Trump’s election as president was historic for many reasons, not only in that he seems to have less respect for the democratic system that elected him than the average American. He spent much of his time in the spotlight yelling about voter fraud, an idea that has since been embraced by other members of the Republican party. In a New York Times article analyzing Trump’s tweets while president, they found that he “tweeted 40 times about voter fraud and a ‘rigged’ electoral system” as well as posted 71 “tweets that use[d] . . . phrases to attack democratic institutions” (Source 2). Trump used his position as the most powerful democratically elected official in America to degrade peoples’ trust in democratic processes. While one person with an extreme idea is annoying, that same person, when given the kind of outreach Trump received, can do a lot more damage.
A more recent article from the Associated Press highlights Liz Cheney as one of the more outspoken members of the Republican party who disagrees with some of the current Republican candidates (Source 1). Specifically, Cheney is speaking out against Arizona Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem and Governor candidate Kari Lake and how they are saying they will not accept the results of the election, unless they agree with it. During his election, Trump was supported by the Republican party which therefore had to adopt his beliefs in the hope Trump would be elected in 2016, both the good and the bad. While Trump was in office, it was much more important to maintain the support of him because the hope was that he would get elected for another term. However, even though he lost the 2020 election, the Republican party has struggled to remain united on certain issues, specifically ones that Trump introduced a more radical perspective on, such as election fraud.
However, it is the belief in a system that allows for the system to be successful. In his paper “The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes,” Linz talks about the belief of the citizens as the basis for a legitimate system (Source 4). In addition, I would argue that the system also requires the belief of those in power in order to remain legitimate. In a democratic society, those in power have gotten their power by playing the system, however it is the system they still have to thank. Trump consistently showed a distaste and distrust of democracy, perhaps because the word sounds so much like “democrats,” which alienates those people who do believe in the democratic process.
Returning back to the upcoming election in Arizona, Mark Finchem has also made election fraud, or rather campaigning to get rid of it, one of his main running points just like Trump. In fact, it’s one of the few things a voter can find his opinion on when visiting his website (Source 3). Finchem has a Master’s in legal studies and a Bachelor’s in government and has worked as a law enforcement officer, but his outward political stance around election fraud reveals a mistrust in the government and its systems. Whether or not this attitude is his own or a mask in order to win the election, Finchem’s choice to base his campaign around a topic that actively displays mistrust in the election system is a strange one.
A high school class president candidate would most likely not run on the platform “I hate the class president system,” they would instead advocate for spirit weeks or ice cream socials. Therefore, Finchem’s election platform demonstrates how broken the system is, or rather, how little faith American citizens have in the system. It takes a long time and a lot of errors for citizens to lose faith in a centuries old, fundamental institution of the United States of America. However, it also requires a single person or idea for movements to form around and many people found Trump to be an ideal figurehead for those that consider themselves disenfranchised from living the free life promised by America. Trump is such an inflammatory and unique figure because he does not come from a political background (unlike Finchem), and seems to have embraced all of who he is, including criticized moments from his past. Coming from the entertainment industry, Trump also has a good idea of how to captivate and hold an audience and his narcissism allows him to say exactly what he believes, a refreshing change for many from the traditionally subdued political figures. The embracement of Trump by both American citizens and the Republican party has lead to an increase in thinking among political candidates that the way to get elected is by attacking democratic systems. This thinking is dangerous because it could lead to democratic erosion and does not encourage belief in the current democratic institutions in the United States.
I thought your topic was very relevant and a very interesting phenomenon that will undoubtedly spark further academic research. I think that it’s easy to dismiss these claims as just a passing fad or another abnormal action by Trump, but as you demonstrate, it is not unique to Trump and has even become a platform for other candidates. I think another important point you make is that Finchem has a Masters in legal studies and Bachelors in government, which may legitimize his claims of fraud and the need for extensive governmental reform in the eyes of voters.
I think these claims of fraud can be connected to Hochschild’s idea of “deep stories” in American politics. These claims of fraud are not based on factual evidence, but rather the narrative generated by Trump and like-minded politicians. The audience that the fraud narrative is being directed at is those that already feel alienated from the democratic process in the country, and this is the manifestation of these feelings of distrust and betrayal from the government. As you mention, this strategy incorporates an aspect of entertainment and populist rhetoric and this in turn makes political interpretations and decisions by voters dependent on their emotional responses rather than hard evidence and facts.