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The Birther Roots of the Post-Election Crisis

The GOP's post-election strategy is currently to pursue a version of what happened in 2000: to have the Supreme Court intervene as it did in the Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision that delivered the presidency to George W. Bush in the wake of contested election results.

But when Biden takes the oath of office Republican strategy will instead become a version of the of aftermath of the 2008 election. When Obama was elected president, far right opponents challenged his legal claim to the office and asserted that he had fabricated a US birth certificate. This rumor, which had circulated during the election season, gained momentum during the first months of Obama’s administration. Spokespeople for what came to be called the “birther” movement argued that he held office illegally because of the Constitutional requirement that presidents be natural born citizens. The movement picked up steam as it was repeated by right-wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh and CNN xenophobe Lou Dobbs. The delusion that Obama was never really the US president brought comfort to some Republican voters, particularly ones who indicated in high levels of racial resentment in surveys.

It is fitting that one of the major purveyors of birtherism was Donald Trump, who came to political prominence on the right as a result. Staying on brand, just days after being sworn in in 20217 Trump declared, with no evidence, that three to five million illegal ballots were cast by undocumented immigrants, stealing his popular vote victory.

As is often the case in a racist society, political phenomena born of racism come to define the political culture more broadly. Today, having consumed a steady diet of falsified charges and conspiracies over the last four years of Trump’s presidency, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters believe that the 2020 presidential election was neither free nor fair. As with Obama’s provenance, no evidence to the contrary will suffice to change minds. Republican voters can no longer tolerate the idea that their candidate might not have actually won, and Republican leaders are more than happy to indulge that fantasy as they betray open hostility to any pretense of democracy.

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