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Shawn Vestal: The Trump ‘fraud’ playbook peters out for Culp

Loren Culp, then Republic’s police chief, is cheered on by supporters during a rally Oct. 2 in Liberty Lake.  (COLIN MULVANY)
Loren Culp, then Republic’s police chief, is cheered on by supporters during a rally Oct. 2 in Liberty Lake. (COLIN MULVANY)

Has Loren Culp conceded yet?

No? Oh, when will our long statewide nightmare end? When will his undermining of Washington’s democracy be done? When will he accept indisputable reality and let the state move forward?

Kidding! JK! As we all know, Culp’s refusal to concede his overwhelming loss in the governor’s race, his unsupported claims that he was the victim of election fraud, and his efforts to co-opt the tantrum tactics of our almost former president has been little but a pale, comic version of the original.

In fact, it may have thankfully petered out altogether – Culp’s campaign Facebook page still refers to a Nov. 25 deadline for raising $50,000 to fight fraud, there have been no recent statements tripling-down on his refusal to concede, and no one with his campaign answered my messages seeking comment.

So his holdout might be over, or it might not.

Either way, it’s a mirage. Either way, in the real world, it’s over.

State officials certified our election results Tuesday, as states are now doing or have done all over the country. With that, the fraud fever dreams and conspiracy theories plaguing our politics will suffer another blow. It doesn’t mean they’ll go away, and the president will certainly never stop, as long as he lives, telling lies about it, but the voter-fraud hoaxes will die and return to the fringes, where they belong.

If there’s anything positive about Culp’s attempt to deny the reality of the election and con people into giving him money to “fight” these “claims,” it’s the fact that it’s refreshingly puny and unserious – a reminder of the good old days.

Culp, the former chief of the one-man Republic Police Department, ran a Trumpy campaign, and he lost a Trumpy loss.

He leaned hard on rallies as a political tactic. He was dismissive of the pandemic and opposed the state’s efforts to limit interactions to stop the spread. He peddled a gothic version of American carnage in the cities. He dismissed the threat of global warming.

He scoffed at the notion of systemic racism, and said he never once encountered racism – never! – in his 10 years of police work. He said we don’t have a national problem with even a few bad apples in even a few police departments – they’re quickly rooted out by the good cops, he asserted.

A political novice, Culp had gained attention for refusing to enforce a gun-safety law that 60% of voters had passed; he turned this into an opportunity to sell a book, “American Cop,” praising himself as a defender of the Constitution. Ted Nugent wrote the foreword.

“I hope that we can move past the statement that because you are ‘law enforcement’ you must enforce the law,” Culp wrote. “Remember Rosa Parks and the millions of Jews who lost their lives due to that thinking. Don’t be that cop.”

This self-aggrandizing twaddle earned Republic’s would-be Rosa Parks positive attention in the circles where people believe the Constitution is meant to be interpreted by conservative police chiefs.

Again and again, Culp proved to be a Trumpier, more extreme Republican than past candidates for statewide office. Culp was no Rob McKenna or Dino Rossi, and it showed on Election Day, when Gov. Jay Inslee defeated him by 14 percentage points – more than half a million votes.

It was a better showing for Culp than you might have expected. But it was still a trouncing.

Culp, of course, didn’t see it that way. Like the Constitution, reality is subject to his interpretation.

He has refused to concede, and made vague, so far completely unsupported claims that he was the victim of “criminals” who perpetrated a widespread fraud, and that this included elections officials across the state. A couple of weeks back – his last surfacing – he urged his followers on Facebook to give him money so he could look into “digital gerrymandering, dark money political contributions, out-of-state voter registration, noncitizen voting, ballot harvesting, mail interference and even dead voters.”

No further word has emerged about his investigation.

In national terms, this ploy is no joke. The lame-duck president has held the country hostage for weeks with baseless claims of fraud, reckless attacks on civil servants and ludicrous lawsuits – while cornering his congressional toadies, like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, into standing back and standing by, selling the final shreds of their integrity for political silver.

It’s a sad, serious problem, and one with ramifications that won’t soon end. A quarter of Americans now believe an absurd fiction about our democracy that will make them less able to be good citizens and understand the factual world.

That’s bad for everybody. Culp’s failed attempt to use the same playbook, on the other hand, offers a slim ray of hope. A sign of the limits of the insanity. He’s been unable to muster an army of support for his claims, unable to draft any crackpot lawyers to stake their reputations on his behalf, unable to get any apparent traction at all.

His claims have remained where they belong – on the fringes, where almost no one takes them seriously.

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