Editor's note: This commentary was written prior to Jaime Herrera Beutler’s concession.
As I write this, the race for second place in the Third Congressional District is national news.
Who will represent the Republican Party in the November election?
Will it be incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who infuriated the president and his supporters by voting to impeach him for his provocative actions leading up to Jan. 6 and his inexcusable inaction during the armed attack on the Capitol that he incited?
Or will it be Special Forces veteran and Gold Star widower Joe Kent, a hard-campaigning and staunch America First supporter of former President Donald Trump?
On election night, Herrera Beutler had a small but meaningful lead in the top two primary for the second spot on the November ballot (joining the top vote-getter, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez). Herrera Beutler had 24.48% of the vote to Kent’s 20.11%, with a lead of 4,707 votes.
However, as of Friday morning, with more last-minute ballots being counted, her lead had shrunk to 1,945 votes. Herrera Beutler had 23.26% of the vote to Kent’s 22.03%.
Many of the ballots remaining to be counted are in districts that have been leaning Kent’s way in the final waves of ballots cast near or on election day.
It’s no secret that I supported Herrera Beutler. I think she showed rare and important political courage with her impeachment vote. Her character came through like a lighthouse beacon in a raging storm. It’s confounding and disappointing that so few of her fellow party members joined her in standing up for basic truth and American decency.
With that said, what happens when ballots are counted also reveals character.
It’s very painful to lose an election. Sometimes a race is achingly close. You know it could have gone either way. You wish so much that it had.
But responsible members of society, after fighting as hard as they can to ensure every vote is fairly counted, accept the results.
It’s what Al Gore, a Democrat, did in 2000 after the “hanging chad” debacle in Florida.
It’s what Dino Rossi, a Republican, did in 2004 after the race for governor here in Washington looked to be going his way on election night but flipped after more votes were counted.
Tragically for our nation, it’s not what Donald Trump did in 2020.
He lost. It was hard. But he wasn’t man enough to admit it. Trump is a sore loser, and our country is hurting because of it.
Unlike every American president worth his salt over the past 232 years, President Trump wasn’t willing to put his country before his own ambition and ego. His claims of election fraud were bogus.
He telegraphed months before the election that if he lost, he would claim it was stolen. Trump’s off-and-on again advisor, Steve Bannon, said the same thing even more explicitly days before the election.
“What Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner,” Bannon, laughing, told a group of associates three days before the 2020 election, according to a leaked tape that was published last month.
“He’s just gonna say he’s a winner,” Bannon said, saying it was a strategy that would create a “firestorm.”
A firestorm is right. The lies that President Trump told about a stolen election have done immeasurable harm to our electoral system. So many people now doubt the fundamental basics of our ballot-counting. The damage from his reckless falsehoods will reverberate for years.
Our democratic republic depends on honest counting of ballots, widespread faith in that system, and candidates who will respect the basic rules to acknowledge their loss when it’s established.
Contrary to the lies that the former president and his supporters tossed around like old fish in the market, there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
That fact has been adjudicated by dozens of judges, examined by countless impartial and sober-minded auditors, and most recently confirmed by a panel of distinguished longtime conservatives in a report that said not even a single precinct anywhere in the nation had its results swayed by fraud. (Before you email me to tell me what a moron I am, please read the report: www.bit.ly/Lost-Not-Stolen. I’d love to discuss it with you — but only if you read it.)
I’ve said this in recent weeks and received scathing emails from people who refuse to hear that truth.
It’s noteworthy, then, that as the candidate (Herrera Beutler) with a firm lead on election night sees those numbers slipping, we’re not hearing a “Stop the Steal!” cry coming from her camp. That reveals character.
And yet, strangely, as the election result seems to be “changing” after election day, we’re not hearing a “Stop the Steal!” cry come from the Trump side of the aisle, as we did in 2020. That reveals a contradiction.
Is it too much to expect consistency and honesty from the “Stop the Steal!” folks? It shouldn’t be. If late-breaking votes bring Joe Kent onto the November ballot, that’s a great win for a hard-working challenger with a compelling life story and a dedicated voter base.
If Jaime Herrera Beutler holds onto her narrow lead and makes the general election, that’s a great win for a courageous incumbent whose party-crossing impeachment vote earned her unusual bipartisan support.
In neither case will there be a reason to yell “Stop the Steal!”
There never was.
Brian Mittge has been writing about life in Southwest Washington since 2000. He can be reached at email@example.com.