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Apostate Republican Tim Alberta has a terrific piece of reporting about GOP complicity in Michigan with Trump’s attempt to steal an election he lost by 154,000 votes:

As conspiracy theories proliferated across the right-wing information universe—Sharpie markers disenfranchising Trump voters in Arizona, a marked Biden/Harris van unloading boxes full of ballots in Nevada, suspicious turnout patterns in Wisconsin—Detroit held a special place in the president’s heart.

When Trump addressed the nation from the White House on Thursday night, insisting the election had been “stolen” from him, he returned time and again to alleged misconduct in Michigan’s biggest city. Detroit, he smirked, “I wouldn’t say has the best reputation for election integrity.” He said the city “had hours of unexplained delay” in counting ballots, and when the late batches arrived, “nobody knew where they came from.” He alleged that Republicans had been “denied access to observe any counting in Detroit” and that the windows had been covered because “they didn’t want anybody seeing the counting.”

All of this was a lie. Republicans here—from Ronna Romney McDaniel to Laura Cox to federal and local lawmakers—knew it was a lie. But they didn’t lift a finger in protest as the president disparaged Michigan and subverted America’s democratic norms. Why?

Again, the answer is always some combination of idiocy, dishonesty, and cult psychology:

In the days following Trump’s shameful address to the nation, two realities became inescapable to Michigan’s GOP elite. First, there was zero evidence to substantiate widespread voter fraud. Second, they could not afford to admit it publicly.

McDaniel was a case in point. Born into Michigan royalty—granddaughter of the beloved former governor, George Romney, and niece of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney—she knows the state’s politics as well as anyone. Working for her uncle’s campaign here, and then as a national committeewoman and state party chair, McDaniel earned respect for her canny, studied approach. She spun and exaggerated and played the game, but she was generally viewed as being above board.

That changed after Trump’s 2016 victory. Tapped by the president-elect to take over the Republican National Committee—on the not-so-subtle condition that she remove “Romney” from her professional name—McDaniel morphed into an archetype of the Trump-era GOP sycophant. There was no lie too outlandish to parrot, no behavior too unbecoming to justify, no abuse of power too flagrant to enable. Longtime friends worried that McDaniel wasn’t merely humiliating herself publicly; she seemed to be changing in private. She was no longer coolly detached from the passions of politics. If anything, she was turning into a true MAGA believer.

There was some relief, then, when in recent weeks McDaniel told multiple confidants that she doubted there was any scalable voter fraud in Michigan. Nevertheless, McDaniel told friends and fellow Republicans that she needed to stay the course with Trump and his legal team. This wasn’t about indulging him, she said, but rather about demonstrating a willingness to fight—even when the fight couldn’t be won.

If this sounds illogical, McDaniel’s thinking is actually quite linear. The RNC will vote in January on the position of chair. She is anxious to keep her job. It’s bad enough that despite an enormous investment of time and resources in Michigan, McDaniel was unable to deliver her home state for the president. If that might prove survivable, what would end McDaniel’s bid instantaneously is abandoning the flailing president in the final, desperate moments of his reelection campaign. No matter how obvious the outcome—to McDaniel, to the 168 members of the RNC, maybe even to Trump himself—any indication of surrender would be unforgivable.

This is why McDaniel has sanctioned her employees, beginning with top spokesperson Liz Harrington, to spread countless demonstrable falsehoods in the weeks since Election Day. It’s why the RNC, on McDaniel’s watch, tweeted out a video clip of disgraced lawyer Sidney Powell claiming Trump “won in a landslide” (when he lost by more than 6 million votes nationally) and alleging a global conspiracy to rig the election against him. It’s why McDaniel felt comfortable throwing under the bus a highly respected local Republican clerk in her own backyard, the Detroit suburb of Oakland County, for a human error that was rectified with transparency from start to finish. (The clerk, Tina Barton, called McDaniel’s insinuations of fraud “categorically false.”)

One problem with cynical Machiavellianism is that very few people are cynical enough to not gradually become what they pretend to be: the cognitive dissonance is too much to endure. Ronna Romney McDaniel no doubt started off working from whatever dictum would be the Mormon equivalent of the calculation that Paris is worth a mass, but she’s now a full-fledged MAGA conspiracy nut, exactly like the people she was laughing at not so long ago.

The bottom line is that, while Trump’s attempted coup has failed, his goal — now shared fully by Republican elites — to undermine confidence in the electoral system is succeeding spectacularly:

More than any policy enacted or court vacancy filled, Trump’s legacy will be his unprecedented assault on the legitimacy of the ballot box. And it will not be considered in isolation. Future iterations of the GOP will make casual insinuations of voter fraud central to the party’s brand. The next generation of Republicans will have learned how to sow doubts about election integrity in one breath and in the next breath bemoan the nation’s lack of faith in our elections, creating a self-perpetuating justification to cast suspicion on a process that by raw numbers does not appear conducive to keeping them in power.

Look no further than [GOP senate candidate] John James. It took three full weeks after Election Day—despite his race being called for Gary Peters on November 4, despite the certified county totals proving he had lost by 92,000 votes—for the Republican Senate nominee to concede defeat. In the interim, he released a series of videos calling for independent investigations into Detroit’s voting irregularities, insisting that such efforts are needed to “restore trust” in the system.

“This is not some whacked-out fringe,” James said in one taping. “When half the votes in our state believe we just had the most secure election in U.S. history, and the other half believe they were cheated, we have a problem.”

James is right. We do have a problem. Our elections continue to be underfunded. Our election bureaus are chronically understaffed. Our election workers are badly undertrained. Our elections are prone to a significant amount of human error—and any municipal or county clerk will tell you that concerns over not catching those errors keep them up at night.

But errors are not fraud. And when James says he’s troubled that half of Michigan’s voters feel they were cheated, he would do well to remember that he was the one telling them they got cheated in the first place.

How many election cycles can the United States survive, now that one of the two major parties is a full-fledged paranoid authoritarian cult? We’re now running this little social science experiment, and the results are going to be very . . . interesting.

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