How much time and money will the GOP waste chasing imaginary election fraud?

Fox host Maria Bartiromo has proved to be one of the most credulous members of the right-wing media universe. This was understood by her own employers in 2020 when one executive warned another that she had “GOP conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message sometimes.” In the wake of the 2020 election, she flirted with the most ridiculous fraud theories then circulating; more recently, she was a constant promoter of the discredited idea that Joe Biden had been bribed by a Ukrainian businessman.

Yet she also remains one of the most prominent voices on Fox News and Fox Business. One need not engage in conspiracy-theorizing to guess some reasons for that.

On Sunday, Bartiromo welcomed the new leaders of the Republican National Committee to her weekly Fox News program. It was an opportunity to explore any number of subjects, including how debunked election denialism has been systematized within the Republican Party. But, instead, Bartiromo wanted to ensure that the party was focused enough on uprooting the imaginary threat of fraud.

Before we get into Bartiromo’s questions, let’s just hammer that latter point a bit more firmly. It has been more than three years since the 2020 election, and there is no more evidence today than there was on Election Day that any rampant fraud occurred — not using drop boxes, not using mail ballots, not using in-person illegal voting. One way you know that the theories about rampant fraud failed is that so many Trump allies, desperate not to offend, talk instead about the election being “rigged” against him. (That also didn’t happen.)

But Bartiromo is way too far underwater to gulp such fresh air. So she began her conversation with Michael Whatley, the RNC chair, and co-chair Lara Trump (who is also the former president’s daughter-in-law) by asking how they planned to spend the money raised at the former president’s big event on Saturday.

“We are going to spend every single dollar that we raise on two key critical core missions for the RNC,” Whatley replied, “which are getting out the vote and protecting the ballot.” Every dollar, he said, would be spent “putting lead on target.”

“Get-out-the-vote is important,” Bartiromo replied, “but ensuring a secure election is what a lot of people want to know what you’re doing about.”

Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) — that is, ensuring your supporters cast ballots — is important! And while a lot of people (read: Bartiromo) want to know how the GOP is ensuring a “secure election,” it is not important as a priority, given that American elections are already secure under any meaningful definition. When I was in Scranton, Pa., the weekend before the 2020 election, I saw Joe Biden’s team turning out voters and Donald Trump’s getting people to “secure the election.” Guess who won Pennsylvania?

Lara Trump, elevated to her new position in part because her father-in-law wants to reinforce the idea that his 2020 loss was illegitimate, concurred with Bartiromo.

“When you talk about election integrity, it is vital,” she said. “It is the number one thing that we are focused on aside from getting out the vote.” She claimed that Trump would take care of most of the GOTV effort, given how excited people were to vote for him — an approach that, again, did not get the job done four years ago.

“We never before at the RNC have had an election integrity division,” Lara Trump continued. “All of our resources we can put into this division as needed. And with a haul like we got last night, with a March like we had, we have the funding now to ensure we can train poll workers, not just have poll watchers, that we can have lawyers in every voting precinct necessary across this country.”

Whatley added to this a bit later, noting that the party has filed lawsuits meant to provide more favorable terrain for his party during the election.

Plus, he said, “we are recruiting and training tens of thousands of observers, and we’re recruiting and training thousands of attorneys to make sure that we are in the room whenever a vote is being cast and a vote is being counted.”

Whatley’s argument about election lawsuits does make some sense for his party. If Republicans can cut off avenues that make it easier for Democratic votes, it is of benefit to Trump, however detrimental to lowercase-D democracy.

This thing about having so many poll watchers and lawyers, though, is it’s just an obvious waste of time and money — with one exception, which we’ll get to. There is no evidence that there was any rampant in-person fraud in 2020 of the sort that having poll watchers would ostensibly curtail. Trump generally doesn’t even claim that there was! His rhetoric and, by extension, his supporters focused heavily on whether observers could watch vote-counting in the hours after polls closed in 2020, often ignoring that the party already had eyes in place to observe what was an objectively unremarkable process.

But the exception here is that comment from Whatley about being “in the room whenever a vote is being cast.” His party was barred from poll-watching for decades under a consent decree reached after the GOP engaged in voter-intimidation efforts during the 1981 gubernatorial election in New Jersey. If you get pro-Trump people in the room who challenge legitimate voters or deter them from wanting to vote in the first place? Again: a loss for democracy and, potentially, for Democrats.

“What we want are fair, accurate, secure and transparent elections,” Whatley said later, “and when we have it, then we’re going to protect the sanctity of that ballot. We’re going to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Trump chimed in a bit later to encourage people to sign up to serve at polling stations. When I submitted my email on Monday morning, I received a response that was somewhat tangential to the mission articulated by Lara Trump on Bartiromo’s show.

“Make no mistake, your support and dedication are so important to our ongoing fight as Democrats continue to peddle lies about election laws,” it read. “You are now part of the team that will hold these Democrats accountable.”

The fight isn’t against fraud, in this formulation. It’s about “lies about election laws.” Perhaps someone at the RNC still has some qualms about alleging that rampant fraud occurs in American elections. Or perhaps the language hasn’t yet been updated for the Trump-Whatley era.

It’s unclear whether Bartiromo heard what she felt she needed to assuage her concerns about electoral sanctity — concerns that, again, are baseless and exist largely as a derivation of Trump’s insecurity about his 2020 loss. It is already hard to cheat in American elections, so the GOP’s legal efforts are heavily focused on making it harder, not easier, for some voters to vote.

The segment concluded with Bartiromo raising another issue central to her view of American politics.

“Will the press be ready,” she asked her guests, “if, for the third election in a row, our national security state meddles” in the election?

Bartiromo, an executive at her employer once warned, has Republican conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message sometimes. And sometimes, it seems fair to assume, she just repeats that sort of rhetoric of her own volition because she believes it.

After 2020, the cost of her (and her colleagues’) doing so was incurred by Fox, which settled a lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million. The costs now will be borne by Republican donors.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post