False election claims rise to the fore as Trump endorses Bolduc in N.H. Senate race
Former President Donald Trump waded into New Hampshire's tight race for U.S. Senate Monday, endorsing Republican candidate Don Bolduc. In his endorsement, issued on his own social media platform TruthSocial, Trump focused on one issue in particular: Bolduc's record of repeating false claims of widespread voter fraud.
NHPR’s Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers spoke with All Things Considered Host Julia Furukawa about the endorsement and the way that election denialism has been a factor in this year's U.S. Senate race.
Julia Furukawa: So, Josh: Trump's endorsement is maybe not a shock. Bolduc has been a big Trump supporter, and Trump had previously praised him. But can you tell us exactly how Trump phrased his endorsement today?
Josh Rogers: Well, the former president referred to Don Bolduc as a strong and proud, quote, “election denier” and said that that was a big reason Bolduc had won the Republican nomination. Trump also noted that Bolduc later disavowed his election denialist position, but, quote, “has since come back, at least on busing. But that's only a small part of New Hampshire election fraud. Nevertheless, Don Bolduc has asked for my endorsement, and he's got it complete and total.” That was what former President Trump said.
Julia Furukawa: Alright. Lots to impact there. Can you walk us through, Josh?
Josh Rogers: I will try. Don Bolduc has been an election denier. And to be clear, there is no evidence that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. But during the Republican primary, Bolduc repeatedly embraced that false claim.
But the day after the primary, Bolduc abruptly shifted course. In an interview on Fox News, he said he believed President Biden was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, and he explained his change by saying people “live and learn.” And he said he'd done lots of research on this and spent the past couple of weeks talking to Granite Staters from every party and that he'd come to the conclusion and quote, “I want to be definitive about this, that this election was not stolen.”
So, that was Don Bolduc, Sept. 15th. Since then, he’s said different things at different times. He said he “wasn't sure” about 2020. That was in Hudson on October 3rd. Other times, Bolduc has affirmed the view that Biden won, though he said there were irregularities and fraud, and he said he believed “they could be proven, even in this state.”
Julia Furukawa: So that's Bolduc on election denialism. And then the reference to busing in Trump's endorsement?
Josh Rogers: ”Busing” is a reference to what Don Bolduc said during the debate we held on NHPR last week. Bolduc introduced the idea while answering a question I had posed to him. He said, “We need to make sure that school buses full of people don't come in at the polls and vote.” I pressed him on this claim.
Josh Rogers: “Just to be clear, you're saying, you're claiming that buses full of voters who are not permitted to vote here -- you're claiming that that happens in New Hampshire?”
Don Bolduc: “I am claiming that that is what Granite Staters tell me. And I am saying we need to respond to that.”
Josh Rogers: “Don’t you think you need to verify that information before…”
Don Bolduc: “We need to verify it. That's what I just said. Can you listen to me here for a second? I am saying that this is what Granite Staters are telling me, and I think it's valid, and I believe in it.”
So Bolduc was saying he was hearing this from voters, and that he believes what he's hearing, that buses are somehow coming into the state on Election Day full of voters who end up casting fraudulent ballots. And to reiterate, there's no evidence of that.
Julia Furukawa: But this claim: we've heard it before. It has a history in New Hampshire politics, right?
Josh Rogers: It certainly does. The notion of buses rolling up from Massachusetts, that's something that some conservatives have invoked during campaign season for years. I feel like I've heard it in some form for as long as I've been covering politics here: two decades-plus. Conservative activists might mention buses during a State House debate over tightening voter laws. It's also regularly invoked on talk radio. Claimants would sometimes point to New Hampshire’s same-day registration and, until 2012, New Hampshire's lack of a voter ID requirement. And while a small percentage of Republicans may have truly claimed this was actually going on, I think it's fair to say it mostly wasn't taken seriously.
Claims of illegal buses have been brought to the attorney general's office several times and several election cycles through the years. They were investigated and never found to be valid. And that's kind of where things stood on this until Chris Sununu, then a first-time candidate for governor, accused Democrats of, quote, “busing them in all over the place” during an appearance on a conservative talk radio show. That claim took place Oct. 31, 2016. So six years ago today. A day after that claim, when challenged, Sununu reversed course and called it “more a figure of speech” than a specific factual claim.
But Donald Trump picked up on it and used it as an explanation for his loss to Hillary. Clinton in New Hampshire's 2016 general election. And so it's been out there in the right-wing ecosystem for years. So the fact that conspiracy minded voters and Don Bolduc have resuscitated it really isn't that surprising.
Julia Furukawa: But Josh, why, one week out from Election Day, is this part of the conversation?
Josh Rogers: I think it's because Don Bolduc said it as voters are really paying attention and trying to make their final decisions. And it's also not the only conspiracy-driven claim Bolduc has made during this race's final stretch.
Several times in recent campaign appearances, and at least one radio interview, Don Bolduc invoked an internet hoax: that some schools are now allowing children to identify as cats and to use litter boxes. Don Bolduc said, quote, “I wish I were making this up” at one point last week.
This is a hoax. It has been invoked by other Republicans running for office and it's been debunked multiple times. When CNN wrote about this, Pinkerton Academy in Derry, which was one school that Don Bolduc was allegedly referring to, the school actually took to Twitter to say that Bolduc had made false claims about the school and tweeted that we, quote, “want to assure our community that Mr. Bolduc’s statements are entirely untrue. And we invite all political candidates to speak with members of our administration or visit our campus so they can inform themselves about our school before making claims about what occurs here.”
Julia Furukawa: Sounds like reasonable advice.
Josh Rogers: It does.