What if Republicans Rigged the 2020 Election?

V. Johnson

On the evening of January 5, 2021, about 50 miles outside Washington DC, I left the little motel room where I had spent most of the day preparing for the Stop the Steal rally, and set off in search of a nightcap. After passing two bars that looked to have been closed for several months, I ended up in a beat-up but well-maintained RV, thoroughly decorated with Trump flags, stickers, and paint. The owner was a friendly, middle-aged man who claimed to have spent the better part of the previous two decades working as a campaign strategist, most recently for Donald Trump in 2016. Truth be told, I assumed he was full of shit, but seeing as he was hospitable enough to welcome a stranger into his mobile home and offer me cold beer, the least I could do was hear him out. Nine times out of ten I dismiss conversations like ours as less than coherent drunken rambling, and yet, one and a half years later, I still can’t shake some of the things he said that night about Trump, the GOP, and the 2020 election. 

Frustrated by what I viewed to be growing bias, I left my mainstream media position in late 2019 to pursue freelance work, spending most of the next year following the presidential campaigns and reporting on social media. After November 3rd, I was not the least bit surprised when Trump and others cried fraud, claiming the election was rigged and stolen. Sitting in that RV two months later, however, after the recounts, certifications, and court rulings, I was all but convinced that Biden had been legitimately elected. My host, however, was not so certain, so I asked him, as someone claiming to be intimately familiar with party politics and the electoral process, how he thought it possible for Democrats to get away with cheating in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, states with Republican legislatures, and why they would not have taken that opportunity to cheat in other races on those same ballots. His response was something I could not have anticipated. If someone stole the election for Biden, it was the Republicans.

On the one hand, his seemingly outrageous notion did open the door for more plausible explanations as to how the presidential election results could have been altered successfully and without consequence in Republican states, and why Republicans performed well in other races on the ballots, but I still had to ask him one obvious question. Why would Republicans rig the election against their own president? I found his answer, which I will share with you to the best of my recollection, surprisingly reasonable and in-depth. As you read, I ask you to be aware that this is nothing more than a speculative theory, based on public information and the unverifiable personal experiences of a friendly stranger. It is not an assertion that the 2020 presidential election result was manipulated by any specific individual or party, or at all.

Early in 2016, the Republican Party found itself in a more complicated situation than its leadership had anticipated. The Benghazi committee had dragged presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton through the muck for two years, setting the stage for a GOP victory, but Party infighting led to an overly crowded field and the emergence of an outsider, Trump, as the upstart frontrunner. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was the preference of Mitch McConnell and much of the GOP leadership, but it was far from unanimous. The only thing the entire party agreed on was that any other candidate was preferable to Trump, but his campaign shocked everyone with its proficiency and the GOP simply had no chance to unite behind another candidate in time. 

Even after he secured the nomination, many in the Party refused to back Trump, and some actively campaigned against him. There was talk of staging a convention coup, but by that point Trump had consolidated the support of a voter base the GOP could not afford to lose, so McConnell, Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and other prominent Republicans decided to show a degree public support for the man they all assumed would lose, and spend the next four years making sure Hillary only served one term. Had they known how wrong their polling was, they might have done more behind the scenes to ensure a Clinton victory in 2016. 

At first glance, that could seem counterintuitive, but the GOP actually had good reason. Trump was not loyal to the Party and had never pretended to be. Instead, he used his popularity to demand Republican loyalty to him. For the old guard, career politicians who had spent their lives improving and maintaining their positions, waiting four more years for the White House was far better than losing control of their own Party. As it turned out, they would make the same exact calculation four years later, but this time they would not underestimate Trump.

For the Republicans the key to pulling off the plot would be feigning enough support for the President through the election, and for his claims in its aftermath, so that any suspicions of improprieties would fall squarely on the Democrats, followed by an immediate full-Party focus shift to grievances with the new administration. With enough distractions, they hoped to take GOP control back from Trump and keep his supporters loyal to the Party in time for the 2022 midterms, all without raising too many eyebrows. Coordinated news coverage denial and removal from social media platforms for the former President and vocal challengers of the election result would expedite the process. As they attacked Biden and his Party daily on a variety of issues popular with their base, often echoing Trump’s positions and rhetoric as their own, Republicans would simply stop talking about the 2020 election altogether.

On its face the two-party system is a spectacle of dramatic campaign advertisements, loud speeches, heated debates, and empty promises. The issues voters are repeatedly told to care about actually matter very little to the people they elect. Both sides of the aisle are packed with politicians who are primarily in office to make as much money as possible for themselves, by any means they can, for as long as they can. The party with the most power gets the lion’s share of the kickbacks, but only if everybody in the room agrees to play the game. It is therefore understandable that the GOP brass would rig an election against their own President if that President was actually attempting to end the very corruption they habitually engaged in. Simply staying in the game would be well worth the price of delaying their chances to be on top by a few more years, chances they could actually improve if they played their cards right. 

First they would make sure their own people in Republican states counted and certified the votes for Biden. Then, with theatre and deception, they would make sure fraud accusations were directed only at the Democrats. They would publicly pretend to challenge the election results while privately making sure their own courts dismissed those challenges. They would temporarily act outraged at Big Tech for censoring their President, then quickly stop using their own platforms to defend him. They would audit their own vote counts and find no evidence of fraud. Finally McConnell and the rest of the Party would attempt to lure Trump’s voters into becoming the reliable base for the old GOP guard who had just betrayed him, lining their pockets with RNC donations. They would do it by relentlessly criticizing Biden, the person they themselves were responsible for replacing him with. 

I often see polls suggesting a very large number of people believe the 2020 election was rigged against Trump. I can only assume most who believe that have a strong desire to know how it happened. While the idea that the GOP conspired to remove a Republican President may sound absurd, far more absurd is any scenario in which Democrats somehow succeeded in rigging the election in multiple states run by Republicans, but failed to do it in a way that would allow them to pass most of their agenda. All of those theories also struggle to explain how Republicans tried, but were somehow unable, to stop and then expose the massive election fraud in their own states. They offer no answer as to why, less than two years later, every single GOP Senator and Representative has stopped talking about the extraordinary crime committed against their own President. 

I must reiterate that I am by no means certain the 2020 election was rigged. If it was, however, my drinking companion’s theory makes a whole lot more sense than anything else I’ve heard over the last year and a half. The craziest thing about it is that it would mean the people who elected Trump, a political outsider, to “drain the swamp” in 2016 may now be supporting the exact Republican Party politicians guilty of unprecedented corruption, or in Trump’s own words, the greatest crime in history. 

When I learn more, so will you.

V. Johnson is working on a book about the 2020 election. Stay tuned.