The winner of the Republican primaries is Donald Trump’s bogus conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from him, with a vast majority of his supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire agreeing, falsely, that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
Eighty-six per cent of New Hampshire primary voters who supported Mr Trump believe that the current president is an illegitimate one, according to exit polls.
In Iowa, where caucus goers were asked whether they believed Mr Biden was legitimately elected to the presidency, more than two-thirds said no. That includes 69 per cent of Iowa caucus-goers who supported Mr Trump. Only 11 per cent of his supporters in Iowa and 13 per cent of supporters in New Hampshire believe the sitting president was legitimately elected.
Even before a single vote was cast in either contest, Mr Trump repeatedly told his supporters that the only way he would lose was through widespread fraud, echoing the same false narrative he drove home to his base in the months before the 2016 and 2020 elections, before any ballots were even filled out.
And after his victory in New Hampshire, Mr Trump continued to gripe on his Truth Social in all-caps posts repeating false claims about the electoral process in an election he won, decisively.
As he campaigns for the Republican nomination for president, Mr Trump – fuelled by lies and debunked claims alleging a Democratic-led conspiracy that “stole” the White House and “rigged” elections against him – is priming his supporters to reject a potential loss.
He hasn’t given any indication he would do anything differently than what he did in 2020, when he dispatched campaign lawyers and pressured state officials to overturn results, and then failed to say or do anything to stop a mob from storming the halls of Congress to do it by force. Federal and state grand juries have indicted him on criminal charges for those same actions.
But now, Republican lawmakers across the US and GOP officials in statewide offices that oversee election administration have incorporated that “election denialism” into their platforms as they prepare to run 2024 elections for millions of Americans.
At least 25 officials in at least 19 states currently hold a statewide office with election oversight, according to an analysis of nonpartisan democracy advocacy group States United Action. Those statewide offices – including governor, secretary of state and attorney general – are responsible for certifying results and protecting election workers, among other duties.
Allies of Mr Trump, who famously turns accusations against him towards his rivals, are now accusing Republican opponent Nikki Haley of “election denial” after her second-place finish in New Hampshire.
“Nikki Haley can’t become an election denier. She’s been rejected,” Mr Trump’s former press secretary Kellyanne Conway told Fox News.
“You can’t let people get away with bull****,” Mr Trump said in his victory remarks. “And when I watched her in the fancy dress, that probably wasn’t so fancy, come up, I said, ‘What’s she doing? We won.’”
It’s not only that his supporters believe that there was something suspicious or questionable about Mr Biden’s victory, after months of rampant speculation from the former president and his allies from the White House and on campaign rally stages. When given a choice between deciding if Mr Biden won fair and square, or won “due to voter fraud,” 55 per cent of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire chose fraud.
The state was the target of one of Mr Trump’s first false cries of election fraud after his victory in the 2016 election. After losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, despite winning the electoral college and ultimately the presidency, he alleged without evidence that millions of people voted illegally in California, Virginia and New Hampshire, and that he would’ve won “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
In office, Mr Trump assembled a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to legitimise his conspiracy theories, an attempt to “spread the lie of rampant fraud as a Trojan Horse for voter suppression,” the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project said at the time. After coming up with nothing, Mr Trump dissolved it less than a year later.
This year, Mr Trump alleged fraudulent voting was underway in New Hampshire hours before a single ballot was cast, telling his supporters in a stump speech on 22 January that “you have to get the Democrats to stop voting in a Republican primary.”
New Hampshire’s closed primary legally excluded registered Democratic voters. A voter registered as a Democrat cannot vote in the primary.
“If they didn’t illegally mess with me” – including “stuffing ballot boxes” and changing vote-by-mail rules – “I now would be rounding out my term,” he said. “But because they did mess with me, now they’ve got us, and me, for four more years.”
In his victory speech, he falsely stated that votes against him are meant to make him “look bad” and revived his false claim that the Republican-only primary “accepts Democrats to vote.”
“I think they had 4,000 Democrats before October 6, they already voted,” he said. “Now, they’re only voting because they want me to look as bad as possible, because, if you remember, we won in 2016, and if you really remember – and if you want to play it straight – we also won in 2020.”
At one point, he baselessly asserted that “they used Covid to cheat,” invoking a conspiracy theory referencing bipartisan attempts to boost mail-in ballots across the country to avoid in-person voting during the pandemic.
He stopped short of outright claiming “election interference,” a familiar refrain for the former president, but he fired off an all-caps post on Truth Social repeating his false claim that Democratic and independent voters were “allowed” to vote in New Hampshire’s GOP-only primary, because “CROOKED JOE BIDEN HAS ABANDONED” the state.