A sign of the times: GOP candidates reject primary defeats, too

A couple of months ago, Ryan Kelley, a far-right estate agent, was arrested and charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. That wouldn’t have been especially notable, except the Michigan Republican was also running for governor.

In the immediate aftermath of his arrest, Kelley’s public profile received a boost, and one poll showed him narrowly leading the crowded GOP field. That said, his campaign ultimately faltered and in this week’s gubernatorial primary, Kelley finished fourth out of five candidates.

At least, that’s what the actual vote tallies show. As The Detroit News reported, the failed candidate isn’t conceding and didn’t appear ready to accept the results.

Real estate broker Ryan Kelley, who finished in fourth place in Michigan’s GOP primary race for governor and was 25 percentage points behind the winner, Tudor Dixon, was the first candidate to question the results. The Allendale man posted a statement at about 1:24 a.m. on some of his social media platforms. Then, at about 5 a.m., he released the same message on his official Facebook page.

Kelley described the primary results as a “predetermined outcome,” and called his party’s nominee the “predetermined winner.” He called on the state GOP to support “a publicly supervised hand recount to uphold election integrity.”

This comes a week after election officials in Michigan expressed concerns that conspiracy theories might lead some local Republican canvassers to refuse to certify primary results.

At first blush, it might be tempting to scoff at occasional sore losers, but the larger pattern is more discouraging. Much of the GOP started by embracing Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 race, and Republicans are now applying those conspiratorial principles to other races — including their own.

NPR recently highlighted the crop of GOP candidates “who insist they won their elections, facts be damned.”

While Trump has most notably spent the last 18 months denying his 2020 election defeat, despite clear evidence he lost, he’s not the only one. During this election cycle, candidates across the country have refused to concede — even in races that are not remotely close.

It’d be an overstatement to suggest most Republicans are responding to primary defeats by pushing made-up fraud allegations, but the list of such GOP candidates isn’t short, and it is growing.

The Associated Press recently published a round-up of these losing candidates, highlighting primary races in Colorado, Nevada, and South Carolina. Axios found related instances in Florida and Georgia.

In some cases, losing Republican candidates simply whine about fraud that they can’t prove, but in other instances, the GOP candidates who fell far short have pushed for recounts and even filed lawsuits based on their theories.

None of this is healthy. Democracies work when candidates and parties accept legitimate results, win or lose. When much of one party, fueled by absurd lies, decides to only accept elections when Americans vote the way they like, it erodes the entire system.

It also helps set the stage for more Republicans rejecting the legitimacy of other elections — including the 2022 and 2024 general elections.