blur distinctions, and to falsely claim undocumented migrants vote in US elections in large numbers as part of a Democratic plot, the distinction is likely to be lost on many people who are not familiar with the subtleties of the issue.

 

The stolen election falsehood that dominates the GOP

Johnson’s willingness to lend the authority of his office to Trump’s “election integrity” campaign shows how Trump’s stolen election conspiracy theory has consumed almost every pillar of power in the GOP.

The Republican National Committee has become even more vociferous in campaigning and fundraising on the false premise that the 2020 election was corrupt since Trump took it over and installed loyalists after becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

CNN’s KFile reported that the RNC sent out a scripted call to voters’ phones on behalf of new co-chair Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, that said Democrats committed “fraud” in the 2020 election. It warned that if “Democrats have their way, your vote could be canceled out by someone who isn’t even an American citizen.” Trump’s election falsehoods also inspired many GOP state legislatures to pass laws in the name of election security that may make it harder to vote and could make it easier for political officials to interfere in elections. Trump’s multiple failed lawsuits and even his own Attorney General William Barr offered testimony to the lack of widespread voter fraud in 2020. But Trump remains locked in his false reality.

Trump and Johnson are also expected to relitigate the 2020 election during Friday’s press conference, a Trump adviser told CNN. The House speaker is no stranger to satisfying Trump’s craving for validation of his stolen election narrative. After the 2020 election, Johnson, then a Republican back bencher, emailed every House Republican seeking signatures for an amicus brief in a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate electoral college votes from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump first raised the falsehood of non-citizens corrupting US elections back in 2016, claiming with zero evidence that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, costing him a popular vote win even though he was victorious in the Electoral College.

In the 2024 election, the new focus on the idea that non-citizens are corrupting US voter rolls provides neat synergy with one of Trump’s chief election themes: that the country is facing an invasion from undocumented migrants who are bringing crime and disease to the country due to President Joe Biden’s perceived failures during a crisis at the southern border. The ex-president also frequently cites a tenet of the racist “great replacement theory” that Democrats are importing foreigners en masse to register them to vote in the 2024 election. “IT’S SO THEY CAN VOTE, VOTE, VOTE,” Trump said on his Truth Social network in December. No facts back up these claims of a Republican presumptive nominee who has warned immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, Johnson expanded on the theme, describing an alleged Democratic plot to fix the electoral map. “It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I think it’s actually true, that the ultimate design is to turn some of these illegals into voters for their cause and to change the census outcome in 2030,” Johnson said. “It sounds like some sort of crazy, you know, criminal design. And in my view it is.”

The impact of Trump’s election falsehoods

The former president’s stolen election narrative gathered pace on election night 2020, and at first appeared like a face-saving effort to salve his ego and to hide his embarrassment that he had lost to Biden. But within days, it had become a fully fledged effort to overturn a result that made Trump a one-term president. Two days after the election, Trump declared, “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

From small beginnings, the conspiracy theory wreaked enormous damage, including the incitement of a mob attack on the US Capitol by Trump’s supporters in a bid to thwart the certification of Biden’s election victory on January 6, 2021. The ex-president’s attempt to steal the election from Biden led to two of his four criminal indictments. Trump’s campaign of falsehoods convinced millions of his supporters that he was ousted from office unfairly, damaging trust in the integrity of US democracy. And the falsehood has now become the backbone of another Trump presidential campaign as he dismisses efforts to enforce legal accountability for his alleged crimes as an attempt to Democrats to interfere in the 2024 election.

Johnson is in deep political trouble

There’s barely a Trump event when he doesn’t renew his false claims of electoral fraud. So, one way for Republicans to build new credibility in his eyes is to give credence to his conspiracy theory.

Johnson badly needs Trump’s help. His speakership — propped up by the slimmest of majorities — is hanging by a thread. This week, he was humbled when 19 Republican lawmakers — including some key Trump allies like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz – blocked a procedural vote on reauthorizing surveillance authorities on foreigners overseas that US intelligence agencies described as vital in the battle against terrorism. They were acting on the orders of Trump, who claims he was spied on by US espionage agencies in his 2016 campaign. The bill now looks set to pass after leadership cut the length of the authorization from five to two years on the assumption that Trump will win November’s election and can change it himself. “We just bought President Trump an at bat,” Gaetz told CNN.

Johnson is facing an even more serious challenge from another Trump acolyte, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has threatened to oust the speaker if he allows a vote on Biden’s long-delayed $60 billion arms and ammunition package for Ukraine. Greene is in regular contact with Trump and is often seen at his rallies. Johnson held a tense meeting with Greene this week that did little to ease her criticism, and he may be hoping that Trump’s influence could help.

But Greene warned Thursday that even if the former president endorsed Johnson in Mar-a-Lago on Friday, she’d continue her campaign against the speaker, arguing that any vote she called on replacing Johnson was an internal matter in the House. “Totally two separate issues. Hopefully they have a great meeting tomorrow,” Greene told CNN’s Manu Raju. Pressed on whether she would back down if Trump asked her to, the Georgia Republican dodged. “I support President Trump, I’m one of his biggest fighters here in Congress. He knows it, I love the president, he loves me, we’re fighting hard for him to win and that’s all that matters.”

It is not immediately clear why Trump would welcome the chaos of yet another power struggle in the GOP majority in the House, which could deflect attention from his presidential election campaign and potentially hamper the chances of both he and House Republicans in November’s election.

So, he may have an incentive to stabilize Johnson’s leadership for now — although the former president’s political favors are notoriously fickle and can change at any moment depending on what best suits his own political needs. One person who found that out to his cost is Kevin McCarthy, the former House speaker who was kicked out last year in a revolt of far-right Republican members. The Californian did more than anyone to rehabilitate Trump’s political image, traveling to Florida to meet the ex-president while he was in disgrace weeks after the US Capitol riot. But when McCarthy — who did everything he could to please Trump — fell into mortal political peril last year, Trump made little effort to save him.

The ominous echo of a previous speaker’s visit to Trump’s ornate Mar-a-Lago estate will be resonating over Johnson’s pilgrimage on Friday.

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