Political journalists at the national level have spent a good portion of the last few weeks chronicling how fractured the Democratic Party supposedly is. But as Jim Brunner’s reporting reminds us today, the Republican Party has some pretty serious divisions of its own, including here in the Pacific Northwest.
Loren Culp lost Washington’s gubernatorial race by more than 545,000 votes, but he’s not conceding — and says he’s not going away.
Culp, the Republican who took 43% of the statewide vote against Gov. Jay Inslee, has taken a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook by attempting to sow doubts about the election results and lobbing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
In recent days, he and his campaign manager, Chris Gergen, also have turned their anger on top Washington Republicans, including Secretary of State Kim Wyman and state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox.
Culp does not need to concede for Jay Inslee to begin a third term, as concessions don’t have any legal significance. But in a country and state with free and fair elections, concessions are a noble tradition that have served us well. It is customary, in a concession, for the losing candidate to acknowledge defeat and wish the winner well. Occasionally, losing candidates will offer to help the winning candidate with their transition into office, especially if they currently hold it.
Culp has no interest in upholding such traditions. He expected to win, even though all the polling showed that he wouldn’t (including ours). Having never led in a single vote count, or been anywhere close to a lead, he has been angrily alleging, without a shred of evidence, that the election was rigged and improper.
Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman — who did prevail in her reelection campaign over NPI’s Gael Tarleton — has continually asked Culp’s camp to produce evidence of the “irregularities” they keep saying exist, or else shut up, but Culp and his people have done neither. Like the Trump family and its enablers, they’d rather just making sweeping allegations in the court of public opinion, where no proof is required to be taken seriously, unlike in a court of law.
Angry that Wyman is not siding with them, Culp’s people have lashed out at her and her staff, accusing her of treachery to the Republican Party, which is really now the Trump Party. Washington State Republican Chair Caleb Heimlich has not surprisingly taken Wyman’s side, calling her “a nationally respected elections administrator who prioritizes the fairness and security of our elections.”
Culp’s campaign manager has also vowed vengeance against State Representative J.T. Wilcox, the leader of the House Republican caucus.
“I will make sure you are unseated, because you wanted to run your mouth in front of the caucus and throw my guy under the bus. It’s a debt you’ve created and it’s a debt you are going to pay,” Gergen said in a video posted to Facebook.
Wilcox represents a safe Republican district, is well liked by his colleagues (he was reelected without opposition to his caucus leadership position this week), and is respected across the political spectrum as someone who believes in dialogue and looking for opportunities to cooperate on issues. He isn’t going anywhere.
It is Gergen who is running his mouth. Repeatedly.
But there’s a reason for that.
Culp and Gergen know they’ll get a sympathetic hearing on right wing talk radio and that their unfounded claims will be dutifully picked up by media outlets committed to objectivity. Following in Trump’s bad example, they are spreading poison as fast and as furiously as they can, out of the belief that attacking democracy itself is good politics that will benefit them now and down the road.
Our current objective reporting model (tell both sides of the story and let the readers draw their own conclusions) does not serve democracy well against foes like Loren Culp, Tim Eyman, or Donald Trump. Especially in the polarized, hyperconnected environment we are in. Bad actors know that objective media can be manipulated to serve their purposes, legitimizing misinformation and disinformation. Culp wins — and democracy loses — just by having his position taken seriously and reported upon by news organizations.
Loren Culp’s allegations and statements are ludicrous. If they are to be discussed at all, then it should be a context where they are commented upon as being ludicrous — including by the person doing the writing, as I’m doing with this post.
All of the public opinion research conducted before the election suggested Jay Inslee would win big, and that’s exactly what happened. We had a well run election in which more than eight out every ten registered voters participated.
None of Culp’s supporters have demonstrated that any “noncitizens” voted, or that anyone voted twice. Nevertheless, they are asking people to donate money so that the imaginary “irregularities” they say exist can be investigated.
This sounds to me like a Tim Eyman style gambit to keep their campaign running well into the future, as some kind of continuing political committee. I doubt any of the money donated will actually be used for the stated purpose.
But Gergen and Culp will personally benefit.
Eyman, who is currently on trial for serious public disclosure law violations, has made preying on the gullible a career. Loren Culp’s occupation before running for governor was police officer, but now that the town of Republic has eliminated his job due to worsening finances, it looks like Culp could be following in Eyman’s footsteps, and becoming a full time right wing agitator and provocateur.