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The Morning Dispatch: Another Election Denier Clinches a Governor’s Primary
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The Morning Dispatch: Another Election Denier Clinches a Governor’s Primary

Plus: The Senate votes overwhelmingly to clear Finland and Sweden’s inclusion in NATO.

Happy Friday! While Declan’s been on vacation this week, he’s been using some of his hard-won leisure time to send Andrew cruel taunts about how the St. Louis Cardinals missed out this week on trading for generational outfielder Juan Soto. It may be for this karmic reason that the Cardinals trounced the Cubs in both ends of a doubleheader yesterday.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The spending bill deal struck between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin cleared what may be its last major hurdle Thursday after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema agreed to support the legislation in slightly modified form. The tax-and-spend climate, health care, and energy package—the full text of which is not yet public—will head to the Senate floor Saturday for debate.

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland announced yesterday that the Department of Justice will bring federal charges against four former and current Louisville police officers implicated in the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor. The charges include civil rights and obstruction offenses, unlawful conspiracy, and unconstitutional use of force. Among the officers charged is Brett Hankinson, who was brought to state trial on wanton endangerment charges for shots fired into a neighboring apartment during the botched raid on Taylor’s home. He was found not guilty on all counts. 

  • American WNBA player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony Thursday. Griner had been detained by Russian authorities in February for bringing a small amount of cannabis oil into the country. President Biden called the sentence “unacceptable” and has been discussing a prisoner exchange with Russia to bring Griner back to America.

  • The Bank of England announced Thursday that it was raising interest rates by half a percentage point. It also warned that Britain would likely enter a recession later this year that could last into 2023.

  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended a state attorney who had indicated he would not enforce some state laws, including the state’s 15-week abortion ban and prohibitions on hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgeries for Medicaid recipients and minors. The Florida constitution grants the governor the ability to suspend county officials, with legislative review of the action.

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency Thursday afternoon. The declaration will allow public health authorities greater flexibility and spending in responding to the outbreak, which has resulted in 6,600 confirmed U.S. cases but no reported deaths.

Republican Gubernatorial Hopefuls Vow to “Stop the Steal” 

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here’s a story that’s become canonical lore among Republicans who falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. When America went to bed on election night two years ago, with only real votes having been counted, Trump was headed for a second term in office. Then, as people slept, out came the fake ballots, as dissembling Democrats scrambled to make up the gap—an operation that ultimately proved successful, with Joe Biden being declared the victor.

Now here’s a thing that actually happened in Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial primary this week. When Arizonans went to bed Tuesday night, the ballots counted so far seemed to favor Republican establishment pick Karrin Taylor Robson. As the remaining ballots were slowly counted, however, MAGA favorite Kari Lake began to gain ground, pulling into the lead around 2 a.m. local time. As of this writing, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 ballots have yet to be counted, but most elections watchers agree Lake is unlikely to relinquish her lead.

Given the parallels to 2020, you may not be surprised to hear that the results have already been tarnished by allegations of fraud. But these allegations have come not from Robson, who lost out in the late count, but from Lake herself.

“We outvoted the fraud,” Lake said Wednesday at an event where she also declared victory in the race. “The MAGA movement voted like their lives depended on it.”

It wasn’t a surprise that Lake would stick to the allegations of election malfeasance that have been the backbone of her campaign. “We will not stand for another stolen election,” she told her supporters at a campaign event prior to the election. “We’re already detecting some fraud. I know none of you are shocked.”

It does, however, provide yet another reminder that the fraud claims of 2020 weren’t an anomaly but a growing and metastasizing feature of Republican party politics, in which all external measures of a candidate’s support, from third-party polls to actual ballot counts, are viewed as untrustworthy and the overwhelming strength of the MAGA movement among real voters is assumed as fact. Any run-of-the-mill errors in reporting or screw-ups in election administration that may crop up are then brought forward as smoking gun evidence of an insidious attempt at fraud.

In Pinal County, for instance, some precincts ran out of in-person Republican ballots Tuesday and had to scramble to print more. This was, of course, an embarrassing failure at an extremely basic level and a headache to voters forced to wait, and it came as little surprise that the county fired its elections director just days later.

For Lake, however, the screw-up was proof positive that the system had tried to crush her campaign. “How much bigger would our win be,” she speculated on Twitter, “if all these people were allowed to vote?”

Election administrators are human beings, and running elections is a complicated endeavor. If the only acceptable elections were those in which no logistical hiccups took place, there would be very few acceptable elections.

