FLASHBACK: What the Left Said About Election Denialism Before Biden Did It

January 25, 2024

For years, the mainstream media have treated Republicans denying election results as an existential threat to American democracy. But the same journalists were unbothered when President Joe Biden suggested during a campaign speech in Virginia on Tuesday that Glenn Youngkin is not the "real governor" of the state.

It fell to Youngkin, a Republican, to correct the record, saying on X, formerly Twitter: "Mr. President, I'm right here."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday waved off Fox News's Peter Doocy's questions about Biden's remark, saying the president had obviously been joking. Her dismissive response drew laughter from the White House press corps.

The media's anti-democracy threat detectors have long appeared to have one setting for Democrats and another for Republicans.

Flashback: Nobody was laughing about GOP denials of President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss to Biden.

Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2020: "Trump’s Refusal To Acknowledge Defeat Mirrors the Lie That Fueled the Nazi Rise."

CNN, Dec. 7, 2020: "Trump's Pandemic Blindness and Election Denial Darken America's Desperate Winter."

Salon, Apr. 11, 2021: "Trump's Big Lie and Hitler's: Is This How America's Slide Into Totalitarianism Begins?":

It is a question I often hear people ask during conversations about the rise of Adolf Hitler: If I had been alive in Germany when the Nazis took power, would I have had the courage to side against them?

Thanks to the 2020 presidential election, there is now a convenient way to answer that query.

New York Times, Sept. 17, 2022: "A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy":

Juan José Linz, a political scientist who died in 2013, coined the term "semi-loyal actors". ... Through their complicity, these semi-loyal actors can cause a party, and a country, to slide toward authoritarianism.

That’s what happened in Europe in the 1930s and in Latin America in the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, it has happened in Hungary. Now there are similar signs in the United States.

New York Times, Oct. 27, 2022: "Lesson Plan: Explore How the Election Denial Movement Threatens Democracy":

In this lesson, we ask students to explore what can happen in a representative democracy when politicians and a significant portion of the electorate systematically question the legitimacy of elections (when their side loses). How serious a threat does the election denial movement pose to a healthy democracy?

NPR, Dec. 23, 2021: "The Clear and Present Danger of Trump's Enduring 'Big Lie'":

What we're potentially looking at, [Yale University historian Timothy] Snyder warns, is nothing less than the end of the democratic United States as we've come to know it.

Associated Press, Nov. 2, 2022: "Biden Implores Voters To Save Democracy From Lies, Violence."

NBC News, Feb. 2, 2023: "Election Officials Say Democracy Is Still at Risk in 2024: 'The Gun is Still Loaded.'"

Atlantic, Aug. 2, 2023: "Trump’s Threat to Democracy Is Now Systemic":

The closest parallel to Trump’s actions, [Princeton historian Sean] Wilentz said, may be the strategies of the slaveholding South in the decades before the Civil War.

Even Republicans who had not denied any elections were characterized as part of the Trumpian threat.

Shortly before Youngkin was elected governor in 2021, both CNN and Reuters described "the fine line" he was supposedly walking by calling the 2020 election "certifiably fair" while advocating election security.

The Associated Press started a report around the same time: "Republican Glenn Youngkin has not talked much lately about President Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud, the insurrection on Jan. 6 or his party’s eroded trust in elections."

"Youngkin and His National Ambitions Straddle the ‘Big Lie’ Divide" blared a Washington Post headline a year later.

Meanwhile, Biden was hardly the first Democrat whom the media gave a pass on election denialism.

New York Times, Apr. 28, 2019: "Why Stacey Abrams is Still Saying She Won."

Trump offers no empirical evidence to meet his claims. I make my claims based on empirical evidence, on a demonstrated pattern of behavior that began with the fact that the person I was dealing with was running the election. If you look at my immediate reaction after the election, I refused to concede. It was largely because I could not prove what had happened, but I knew from the calls that we got that something happened. Now, I cannot say that everybody who tried to cast a ballot would’ve voted for me, but if you look at the totality of the information, it is sufficient to demonstrate that so many people were disenfranchised and disengaged by the very act of the person who won the election that I feel comfortable now saying, "I won."

19th News, Sept. 19, 2022: "Stacey Abrams: It is ‘Wrong’ To Compare Her Refusal to Concede With Trump’s Stolen Election Rhetoric":

Republicans have continued to call Abrams’ actions in 2018 the original "Big Lie." As Abrams runs for Georgia governor again, she wants to be clear she’s here to defend democracy.

CNN, Dec. 3, 2021: "Abrams Defends Lack of Concession After 2018 Gubernatorial Loss":

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams defended herself from criticism that she never conceded her loss to Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018 on Friday, addressing what Republicans have already used against her in her newly announced 2022 rematch against Kemp. ...

Even though Abrams lost her 2018 election, the race vaulted her into the upper echelons of the Democratic Party, landing Abrams as one of the top candidates on Biden’s vice presidential search. In response, Republicans have attacked the way Abrams ended her campaign, using her lack of a concession as a way to blunt criticism against some of the baseless Republican attacks the party made against election systems in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss in 2020.

Nor was it the first time Biden himself got a pass.