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Analysis

Insurrection, Inc.

The far right is organizing to seize our elections.

July 26, 2022

You’re read­ing The Brief­ing, Michael Wald­­­­­­­­­­­­man’s weekly news­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­let­ter. Click here to receive it every week in your inbox.

At the close of last week’s Janu­ary 6 hear­ing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called out the “50-, 60-, and 70-year-old men who hide them­selves behind exec­ut­ive priv­ilege.” She didn’t need to name them — we know who they are.  

But they’re not hiding. Far from it. Steve Bannon, convicted last week of contempt of Congress, hosts a popu­lar right-wing podcast. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Mead­ows is the senior part­ner of the Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute, a DC-based group formed to support far-right candid­ates.  

Worse, both men are play­ers in a nation­wide effort to sow doubt and misin­form­a­tion about upcom­ing elec­tions. As my colleague Mekela Pandithar­atne writes in a new Bren­nan Center analysis, the Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute is work­ing to plant elec­tion deniers — people who believe, contrary to all evid­ence, that the 2020 elec­tion was decided by voter fraud — at all levels of our elect­oral machinery. Staffers in elec­tions offices, poll work­ers, poll monit­ors. If Mead­ows and Bannon succeed, these crucial posi­tions in our demo­cracy could soon become contam­in­ated by people who live in a fantasy world where voter fraud is rampant. “We are arming the army of patri­ots, that’s our goal,” oper­at­ive Cleta Mitchell told Bannon on his podcast.

The Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute has produced a writ­ten guide for those seek­ing to cast doubt on future elec­tions. It urges follow­ers to ensure that “ideo­lo­gical oper­at­ives cannot prey upon vulner­able voters” such as senior citizens. That’s rich. During the 2020 elec­tion, the Wiscon­sin Elec­tion Commis­sion made the entirely neces­sary decision to slash the red tape required for nurs­ing home resid­ents to get mail-in ballots — the only way to uphold their right to vote during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow­ing Donald Trump’s defeat, the ideo­lo­gical allies of the Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute assailed that decision and sought to dissolve the commis­sion in retri­bu­tion. That’s enough to give hypo­crisy a bad name. 

The hand­book makes phony claims of nonpar­tis­an­ship while also urging follow­ers to label staffers in the state attor­ney gener­al’s office as “friend or foe.” It equips read­ers with just enough inform­a­tion to be danger­ous, but not nearly enough to be help­ful. For example, it encour­ages people to try to identify “bad addresses” on voter rolls but does­n’t instruct them on how to differ­en­ti­ate an incor­rect address from a student away at college. As a result, profes­sional elec­tion offi­cials — the people who actu­ally know what they’re doing — will be inund­ated with base­less chal­lenges to voter regis­tra­tions.

It is a recipe for chaos. But that’s not a bug in the system — it’s the goal of the Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute. If it can sow enough doubt and confu­sion after an elec­tion defeat, it might be able to convince the legis­lature to over­turn the clearly artic­u­lated will of the people. It didn’t work in 2020, but they’ll try again. Let’s not wait until the chaos machine clicks on to respond. Let’s insu­late our system against these attacks right now.