Even by the standards of politicians, it was an astonishing flip-flop: Just after winning his Republican primary on Tuesday, New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc said he no longer believed that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and conceded that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party, and I have come to the conclusion — and I want to be definitive on this — the election was not stolen,” Bolduc told Fox News.
Bolduc’s reversal is part of a pathetic pattern of GOP candidates parroting Trump’s lies in order to win Republican primaries and then immediately changing their tune in the general election. In Massachusetts, Republican gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl said the election was rigged — but now says, “the election is over and he [Biden] won.”
Well, duh. There’s never been even a scintilla of evidence of the contrary, much less any that would take weeks of research to untangle. Trump’s continuing attacks on the integrity of the election were based on fiction, as Bolduc and Diehl surely knew all along.
The joke’s on anyone in the Republican Party who actually believed Bolduc when, as recently as last month, he echoed Trump’s lie that he had actually won the election. “I signed a letter ... saying that Trump won the election, and, damn it, I stand by my letter,” he said in a debate just last month. “I’m not switching horses, baby. This is it.”
The Republican candidates performing U-turns on the 2020 election seem to be hoping that voters will welcome them back to the world of objective reality, forgive them for their sins, and move on.
But the harm they — and any politician who lent credence to Trump’s lies — have done cannot be erased so easily. The people who amplified ludicrous claims of election fraud helped create an environment in which the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was possible, and those who continue to undermine confidence in the election afterward risk fomenting future violence. Election denial is a blot on the record of any politician who embraces it — and a red flag about their own personal integrity.
Not to defend shape-shifting politicians, but there’s a big difference between moving to the ideological center after a hard-fought primary — something Democrats and Republicans alike have been known to do — and pivoting on election denial. Someone who has shown a willingness to undermine the legitimacy of democracy out of political expedience has tipped their hand about who they are, not just what they believe.
But if Bolduc’s reversal is a reminder of his own lack of principle, it’s also a reminder of the danger that Democrats courted when they chose to boost Bolduc and other far-right candidates in Republican primaries this year. Democratic political action committees spent hundreds of thousands of dollars beating up Bolduc’s primary opponent, Chuck Morse, who had the support of more mainstream Republicans like Governor Chris Sununu. Bolduc ended up ekeing out a victory of less than 2 percentage points over Morse. Democrats believe that Bolduc will be a weaker candidate against Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan.
Maybe so — but putting money behind an election denier for political ends is just as cynical as embracing election denialism for political ends. Neither political party should be doing anything to boost political extremists in this environment.
As the campaign heats up, candidates like Bolduc and Diehl shouldn’t be allowed to erase their support for election denialism. When America needed politicians willing to defend democratic norms, even if it meant paying a political price, they were nowhere to be found. There’s nothing they can say that will change that now.
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