These days are fraught. On November 3, Donald Trump won 71 million votes. He still lost. Now, the whole 2020 presidential election, taking place as it did during a pandemic, feels weird and wrong. The candidate who generated absolutely no visible enthusiasm got more than 78 million votes, more than any other presidential candidate in history. Do people really hate Trump that much?

Maybe they do. But the mechanics of the election process — what happened in those mysterious hours between 3 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Wednesday — invite suspicion. Take those charts, which Trump has been tweeting, showing the late ‘data dumps’ of hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots in Wisconsin and Michigan. Yes, it could be the much-anticipated surge of mail-in votes suddenly landing. But that many? That suddenly? And that heavily for Biden? Such voting patterns are unprecedented. For that reason, for the election to have credibility, this should all be scrutinized. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the election wasn’t fishy.

But paranoid thinking is infectious, and it is taking over the Trump movement. Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s press conference on Thursday was so bizarre that it did more to validate Biden’s victory than the so-called ‘mainstream media’ ever could. Rudy did present some evidence, as Amber Athey bravely pointed out on this website, but not nearly enough to suggest that the election was fixed. The rest was wild conjecture: Chávez, Dominion, communism, Germany, Big Tech. A global conspiracy involving sinister technology — if something sounds insane, maybe it is.

Tucker Carlson last night revealed that he had invited Powell on his show — the most watched news show on American television — to discuss her mind-blowing claim that the Dominion algorithm had flipped the election result. She refused and became angry when pressed on her claims. Carlson is not hostile to the Trump campaign. He has taken election fraud seriously and mocked the ‘children posing as authorities’ who say that those claims are ‘baseless’. But he pointed towards the truth: Powell and Giuliani are suggesting that the greatest crime in the history of the American republic has taken place. But they are not presenting convincing evidence to support their more elaborate theories. They sound a lot like cranks. Even sympathetic listeners, assuming they aren’t consumed by partisanship, can tell that.

On Twitter, various cranks and MAGA grifters denounced Carlson. He has let the side down with his pesky insistence on truth! For a section of the online right, politics is now tribal and existential war and must be fought by any means necessary. The enemy, the media and the Democrats, have distorted reality for years, so the answer must be to ditch the idea of objective truth and do unto them what they have done unto us.

That way madness lies. The great advantage that the Trump movement has had in recent years has been the fact it has hung on to reality more than its enemies, who lost the plot after 2016. Sane people could see that most of the media had some kind of collective breakdown following Hillary Clinton’s defeat, and was turning towards bizarre conspiracy theories to soothe the pain. It would be a great shame if the Trump campaign now fell into the same, self-defeating trap.

The point is — you don’t have to be mad to think the election was stolen. But it helps. It’s easier to imagine some vast network of international leftism has co-ordinated to retabulate the results than it is to thoroughly investigate what happened in the early hours of November 4 and the days that followed. People crave clarity amid complexity. But there is nothing simple about what happened in the 2020 presidential election and it is idiocy to pretend otherwise.