Joe Biden is the president-elect. There is no widespread voter fraud at the local, state or national levels. President Donald Trump is not battling a cabal of child-trafficking Democrats and cultural elites with the help of Robert Mueller and a still-living John F. Kennedy, Jr., as adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory (here is what that is all about) would have you believe.
Yet, many New York Republicans are having some trouble coming to terms with these established facts. Despite a loss in the presidential race and the continued dominance of Democrats in state politics, New York Republicans appear to be pushing the MAGA message more than ever before.
“The same people who LIED to Americans during the entire 2020 campaign now want us to just quietly go away and declare Biden the winner before every LEGAL vote has been counted,” New York state Reublican Party Chair Nick Langworthy, said in a Nov. 6 fundraising email. “If we are going to have trust in our elections, there MUST be TRANSPARENCY.”
Despite that bold statement of principle, Langworthy declared victory in state elections – even though there are a huge number of outstanding mail-in ballots, which will skew Democratic and shift the outcome in some close races. Langworthy did not respond to a request for comment.
The New York GOP has come a long way from its days as a bastion genteel moderation. Today it is defined by its belligerent rhetorical style, lawsuits against mail-in ballots, parroting extremist talking points and spouting conspiracy theories.
The most nationally prominent Republican in New York’s congressional delegation, Rep. Elise Stefanik, stayed notably silent in the days after Biden’s victory, other than to vaguely echo Trump’s hints of election irregularities. As her local North Country TV channel WWNY noted, “The decision of the vast majority of Republicans to not extend congratulations to Biden is a sharp break with tradition, in which the losing side offers statements of praise for the victor.”
New lawsuits at the state level reflect Republican efforts to undermine public confidence in the established electoral process, despite the lack of any significant evidence of voting fraud in the 2020 election. This includes multiple efforts to require court supervision of the counting of absentee ballots in key legislative races in the downstate area and Central New York.
Election law experts say these claims are spurious. “There's nothing unusual about this election in New York,” former Chair of the New York City Bar’s Election Law Committee Sarah Steiner said in an interview. “It's a perfectly ordinary election that has an abundance of absentee ballots which we knew would happen.”
Some Republican candidates for office have also gone off into fantasyland. Brooklyn political novice Mark Szuszkiewic currently leads Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus despite his apparent support for QAnon. “@tomhanks becoming a citizen of Greece after pedophilia is considered a disability. Coincidence?” Szuszkiewicz wrote at one point, according to the Brooklyn Paper. (Pedophilia is not, in fact, considered a disability in Greece.)
Both parties have filed election-related lawsuits in recent weeks. While much of it represents positioning by Republicans and Democrats alike in anticipation of close final vote counts, others appear to promote wider political goals rather than legal arguments. “They are recycling and upcycling old Republican dirty-trick litigation,” Steiner told City & State of a lawsuit filed by Republican state Senate candidate Angi Renna in Central New York to impound mail ballots in her race against Democrat John Mannion. “They don't actually have any merit at all.” But delaying the vote count leaves more time for Republicans to challenge mail-in ballots that overwhelmingly favor Democrats in key state races.
Similar lawsuits were filed by GOP Rep. John Katko of Central New York in his race against Democrat Dana Balter and state Senate candidate Rob Astorino in his Westchester County race against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Pete Harkcham. “They’re trying to disqualify as many votes as possible,” said Tom Staudter, a spokesperson for Harckham. “They're trying to buy themselves some time, but they're also trying to delegitimize the election.” Representatives for Katko and Astorino did not respond to requests for comment.
New York conservatives have even engaged in trutherism about the coronavirus that devastated the state this spring. Right-wing amateur sleuths, including provocateur James O’Keefe of the Westchester-based Project Veritas filmed misleading videos of empty parking lots outside New York hospitals to “prove” that the reported case rate of COVID-19 wasn’t real. Now, Republicans and conservatives are talking about openly defying Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest efforts to contain the virus’ spread.
“I’ll be having more than 10 ppl at my house on Thanksgiving,” New York City Councilmember Joe Borelli announced on Twitter, following the news of new state rules limiting the size of gatherings. New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz chimed in with a digital pat on the back, and encouragement of her followers to “Be ready to, ahem, resist.” These comments echo Trump, who has egged on right-wing scofflaws demanding an end to coronavirus-containment measures, even as he ran on a “law and order” platform and his own government’s Centers for Disease Control advised against lifting those COVID-related restrictions.
There was a time, just a few years ago, when Republicans could still vie for control of the state Senate, the governorship and the mayoralty of New York City. Now, even the Metropolitan Republican Club, which moderate GOP luminaries such as former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller once belonged to, chooses to host Gavin McInnes, the founder of the “Proud Boys,” an openly sexist and anti-Muslim group.
By sticking with the president and boosting Republican turnout, New York’s GOP may have gained a few legislative seats this year. But by embracing crazy conspiracy theories, and refusing to speak out against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election result, they may further damage their brand in much of the state.
Like any good Trump-following party, they know who to blame for any political price they may pay: the media. “If these allegations were against Republicans instead of Democrats, they would be rioting and burning buildings down right now and the media would be calling for the election to be thrown out. Hypocrisy,” Langworthy tweeted this week while leaving little doubt about the type of democracy he is looking for moving forward. “Count every LEGAL vote!”
With reporting by Kimberly Gonzalez
Correction: Claudia Tenney is neither a supporter nor a believer in QAnon, according to her spokesperson.
NEXT STORY: Why isn’t pot legal yet?