In a democracy, effective candidates always plan for the next election, no matter what happened in the past. The time has come for Republicans nationwide to begin doing this, too, rather than continuing a futile, never-ending quest to win last year.

You could hardly set up a better way to invent voter fraud “evidence” than to conduct an “audit” of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County, using contractors with no election experience, led by a little-known company called Cyber Ninjas whose chief executive already had made claims about fraud. 

News reports said some counters checked ballots for bamboo fragments, under the suspicion that they originated in Asia. These new counts were not transparent. No independent observers were allowed to watch what counters were doing. County election officials said they may have to spend millions replacing election machines permanently altered by the auditors.

Yet, in the end, even Cyber Ninjas couldn’t change the result. Biden won the state’s most populous county. In fact, the new “audit” increased Biden’s total by 99 votes, while reducing Donald Trump’s total by 261.

Biden’s victory was close, but it was, once again, a victory.

And yet the former president wasted no time in proclaiming all of this fake news. The report, he said, “conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”

Uh … no. 

Trump said the report identified 23,344 mail-in ballots from people no longer living at the address where the ballots were mailed. He proclaimed this as fraud. But even Cyber Ninjas, in its report, said there were good explanations for this. Most of the voters moved somewhere close by. Some ballots belonged to college students who received ballots at one address and voted from another, or to people in the military.

And on it goes. Every little discrepancy auditors found comes with a logical, plausible explanation. We won’t recite them all. The former president’s claims quickly turn into a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. 

He lost every legal attempt to stop or alter the election last year. He has lost again. It’s time for this to stop.

At first, the never-ending claims of ballot fraud were a dangerous threat to the nation’s confidence in its election systems. Nothing is more important to a democracy than the assumption that voters can choose their leaders in a fair and reliable plebiscite. 

But now, the claims have devolved into parody and farce. At every loss, Trump doubles down and declares victory. At every turn, the integrity of the nation’s election system is confirmed.

It is no laughing matter, however, when so many in the party continue to take the falsehoods seriously. An opinion poll by Yahoo News/YouGov in August found that 66% of Republicans surveyed still believe President Biden stole the election. Overall, only 29% of Americans hold this opinion. A similar poll by Monmouth University in June found 63% of Republicans holding this view.

Already, Texas has started an “audit” in four of its largest counties — even though Trump carried that state. Republicans in Pennsylvania are hoping to begin an “audit” there, as well.

Meanwhile, real issues with real impacts are being discussed in Washington, including a giant multitrillion-dollar expansion of the welfare state. 

Republicans, who once focused their energies on fiscal responsibility, could use Democratic excesses to zero in on regaining control of the House in 2022. But that’s hard to do when the focus is on still trying to win in 2020.