If elected governor, it should be noted, Lake would acquire no small amount of power over the administration of elections herself. She has previously stated that she would not have certified the 2020 election results had she been governor of Arizona at the time. Biden beat Trump in Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, a result that has been affirmed and reaffirmed by audit after audit.

Lake is not the only swing state Republican running for governor in the election fraud lane. State Sen. Doug Mastriano spent November 2020 arguing that Pennsylvania’s GOP legislature could simply ignore the state’s vote on the dubious grounds that it was “compromised” and decree that its electors go to Trump. He won the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary back in May, and will face Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, in November.

Next week’s governor’s primary in Wisconsin will feature another past and current insurrectionist: state assemblyman Tim Ramthun, who this year—more than a year after the 2020 election was certified—is still campaigning on the notion that the state legislature should “rescind” the 10 electoral votes the state sent Biden’s way. Another candidate in that race, the Trump-endorsed Tim Michels, is campaigning on abolishing the Wisconsin Elections Commission. (For more details on this particular race, see this excellent piece by Harvest Prude, up on the site today.)

An exception to the trend has been Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who refused to abet Trump’s cries for extralegal measures that would have given Georgia’s electoral votes to him despite Biden’s win. David Perdue, Trump’s hand-picked instrument of revenge against Kemp, ran on a stolen election platform; Kemp beat him by an eye-popping 50 points during the election in May.

It’s tempting to imagine that this sort of election denial is a bubble that could pop with a few well-placed losses this November. If Mastriano and Lake go down to Democrats while Kemp perseveres, it’s possible we’ll see a chastened GOP slinking back toward sanity in the realm of “election integrity.”

Or maybe not. After all, the belief that any race your faction lost is prima facie fraudulent makes for a pretty formidable closed loop. When Kemp trounced Perdue in Georgia, Trump and his allies immediately pivoted to wild accusations that this win, too, had simply been the result of fraud. And if you never lose an election legitimately, why would you ever decide to pivot to more broadly palatable beliefs?

Senate Votes to Add Finland, Sweden to NATO

When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military assault on Ukraine more than five months ago, he did so with the stated intention of halting NATO expansion. Now, and in direct response to the Kremlin’s unprovoked war, the defensive alliance is poised to gain two new members.

Although Finland and Sweden still face roadblocks in their bids for NATO membership, they got a little closer Wednesday when the United States became the 23rd of 30 NATO states to support their accession into the alliance. In a rare display of bipartisan consensus, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a treaty to pull the Nordic countries into the NATO fold. But despite the best efforts of the chamber’s leadership to put up a unified front, a single outlier remained. 

“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote ‘no,’ I wish them good luck,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Wednesday. “This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support.”

The lecture was directed at an audience of one: Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who publicly broke with his colleagues on NATO expansion in the days leading up to the vote. In an opinion piece for National Interest on Monday, the senator framed efforts to grow the alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a distraction from other, more pressing challenges posed by China. 

“America’s greatest foreign adversary doesn’t loom over Europe. It looms in Asia,” Hawley wrote. “I am talking of course about the People’s Republic of China. And when it comes to Chinese imperialism, the American people should know the truth: the United States is not ready to resist it. Expanding American security commitments in Europe now would only make that problem worse—and America, less safe.”

Hawley went on to point to China’s regional military aggression and unfair trade practices as reasons to prioritize greater U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific at the expense of its military footprint in Europe. 

But while U.S. lawmakers largely share Hawley’s characterization of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a threat to regional and international stability, many reject the notion that confronting Beijing requires limiting U.S. support for NATO. On the contrary: As the war in Ukraine unfolds on the global stage, many Republicans align with the Biden administration’s judgment that the West’s continued resolve to defy Russia has direct bearing on its ability to stare down increasingly brazen Chinese leadership. 

“It’s always important to show, whether it’s NATO or [bilateral agreements] that we have with other countries, that having allies is important not just for the security of our country, but for the security of the world,” Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Dispatch. “And I think China understands that.” 

Asked about Hawley’s opposition to Wednesday’s vote, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina challenged his colleague’s stated rationale: “I respect him, I like him a lot—but to think that somehow refusing to expand NATO makes us stronger against China doesn’t make sense to me.”

GOP Sen. Mike Rounds—a member of the Armed Services Committee—made a similar case, identifying the U.S.’s commitment to European security as central to its perceived willingness to help Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island.

“[Chinese government officials] are looking, number one, to see the response that the West—in a united fashion—has put together,” Rounds said in an interview Thursday. “They’re curious about whether or not we’re prepared to actually put resources into Ukraine. They’re curious about whether or not the sanctions that we’ve put on Russia are enforceable, and whether or not people are adhering to them,” 

“Xi Jinping is following to see what the response is, and whether or not we have resolve. I think they are very carefully monitoring our actions,” he added.

