Although it may seem early, the race to the White House will soon be in full swing. Tomorrow night, Fox News will host the first Republican presidential primary debate, where candidates who met the Republican National Committee imposed requirements will take the stage.
Though almost every major GOP candidate for president will be on stage, there will be one glaring absence: Former President Donald Trump. Trump announced he would forgo the debate, instead opting to pre-tape an interview with conservative ally Tucker Carlson, which will air at the same time as the debate.
For many voters, it will be the first time they hear from the candidates directly on the most important issues of the day. While we will be keeping an eye out for any and all comments relating to voting rights and democracy, the GOP candidates have already produced a stark record that makes their stances on the matters quite clear.
Former President Donald Trump
Trump undoubtedly stands alone in his attacks on democracy and voting rights. He was the architect of an unprecedented effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, one that sought to silence the voices of more than 80 million Americans. As part of the effort, Trump and his allies filed over 60 frivolous lawsuits seeking to keep the former president in office, all but one of which he lost. Unfortunately, his rhetoric and legal challenges did more than take up time and resources. The moves ultimately led to the violent, and deadly, Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Although Trump’s election commentary after the 2020 election are the most inflammatory, claims of election rigging were nothing new for the former president. He claimed the 2012 election was rigged for then-President Barack Obama and similarly falsely asserted that millions of immigrants illegally voted in the 2016 election, even forming a nonsensical commission to investigate his claims. Trump now faces two criminal indictments and dozens of felony charges relating to his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden. Making matters even worse, his baseless claims of a rigged election have prompted Republican-led state legislatures and governors throughout the country to launch an all out assault on voting that have only furthered his anti-democratic legacy.
Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump’s tune remarkably hasn’t changed. He has doubled down on his voter fraud rhetoric, calling for voting to happen only on Election Day, and only on paper ballots. Additionally, Trump has made election fraud a continued part of his 2024 campaign and suggested that his recent indictments were a way for the 2024 election to be rigged against him.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Aside from Trump, there is arguably no candidate who has been more hostile to democracy and voting rights than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). As governor, his assault on voters in his state has been one of the most egregious campaigns in the country. He has signed five major election bills into law that make voting harder, multiple of which have been challenged in court.
Some of the dangerous provisions in the laws include restrictions on mail-in voting, a ban on the use of private money for election administration, an attack on rights restoration and limitations on who can provide food and water to voters waiting in line to vote. As if limiting the voting process itself isn’t enough, DeSantis also spearheaded an extreme gerrymandering effort that directly harmed Black voters in the state, ultimately eliminating a Black-performing district with a decades long history of Black representation in Congress.
Despite Trump being his main opponent, the Florida governor has continued to walk a tightrope on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. After refusing for over two years to fully acknowledge the result, DeSantis made a somewhat vague comment earlier this month admitting that Trump lost and Biden is the president. However, he had no issue campaigning for a slew of GOP candidates who did claim the election was rigged, and has continuously downplayed the Jan 6. insurrection, describing the assault on our democracy as simply a “protest.”
An entrepreneur from Ohio, Vivek Ramaswamy is a totally new face in U.S. politics, yet it hasn’t taken him long for him to make abundantly clear where he stands on voting rights. In fact, the longshot candidate has some of the most extreme anti-voting stances in the field. He’s become infamous for his proposal to raise the voting age requirement to 25 (with a few exceptions), a move that would disenfranchise tens of millions of voters. He also called for voting to be done only on Election Day, a needless and unprecedented move sure to make voting much more difficult.
Read on to learn about the current Republican presidential candidates and where they stand on the 2020 election, voting rights and democracy.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
On Jan. 6, 2021, then Vice President Mike Pence fulfilled his constitutional duty and certified the electoral votes for president and vice president, rebuffing Trump’s ask of him to overturn the election. But let’s be clear, Mike Pence is no hero for democracy, nor for voting rights. For months following the 2020 election, Pence went along with Trump’s false claims about election fraud, refusing to call them out for being totally fabricated. Even after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Pence wrongly claimed that there were “significant voting irregularities” and “numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law” in the 2020 election.
Shockingly, despite Trump’s attacks on Pence and the life threatening danger the former vice president faced on Jan. 6, he has downplayed the insurrection, comparing it to Democrats’ attempts to change Senate filibuster rules and saying the media focuses on the day to “demean Trump supporters.”
The 2020 election wasn’t the only time Pence gave credence to dangerous election denialism. He chaired a Trump-initiated commission that was tasked with investigating Trump’s ridiculous claims that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election. Beyond that, Pence wrote an op-ed attacking the For the People Act with a slew of false statements about the historic pro-voting legislation. In the opinion piece, he also made clear that he opposed common sense measures like universal mail-in voting, early voting, same-day registration and community ballot collection.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley is a prototypical anti-voting Republican. As South Carolina governor, Haley signed a photo ID law so egregious that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — for the first time since 1994 — temporarily blocked the law for its discriminatory impact on minority voters. Furious that her attempt at voter suppression had been blocked, she filed a lawsuit defending the law and calling the DOJ’s decision “outrageous.”
Beyond her stint as governor, she supported a commission that endorsed national photo ID laws, bans on private election administration funding and stringent signature matching procedures. And she even supported an omnibus voter suppression law in Georgia that makes it a crime to distribute food and water to voters waiting in line.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
On voting rights, Scott is a classic Republican vote suppressor. He voted against both hallmark pieces of pro-voting legislation last Congress: the For the People Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. In a Fox News op-ed discussing the For the People Act, he claimed that the historic voting rights legislation would somehow make voting harder, invite fraud and destroy America’s confidence in elections. In reality, the bill would have done just the opposite.
Scott has taken a path similar to Pence on election denialism, refusing to claim the 2020 election was outright rigged, but more than willing to indulge Trump’s false claims about the election. Scott introduced a bill to establish an “election integrity commission” to investigate the results, a move that only exacerbated unfounded concerns about the election’s security. Scott also refused to hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection that was a direct result of Trump’s false claims, going so far as to defend Trump as being the “one person” Scott didn’t blame for the insurrection.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
While Christie lacks the election denialism that most other GOP candidates bring to the table, he has a consistently negative record on voting rights. As governor of New Jersey, he vetoed multiple pro-voting bills including: a bill that sought to abolish prison gerrymandering within the state, legislation that would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections, comprehensive election reform that would have made voting easier and a bill that would have expanded early voting. He even fear-mongered about supposed voter fraud that would arise from a bill, which he vetoed, that would have automatically registered voters when they renewed or attained a driver’s license.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
Billionaire-turned-governor of North Dakota Doug Burgum is the one of least known names in this list, and his voting rights record is accordingly relatively sparse. However, for the record he does have, there are no positives. As governor, Burgum signed a voter suppression law that, among other consequences, disenfranchised over 7,000 tribal residents, which his state later lost a lawsuit over. The governor also enacted legislation that required signature matching for absentee ballots. Like other candidates unwilling to confront Trump, Burgum has refused to discuss Trump’s indictments surrounding his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
While Hutchinson is a major Trump critic who has avoided election denialism, he has a clear cut history as a vote suppressor. In 2021, Hutchinson allowed four voter suppression bills to become law, all of which were so extreme they were later struck down in court. The former governor has also supported bans on private funding for election administration and a rule to make it harder for citizen-led ballot initiatives to succeed.
The debate is expected to kick off in Milwaukee, Wisconsin tomorrow at 9 p.m. EDT, and will last roughly two hours. It will air exclusively on Fox News and be moderated by Bret Bair and Martha MacCallum.