Donald Trump’s closest allies seized on Iowa’s caucus woes on Tuesday to promote conspiracy theories about a “rigged” process, and some Democrats lapped it up.
“The fix is in...AGAIN,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, as the Iowa Democratic Party struggled to tabulate results after a coding error prevented full caucus totals from being uploaded through an app.
“Mark my words, they are rigging this thing,” Eric Trump tweeted.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went all-in on conspiracy, trotting out a connect-the-dots theory that sounded like it was ripped from a Scandal script. Democrats, he suggested, had suppressed a newspaper poll and then orchestrated a technical glitch to cover up a poor showing by Joe Biden.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders did complain that the delay in announcing the results blunted momentum for the Vermont senator, who had led in most polls. But Biden also complained about the screw-ups, having his general counsel fire off a scathing letter to Iowa Democrats.
Iowa Democrats said the app the party used collected the results accurately from precinct chairs but only partially transmitted them due to a coding error. They insisted the underlying data was rock-solid and backed up by a paper trail.
It would be nearly impossible to manipulate actual vote totals anyway, since the caucus process takes place in public, in full view of multiple rival campaigns and the media.
But that didn’t stop conspiracy theories from popping up almost immediately after the results were delayed late Monday.
Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale asked on Twitter whether the results had been “rigged,” while Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany claimed the Democrats were “rigging it.” In a Fox News appearance, Trump stalwart Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) suggested that the results had been delayed to cover up an embarrassingly low finish for Biden—who was listed in fourth place in unofficial, incomplete internal results released by rival campaigns.
“If Joe Biden would have won tonight, we probably would have some results right now,” Gaetz said.
Pete Buttigieg’s decision to come out and declare victory before any official results were in fanned some of the flames.
Sanders supporters promoted hashtags like “#MayorCheat” and “#CIAPete,” a reference to conspiracy theories that Buttigieg is a CIA operative. On the Reddit forum for left-wing podcast Chapo Traphouse, a hotbed of pro-Sanders online activity, a highly rated post said believing that the Iowa caucus wasn’t rigged would be as foolish as buying the official line that wealthy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide.
Much of the speculation has focused on Shadow, the obscure Democratic tech firm that designed the Iowa reporting app. Both Biden and Buttigieg’s campaigns have previously paid Shadow, which was launched by Democratic dark money group ACRONYM, providing grist for conspiracy theorists’ suspicious that the app’s developers were biased against Sanders. Sanders fans also pointed out that Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The firm’s critics also seized on pro-Buttigieg tweets from ACRONYM chief executive Tara McGowan. Citing McGowan’s tweets, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich described the Iowa process as “how to rig an election.” A widely circulated blog post from right-wing conspiracy theory website Conservative Treehouse noted that Shadow “just happens to have a connection to Buttigieg.”
Progressive journalist Walker Bragman lined up Buttigieg’s connections to Shadow in a tweet that has been retweeted nearly 20,000 times, calling it “not great optics.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who has endorsed Sanders, promoted Bragman’s tweet, adding “This can’t be it!” Omar later claimed she wasn’t intending to spread a conspiracy theory about the caucus.
Republicans, meanwhile,cheered on the Democratic in-fighting, with conservative pundit Erick Erickson hoping the conspiracy theories about the caucus would continue to hurt Democrats.
“I don’t think Iowa sabotaged the caucus to hurt Bernie Sanders,” Erickson tweeted. “But I really hope a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters think that.”