Through the Looking-Glass, and the Election Fraud the Iowa GOP Found There

Photo illustration by Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

The Electoral College is set to convene Monday to make Joe Biden’s victory official, but even this inevitability hasn’t stopped Iowa Republican leaders from continuing to act like Donald Trump’s resounding defeat may still be reversed. Nor have the more than 50 failed lawsuits the president and his allies have filed, which were riddled with basic errors and unfounded conspiracy theories.

If anything, the Iowa GOP has only dug its heels in deeper, reinforcing the myriad delusions of voters who handed Trump an eight-point victory in the state. In a predictably feckless admission Thursday, Governor Kim Reynolds said she would have joined 18 other red states, if given the chance, in supporting a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to overturn presidential election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — states Biden won by margins ranging from 11,779 to 154,188 votes.

But Iowa’s attorney general, Tom Miller, is a Democrat. In her statement Thursday, Reynolds said she denied a request from Miller to join an amicus brief in support of the defendants, who derided the suit as a “seditious abuse of the judicial process,” legally invalid, and factually baseless. “As I have said all along, President Trump, his campaign, and supporters have every right to pursue lawful, legal actions in the courts,” Reynolds added. “The American people deserve a fair and transparent election.”

The New York Times described the suit, which was rejected Friday evening by a Supreme Court majority including all three justices appointed by Trump, as “the most coordinated, politicized attempt to overturn the will of the voters in recent American history.” Republican leaders here, seemingly confident in the belief that Iowans won’t notice or care about their farcical hypocrisy, are using similar language to attack Democrat Rita Hart for contesting the results of the election she lost by six votes to Mariannette Miller-Meeks — the state’s closest congressional race in over 100 years (and the nation’s closest since 1984). The Iowa GOP’s cartoonish chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, has tried to draw a distinction between that result and Biden’s wide victories by arguing that Hart is attempting to have Nancy Pelosi steal the election for her by appealing to the US House instead of exhausting her options in court. Never mind that a Republican in Hart’s position likely would have chosen the same route due to a constraint in Iowa law that may have prevented enough time for a full review. “This is a slap in the face to every Iowan who cast their votes in this election” and a “new low in Iowa political integrity,” Kaufmann bellowed theatrically in a pair of tweets the same day.

Less than a month since Trump supporters descended on the state Capitol grounds chanting, “Stop the steal!” (and just days after a man whose motive has yet to be explained was charged with attempted murder for shooting a teenager near another Trump rally at the same location), other Iowa Republicans are still going even further in ignoring the reality that the president lost.

Disgraced white supremacist Steve King, a Trump fanboy who fell down the rabbit hole of far-right misinformation years ago (as the Informer has covered in great depth), has been spending his final weeks as a congressman complaining about how the election was stolen. On Friday, he decried a “hit piece” published by the conservative National Review mocking the now-rejected Texas lawsuit as “absurd,” tweeting, “If even one state defrauds its voters & flips the presidential election & the will of We the People, then what is the remedy if not SCOTUS?” King was one of 106 House Republicans who joined an amicus brief in support of the suit.

King’s soon-to-be successor, Randy Feenstra, is usually savvy enough not to say the quiet parts out loud. But he came close on Thursday, when he implied that Trump wasn’t cheated out of a win in Iowa because the state’s voter ID law prevented election fraud. “This ensures safe and secure elections,” he tweeted. “This is what the President is fighting for. We need Voter ID across the country to ensure the integrity of our elections. Faith in our electoral process is fundamental to our republic.”

In reality, there’s no evidence that the state’s voter ID law had anything to do with Trump’s 138,611-vote margin of victory here. And among the four states targeted in the Texas AG’s bogus lawsuit that was tossed out by the Supreme Court Friday evening, Georgia and Wisconsin have two of the strictest voter ID laws in the country.

A tweet from September 23 that’s still pinned to the top of Feenstra’s Twitter profile displays a tweet from Trump himself showcasing the president’s “Complete and Total Endorsement” of the congressional candidate. “Together we will deliver,” Feenstra added.

Republican Ashley Hinson, who defeated incumbent Democrat Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, also endorsed the Texas lawsuit as a “values statement” in an uncritical interview with fledgling right-wing news site The Iowa Torch. Hinson said Trump “deserved re-election” and, like Feenstra, suggested that Iowa’s voter ID law helped to reduce people’s “lack of trust in the election system right now.”

She then falsely portrayed the political divisions exacerbated by the president’s baseless allegations of election fraud as the result of overly permissive voting laws. “What’s happening across the country right now is, in my mind, neither acceptable or sustainable for our country going forward,” she said. “So that’s a real problem. And I think, to say the least, this election cycle was chaotic [and it] took weeks for votes to be counted.”

The site’s credulous editor, Shane Vander Hart, added, “Hinson said that people she spoke with on both sides of the aisle want to make sure their vote is counted and that illegal votes are not counted.” He neglected to inform readers that the delayed counts were purposefully allowed by Republican legislatures in states including lawsuit-defendant Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that refused to update outdated election laws.

Eric Branstad, the son of former Governor Terry Branstad who served as a senior advisor for Trump’s re-election campaign in Iowa, has also spread blatant misinformation about the outcome. He shared a tweet from a managing partner at the right-wing, Minneapolis-based PR firm Arsenal Media Group that compared the number of absentee ballots cast in the Pennsylvania primary to those cast in the general election to falsely allege Trump lost the state as a result of 700,000 fraudulent votes. He also retweeted a suggestion from Maryland congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik, who claimed her opponent cheated after she was blown out by a 44-point margin, that the election was neither “free” nor “fair.” (Eric Branstad locked down his Twitter account after we drew attention to his tweets.)

His father, an early booster of Trump who stepped down from his role as ambassador to China so he could return to Iowa before the election to campaign for Republican candidates, has been less inept. But Terry Branstad, too, has stepped through the looking-glass. On Wednesday — while the president flooded his Twitter profile with wild allegations like “RIGGED ELECTION!” and “There is massive evidence of widespread fraud in the four states (plus) mentioned in the Texas suit. Just look at all of the tapes and affidavits!” — The Des Moines Register published a column by the former governor that echoed Kaufmann’s complaints about Hart taking her election challenge to Congress.

“All Iowans, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, should reject Rita Hart’s political power move,” concluded Branstad, whose departure to China installed Reynolds as governor in 2017. “She should accept defeat, and, if she wishes, run again in two years. That is what Iowans deserve.”

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.