Republicans are right, democracy is rigged. But they benefit.

The Republican party is deeply committed to the outrageously tilted playing field that allows a minority of voters to choose a majority of senators and, indirectly, a majority of supreme court justices, not to mention the occasional president as in 2000 and 2016. They are an unabashedly anti-democratic party in that sense alone, even if we set aside their brazen efforts at voter suppression and voter intimidation. This is perhaps the main reason why its leaders have proved so reluctant to dissociate themselves from Trump’s specious allegation that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged”. They know that the system is rigged. It is rigged to favor Republicans. And they relish not only the irony of Trump’s audacious reversal of the truth, but also the way it distracts attention from the genuinely unconscionable rigging that gives an American minority the power to impose its will on the American majority.

Republican officials are slowly distancing themselves from the embarrassingly delusional president’s refusal to accept the reality of his defeat. But the fact that it is taking them so long reflects a deep truth about the country’s politics, namely that Americans are still fighting the civil war. When Trump and his madcap surrogates cry “voter fraud”, they do not mean fraud in the technical sense of ballot stuffing or the miscounting of legal votes. What they mean is that Democrats have debased the composition of the electorate by making it easier for African Americans in Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the most reliably Democratic voters in the country, to register and vote. Trump would have been elected in a landslide, they imply, if only “real Americans”, meaning exactly who you think, had been allowed to vote.