Donald Trump is spending the final weeks of his presidential bid declaring he’s the victim of an unprecedented vote-rigging conspiracy meant to elect Hillary Clinton.
Many top Republican Party officials agree.
Interviews with more than two dozen members of the Republican National Committee reveal abiding fears of Democratic voting fraud and widespread belief that at least part of the process or outcome is rigged.
“I do believe that there are elements that will try to rig the election on varying degrees of scale and this will certainly affect the outcome in varying degrees,” said Peter Goldberg, an RNC committeeman from Alaska.
“Should Hillary get ‘elected’ she is immediately delegitimized,” said California RNC Committeeman Shawn Steel in an email. “The 1% of Wall Street Bankers, Clinton Machine and [mainstream media] including your employer, Politico, is part of a massive Left Wing Conspiracy to rig this election.”
Not all of the RNC members who spoke with POLITICO believe the election is rigged. Some contend Trump is wrong about the scale of the conspiracy he describes and others believe he should be targeting his ire at the media, which, they believe, are indeed conspiring against him.
But rather than knock down Trump’s claims, most lauded his focus on ballot integrity and pointed to instances of what they say is fraudulent voter registration as proof that he may be onto something.
“It is a grave concern on a number of fronts,” said Arizona RNC Committeewoman Lori Klein Corbin, “WWhen you have Democrats using Obama’s federal forms to register voters who do not have to declare if they are citizens or not and often show no ID.”
Party chairman Reince Priebus has not refuted the notion that the election is rigged; the RNC declined requests for comment.
In some cases, RNC members defending Trump are at odds with Republican secretaries of state – several of whom publicly insisted this week that there’s no cause for concern. These GOP election administrators expressed varying degrees of concern that Trump’s so-far-unsubstantiated charges could cast doubt on the integrity of the November election results. (Recent national polls show him trailing Clinton by a significant margin.)
“First of all, I can reassure Donald Trump: I am in charge of elections in Ohio, and they’re not going to be rigged. I’ll make sure of that,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted told CNN Monday. “Our institutions, like our election system, is one of the bedrocks of American democracy. We should not question it or the legitimacy of it. It works very well. In places like Ohio, we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Husted, who has called Trump’s claim “irresponsible,” has been joined by GOP secretaries of state in Iowa and Georgia in pushing back against the allegations. In recent days House Speaker Paul Ryan has insisted he is “fully confident” in the integrity of the election – prompting a backlash from Trump. And former RNC lawyers said Trump is way off base.
“A national conspiracy to rig the election, I find, is ludicrous,” said Mark Braden, an RNC lawyer from 1979 to 1989. “There is no nationwide conspiracy because there’s no way of doing it.”
“I believe in voter ID laws to ensure fair and free elections. Having said that, there is not and has not been any indication of systemic rigging of elections in America, and it’s extremely dangerous to make those unfounded claims,” said Charlie Spies, one of Braden’s successors as RNC counsel. “Donald Trump should be focused on running an effective campaign rather than making false excuses for losing.”
But Corbin, the Arizona committeewoman, said she agreed with Trump’s warning earlier this month that Democrats may be intentionally allowing undocumented immigrants into the country to vote in the election – though they are no substantiated claims that this is occurring. “This is happening all over the U.S. and we don’t even know how many illegals are here presently that will take advantage of these loopholes,” she said.
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