So Close Yet Shofar
Republicans are deep into the recriminations phase of their post-midterms reckoning. Pundits are gnashing their teeth, GOP congressional leaders are watching their backs, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are squabbling as they position themselves for 2024, and they’re all trying to place the blame for the defeat of the candidates Trump endorsed and failure of the expected red wave to materialize.
What do the midterm results mean for the future of MAGA? It’s still too early to say. The movement took a beating at the ballot box last week—but of course electoral defeats have long been a hallmark of MAGA. It’s worth keeping a close eye on the reaction of the diehard MAGA candidates and supporters, because how they cope with the 2022 election results may be a harbinger of what’s to come.
Unfortunately, the MAGA reaction so far feels eerily familiar. In the MAGA hotbed of Maricopa County, Arizona, for example, there are echoes of January 6th. We’re not seeing a mob storming the vote-counting centers, but that’s because the police presence is heavy there and the consequences are clear. Yet the MAGA movement is still out in force.
To begin with, even as the vote count continues, Republican officials from former President Trump downwards have been claiming electoral fraud. Trump took aim at Arizona (as well as Nevada and other jurisdictions), calling out, “Do Election over again!” on his social media platform. Blake Masters said he would not concede the election, despite the press having determined that he lost his Senate race to Democrat Mark Kelly, until “every legal vote is counted.” GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has repeatedly railed against the electoral process, saying on Tucker Carlson’s show on Friday,
We’ve had such terrible elections. They’re run poorly. They’re ripe [sic] with fraud. . . . Our elected officials tell us if we dare bring it up we’re conspiracy theorists, we’re election deniers. Darn it, we’ve got to start bringing this up.
If this all sounds familiar, it should—this is a standard part of the MAGA playbook: If we do not win, the election is fraudulent, except for the parts of it we won. This was the essence of Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election, which directly led to January 6th; similar beliefs remain widespread in the GOP. The so-called “Kari Lake War Room,” a Twitter account that claims to be the official campaign Twitter account for Lake and has 115,000 followers, tweeted out on Friday:
We won this election on Election night.
Everything after was narrative.
They didn't want @KariLake to have her victory speech.
They want you to think this isn't a movement. They are very wrong.
When this victory comes, we're going to celebrate.
Then Kari is going to lead. pic.twitter.com/NHf5JpcEhV
— Kari Lake War Room (@KariLakeWarRoom) November 11, 2022
Again, it’s a call to ignore the full results of the election and to claim that everything that happened outside of same-day vote counting is fraud.
Meanwhile, outside the vote-counting centers, protesters have been gathering, calling the electoral counters and the sheriff’s deputies guarding them traitors. This is not separate from the election itself. Mark Finchem, the GOP candidate for secretary of state, who is QAnon affiliated, a Big Lie proponent, an Oath Keeper, and a January 6th participant, called in mid-October for people to watch ballot dropboxes—which immediately resulted in armed groups showing up to watch dropboxes, including an Oath Keepers-affiliated group and a QAnon-affiliated one. All this has continued into the post-election period. The groups protesting don’t have clear affiliations but there have been calls for more of them to show up, including from Wendy Rogers, the far-right state senator:
PATRIOTS RISE UP to RALLY tomorrow SATURDAY NOON at the Maricopa County Elections office (510 S. 3rd Ave. Phoenix) to pray for the Light to shine in the darkness and for His truth to be revealed! @KariLake @bgmasters @AbrahamHamadeh @RealMarkFinchem @BenBergquam pic.twitter.com/JXJm5bBQDy
— Wendy Rogers (@WendyRogersAZ) November 12, 2022
In response to Rogers’s call, a small group of protesters showed up. Vice’s Tess Owens took photos of the rally, which included at least one visible Boogaloo Boi and a member of the Texas-based American Reformation Front, which Talia Jane so aptly described as a christofascist off-brand Patriot Front. Maybe a hundred people gathered there over the weekend, because, as Tess Owen pointed out, the count is ongoing and Kari Lake’s supporters do not believe she’s lost.
But the gathering turned into something much more interesting, and much more clearly reminiscent of January 6th: The rally Wendy Rogers called for engaged in a “Jericho March.” You may remember the organization named Jericho March and its role in laying the groundwork for the January 6th insurrection. As God instructed the Israelites to walk seven times around Jericho and blow the shofar (horn) so that the walls would fall and everyone within the city would be slaughtered in God’s name, so believers have taken up the mantle of spiritual warfare and continued Jericho Marches in Maricopa County. The target that they are currently circling, which holds their enemies, is the center in which votes are being counted.
None of this should be surprising—considering that the Arizona GOP’s candidates, including Lake and Masters, were among the most extreme—even out of the already extreme batch of Republican candidates in this cycle. And who could forget the time the Arizona GOP asked its followers if they’d be willing to die to get the 2020 election overturned by Trump? While parts of the GOP have used their midterm-defeat to take a break from election denial and have mostly accepted the results, Masters and Lake remain all in.
A major reason MAGA is unlikely to just dissipate with electoral loss is that for many true believers it is linked to beliefs—religious and/or conspiratorial—that run far deeper than politics.
Some GOP figures had longstanding ties to charismatic and prophetic movements, although their influence was considered marginal. (Rick Perry, for example.) Donald Trump changed this, author Sarah Posner tells the Washington Post: “He made all of these B-listers and C-listers, he turned them into celebrities, hosting events at the White House where they’d sing songs and speak in tongues. These changes in the charismatic world are becoming mainstreamed in evangelicalism.” In the leadup to the midterms, Lance Wallnau, a self-declared prophet and one of the most prominent faces of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), campaigned for Republicans all over the country. Kari Lake has appeared on stage with Christian singer Sean Feucht, a diehard dominionist and associate of Wallnau’s. She has cozied up to militia members and once tweeted a clear threat to any counterprotesters to one of Feucht’s concerts: “If you mess with them or our 1st amendment right to worship God—you’ll meet Jesus one way or another.”
Again, it is very unlikely that Kari Lake’s supporters will try to storm the Maricopa ballot center. But their ideology isn’t far from the one that drove people to march around the Capitol in the weeks before January 6th and then to attack it: the belief that not just humans but institutions can be possessed by evil spirits, by demons and powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12)—and that they have to be cleansed, purged, defeated by righteous Christians in the cosmic battle between good and evil. It is ultimately a totalizing—totalitarian, even—belief system that allows for no nuance, that only knows friend or mortal foe. And, crucially, while this kind of belief can wane for any number of reasons, it has never been swayed by defeat at the ballot box. Rather, it takes defeats and twists them into stories of heroic martyrdom, of promises of revenge and retribution.
The 2022 midterms may have a real impact on funding for candidates like these, or on pundits’ reactions or endorsements. That would be great. But the MAGA ideology—the Big Lie, some form of Christian nationalism, a disdain for democracy, a belief that “patriots” can and should intervene in elections when they don’t go their way—hasn’t, and won’t, disappear so easily.