Rounds and other Republican senators also dispute the premise that adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would dilute, rather than bolster, the alliance’s existing defensive capabilities. 

“It’s an alliance designed to protect us against invading or attacking countries and entities,” the South Dakota senator said Thursday. “And I think both Sweden and Finland both add a huge additional group of assets and very capable, proven militaries to our alliance.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz also pointed to strength in numbers: “The NATO Alliance has been the most successful military alliance in modern history and bringing in serious additional military capacities only makes the alliance stronger.” 

But while Hawley is mostly alone in his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO—Sen. Rand Paul voted present—debates on the level of material and financial support to extend to Ukraine have been more divisive among Republican lawmakers. In May, Paul led 10 other GOP senators, including Hawley, in opposing a $40 billion Ukraine aid package. The bill also faced Republican opposition in the House, where 57 GOP representatives voted against its passage. 

Worth Your Time

  • Speaker Pelosi’s recent trip to Taiwan raised lots of questions about how countries should handle relations with Taiwan and mainland China. But engagement with Taiwan doesn’t need to be “anti-China,” Daniel Twining and J. Michael Cole argue in National Review. “Indeed, Taiwan is an excellent case study on how a democratic society can both engage with the PRC while protecting its sovereignty, good governance, democracy, and human rights,” the two write. “There is no better example on the planet of a society that can combine both. It therefore makes no sense for other democracies, as they develop their own tactics and strategies to balance their own relationship with China, to exclude Taiwan from that discussion.”

  • When students return to school in a few weeks, it might be to a classroom with double the usual number of kids or with a college student as the instructor. That’s how deep and dire America’s teacher shortage is, reports Hannah Natanson for The Washington Post. While Texas elementary schoolers may appreciate the switch to a four day week necessitated by the lack of instructors in some rural districts, administrators are “losing sleep at night” over the crisis. Factors that may be behind the shortage include “pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents—and sometimes their own school board members—have little respect for their profession amid an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender and sexual orientation, as well as LGBTQ issues,” Natanson writes.

  • Busloads of migrants sent by Republican governors in Texas and Arizona are straining support infrastructure in D.C. and New York, Miriam Jordan writes in The New York Times. In the cities, volunteer organizations and shelters have struggled to handle the thousands of arriving migrants, leading to a back-and-forth between the Republican governors and the two cities’ Democratic mayors. But “the Texas governor and the mayors agree on one point: All three are calling on the federal government to act,” Jordan writes.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On the Dispatch Podcast interview episode this week, Steve was joined by former top Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod for an interesting primaries-related discussion. What’s up with the Democratic Party’s tactic of funding extremist Republican candidates? And what is the outlook for the upcoming general elections? 

  • And on the Dispatch Podcast roundtable episode, Sarah, Jonah and David join Steve for a discussion of the Kansas abortion vote, this week’s primaries, and happenings in Afghanistan and Taiwan. 

  • On yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah chew over the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Idaho over its near-total abortion ban and discuss Trump’s role in the current midterm climate.

  • In yesterday’s Current, Klon outlines how, in procedural terms, the CIA killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri: From the legal authority, to the manhunt, to the drone and missile technology. He concludes, “I appreciate the ‘long memory’ of the United States. While this idea is almost cliché, the fact is that those who might seek to do us harm should think twice, perhaps even a third time, because we’ve proved over and over again that we will not forget.” 

  • On the site today, Alec digs into the emergent new right subculture in a deeply reported piece, Harvest is on the ground for the Wisconsin governor’s race, and Ivana Stradner and Natia Seskuria analyze destabilizing Russian activity in three under-covered European countries.

Let Us Know

“Election integrity” occupies a strange space in Republican primaries this year. With a few exceptions, some of which we discussed above, most candidates are focusing their messages on issues polls show more voters list as their top priorities—economic issues such as inflation chief among them. At the same time, the vast majority of GOP candidates show obvious tactical awareness that declaring Biden to have won legitimately is a pure downside play while courting the current Republican electorate. 

How important do you consider a candidate’s stance on the legitimacy of Biden’s win in 2020 to be?

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Charlotte Lawson is a reporter at The Dispatch and currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Prior to joining the company in 2020, she studied history and global security at the University of Virginia. When Charlotte is not keeping up with foreign policy and world affairs, she is probably trying to hone her photography skills.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.