Why do so many Americans think the election was stolen?

What’s happened in the past month with our open-minded normie, though, is that this openness has been validated by the president of the United States and his retainers in a way that other forms of conspiracy curiosity are not. There is a longstanding pattern in both political parties of gently encouraging conspiracizing. (The Diebold-stole-Ohio theories in 2004 were given oxygen by prominent congressional Democrats; MSNBC’s Russiagate coverage was not exactly cautious in the theories that it entertained.) But Trump is obviously different — higher-profile and more radical. He’s a president, not a cable-TV host or a congressman, and he’s shouting allegations, any allegations, with no pussyfooting, hedging or deniability involved.

If you are biased against conspiracy theories, this shouting is ridiculous. If you’re somewhat open toward them, though, and somewhat right-of-center, it provides encouragement. It’s not that the curious normie listens to Trump and thinks that everything he says is true. It’s that Trump is providing validation for the belief that something might be true, that where there are so many claims of fraud a few might be accurate, that where there’s so much smoke there might be a blaze or two as well.

Of course there are also lots of pure Trump loyalists who trust his claims absolutely, and a certain number of QAnon-type fantasists who embrace any theory no matter how baroque. But the voter-fraud narrative is pervasive on the right because you don’t have to be a loyalist or a fantasist to take something from Trump’s rants — not belief itself, but the permission to believe.