Katie Hobbs, left, and Kari Lake
Would Kari Lake accept a loss? Reporter who tracked her campaign answers
04:11 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Christopher Beem is the managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. He is also co-host of the Democracy Works podcast. His latest book is “The Seven Democratic Virtues: What You Can Do to Overcome Tribalism and Save Our Democracy.” The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

Election denial, born of former President Donald Trump’s petulant insistence that he had actually won a race that he clearly lost, is one of the most harmful legacies of his tenure. Now its most visible proponent, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, has come up short in her election bid.

May that be the end of corrosive, cynical strategy which caused untold harm to our political system.

Christopher Beem

To be clear, Republicans have known for a long time that the party’s embrace of the lie that Trump was somehow cheated in the 2020 election was a charade. Just days before Americans went to the polls in the 2022 midterms, Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas – who is not himself an election denier – admitted that most politicians in his party know full well that Trump lost the 2020 election.

“It was always a lie. The whole thing was always a lie. And it was a lie meant to rile people up,” he said on his podcast “Hold These Truths with Dan Crenshaw.”

The congressman was absolutely right, of course. But his acknowledgment took courage because as lies go – based purely on just how many people have been duped by it – Trump’s falsehood that he won the vote was extremely successful.

Ahead of the 2022 midterms, polls showed that a majority of Republicans still questioned whether President Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. GOP politicians – not wanting to alienate a huge part of their base – drilled down on the falsehood, repeated it and then swore allegiance to it. On the campaign trail this election cycle, there were hundreds of election deniers on the ballot in every state who claimed to believe that Trump won the 2020 election.

Their candidacies presented the country with a dilemma. If the election deniers won, there was good reason to think that they would try to tip the scales in favor of Republicans in future votes. Election-denying Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, for example, said on a campaign stop that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”

But were the election deniers to lose, there was concern that they would refuse to concede. Instead, they might accuse Democrats, election administrators and anybody else, who potentially stood in the way, of being beholden to “the deep state” and having “colluded” to deprive them of their rightful victory.

In what has proved to be a surprising turn of events, while some election-denying candidates won their races, in the end the vast majority did not. According to States United Action, an election law monitoring group, as of the end of last week, of 94 races this year for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, only five non-incumbent election deniers won their races.

And of those who lost, surprisingly few claimed fraud. Doug Mastriano – Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania and one of the Trumpiest election deniers running for office this year – said in a tweet late Sunday that “the results of the 2022 elections are not what we hoped, prayed and fought so hard for.” But he did not say that the results were a sham.

Mastriano added, “Difficult to accept as these results are, there is no right course but to concede, which I do.”

There were, of course, Republicans who raised questions about the validity of vote, starting with Trump himself, who suggested in a post on Truth Social that the Nevada US Senate was marred by “a corrupt voting system.” Certain Fox News commentators, not surprisingly, picked up the chorus. But the candidates themselves, by and large, did not publicly express doubts about the fairness of the balloting.

So why did the election denialists, so bold and outspoken on the stump, not press their false claims that the election had been stolen once the votes were counted? There are a couple of likely reasons.

The election denials in 2020 focused almost exclusively on the presidential election, not on races in the House or Senate or in governorships or statehouses. But in 2022, Trump was not on the ballot – so claims about electoral fraud had less of a galvanizing focal point.

But I suspect that much as anything, a majority of voters have had enough of the performative chaos and spurning of norms that have roiled our politics and our polity since Trump came down the escalator more than seven years ago. Never far from mind is the other unforgettable image that bookended his presidency: the scene of mayhem at the US Capitol, overrun by his supporters and their grievance-fueled violence that he stoked.

This midterm election, voters rejected all of that.

“This was a vote for normalcy,” Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday, speaking at a news conference held by a bipartisan gathering of secretaries of state.

Raffensperger not only had to beat back efforts by an election denier to unseat him, but was attacked mercilessly by Trump for refusing to block Biden’s 2020 win in Georgia.

Voters “were looking for and rewarded character,” Raffensperger said. “They were looking for people who could get the job done. They rewarded competence.”

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    That may be the simplest, most all-encompassing answer – the Occam’s razor explanation – for why voters embraced norms this year and rejected election-denying fraudsters.

    If so, then this shift away from Trump, Trumpism and election denialism is very good news for our country.

    Election denial may not quite be in America’s rear view mirror, but it is unlikely to be the go-to play for Republican politicians that it was in this campaign. In the end, it failed to be a winning strategy. And that means that free and fair elections remain the foundation of a still-viable American democracy.