This spring, when Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama was fighting to win over conservatives in his campaign for Senate, he ran a television ad that boasted, “On Jan. 6, I proudly stood with President Trump in the fight against voter fraud.”
But when Mr. Brooks placed second in Alabama’s Republican primary last week, leaving him in a runoff, he said he was not concerned about fraud in his election.
“If it’s a close race and you’re talking about a five- or 10-vote difference, well, then, it becomes a greater concern,” he said of his primary results. “But I’ve got more important fish to fry. And so, at some point, you have to hope that the election system is going to be honest.”
Mr. Brooks was one of 147 Republican members of Congress who voted on Jan. 6, 2021, to object to the results of the 2020 presidential election. Hundreds more Republican state legislators across the country took similar action in their own capitals. President Biden’s victory, they said, was corrupted by either outright fraud or pandemic-related changes to voting.
Now, many of those Republicans are accepting the results of their primaries without complaint. Already this year, 55 of the lawmakers who objected in 2020 have run in competitive primaries, contests conducted largely under the same rules and regulations as those in 2020. None have raised doubts about vote counts. No conspiracy theories about mail ballots have surfaced. And no one has called for a “forensic audit” or further investigations of the 2022 primary results.
Republicans’ easy acceptance of a voting system they once slammed as broken exposes a fundamental contradiction in their complaints about the 2020 election. Claims about fraud and stolen elections are often situational — used in some races (against Democrats) but not others (against other Republicans), and to challenge some outcomes (losing) but not others (winning).
This phenomenon was on clear display in 2020, when scores of Republicans who repeated allegations about a “rigged” presidential race accepted their own victories based on the same ballots.
But the lack of discussion about fraud in this year’s primaries highlights a particular strain of partisanship driving many of the myths about stolen elections.
Mr. Brooks offered a simple answer to why he’s not worried about his race: There’s no fraud in Republican primaries, he said.
After the Georgia Primary Election
The May 24 races were among the most consequential so far of the 2022 midterm cycle.
“I’m in a Republican primary, and noncitizens don’t normally vote in Republican primaries,” Mr. Brooks said. “In a Republican primary or a Democrat primary, the motivation to steal elections is less because the candidates’ philosophy-of-government differences are minor.”
Noncitizens don’t vote in any federal elections in significant numbers, in Alabama or elsewhere, according to a 2020 report from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Investigators from both parties have unearthed only minuscule numbers of any type of voter fraud. In recent years, the rare instances of broad fraud schemes that have become public have been engineered by Republicans, including an absentee ballot scheme in North Carolina that led the state’s Board of Elections to order a redo of a House race in 2018.
Not all Republicans who spread false claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election considered their own races to be exempt. Some said that “fraud existed” in their own elections and that investigations were needed. Still, they accepted their victories.
“We don’t know how much fraud exists or existed because we weren’t able to see,” Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told a local CBS affiliate a week after the 2020 election. Mr. Perry focused on Philadelphia as a source for fraud in the presidential race and called for additional review. He also said he was “humbled” to take his seat in the House.
In the Pennsylvania primaries last week, Mr. Perry ran for re-election unopposed. He did not respond to messages left on his cellphone, and his campaign did not return requests for comment.
The Republican effort to sow skepticism about elections in racially diverse Democratic cities is a generations-long project, with roots as far back as Richard Nixon’s 1960 defeat against John F. Kennedy. By the time Mr. Trump lost the 2020 election, he and millions of his supporters were primed to believe false allegations about “ballot harvesting” and machines miscounting in America’s populous cities. Mr. Brooks said in an interview that, in Alabama, fraud occurred “in predominantly Democrat parts of the state.”
Part of the reason Republican candidates are accepting primary results without talking about fraud is they don’t have Democrats to blame, said Trey Grayson, the former Republican secretary of state in Kentucky.
“They’re thinking it’s a primary, it’s our side. We didn’t lose to somebody on the other side who is evil, who’s going to change policy more dramatically,” Mr. Grayson said in an interview. “There’s a tribal, ‘my side’s always right, your side is always wrong. We’re not stealing elections, your side is stealing elections.’”
Even candidates who lost this year, either in close elections or decisive defeats, have accepted the results. Representative Madison Cawthorn, who had still been promoting falsehoods about the 2020 election on social media a week before his primary election, conceded and called his rival, Chuck Edwards, the night of his loss.
When asked if Mr. Cawthorn had any concerns about fraud in the election, a spokesman for his congressional office declined to comment.
In Georgia, the statewide Republican primaries were high-profile contests between Trump-aligned election deniers and officials who blocked Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn the results. Representative Jody Hice spent much of his campaign railing about Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, and his mismanaging elections.
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Nonetheless, Mr. Hice accepted his defeat — noting the results “were not what we hoped for” — while still raising doubts about the trustworthiness of elections in the state.
“I still believe that renewing integrity in our elections is absolutely critical,” Mr. Hice tweeted.
The criticism is particularly noteworthy because Georgia is one of the states that overhauled its election systems last year in response to fears about fraud. Mr. Raffensperger and Brian Kemp frequently pointed to the law during their campaigns, arguing that they had tightened up the system and fixed problems that many in their party blamed for Mr. Trump’s defeat.
Pennsylvania, a hotbed of conspiracy theories about 2020, has made no major changes to its election laws. Yet, Republican politicians have accepted the results of their primaries without grievance — even in the still-undecided Senate primary. As officials continue to recount the ballots, the celebrity physician Mehmet Oz leads David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, by fewer than 1,000 votes out of 1.34 million cast. Neither candidate has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the voting — although they both expressed concerns about the 2020 results.
Even the most outspoken election skeptic in the Senate primary has stayed quiet about fraud. Kathy Barnette, the author who rallied in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest Mr. Biden’s victory, conceded her loss — something she did not do after losing a House race to a Democrat by 19 percentage points.
Another prominent election denier is Doug Mastriano, a state senator who used doubts about the 2020 election to propel his political rise. Mr. Mastriano had no qualms about his own victory in the Republican primary for governor last week. When he dispatched his closest challenger by 23 percentage points, he boasting about his margins in his victory speech.
“We got a mandate,” Mr. Mastriano said.
By Friday, Mr. Mastriano was fund-raising off his false claims about 2020, asking supporters to demonstrate their commitment to “FREE and FAIR elections” by making donations.
Mr. Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
And for all his bluster about the 2020 election being stolen from Mr. Trump, Mr. Brooks said he had high confidence in Alabama’s elections. He said fraud was rare because of the state’s voting laws, which have tighter early and mail voting rules than most other states.
But Mr. Brooks has taken issue with Alabama elections before. When he won a state House seat in 1982, he accused Democrats of rigging the voting machines.
Henry Frohsin, the chief assistant U.S. attorney for northern Alabama at the time, said that Mr. Brooks’s claims were investigated and dismissed.
“Congressman Brooks’s allegations were insubstantial,” Mr. Frohsin said in an interview. “We declined to prosecute the case because there was no merit to it.”