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Focus on the Big Lie, Not the Big Liar

False and cynical claims of voter fraud threaten our democracy as much as Trump himself.

June 14, 2022

You’re read­ing The Brief­ing, Michael Wald­­­­­­­­­man’s weekly news­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­let­ter. Click here to receive it every week in your inbox.

The Janu­ary 6 commit­tee heard witnesses on Monday — all Repub­lican insiders — testi­fy­ing to what we all suspec­ted from the start: Donald Trump knew he had lost. They told him, over and over, that he lost. Yes, as former Attor­ney General Bill Barr test­i­fied, he may have seemed “detached from real­ity,” but that is because he willed himself to be. He knew he was going to lose. He lost. And he decided to lie to his follow­ers and the coun­try in an effort to over­turn the elec­tion. 

The Big Lie, it turns out, is a lie. Not a passion­ate if irra­tional fixa­tion. (Though it is not very reas­sur­ing that Trump’s only defense is, quite liter­ally, an insan­ity defense.)  

Yet millions of people believe the lie their pres­id­ent told them, a lie ampli­fied by Fox News and other media outlets. Why should­n’t they? Politi­cians know better. Few of them actu­ally believe the nonsense, which makes their acqui­es­cence even more morally ques­tion­able. As Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said to her GOP colleagues, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

The Janu­ary 6 commit­tee invited my colleague Wendy Weiser to submit testi­mony. In it, she detailed the ways in which the Big Lie, which drove insur­rec­tion­ists to the Capitol on Janu­ary 6, 2021, contin­ues to drive state-level policies to restrict voting rights and enable partisan inter­fer­ence in elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. 

The connec­tion could not be clearer. Much of the anti­demo­cratic legis­la­tion offered in the past 18 months directly refer­ences false claims made in the failed lawsuits that sought to nullify the 2020 elec­tions. For example, although a court dismissed claims that out-of-state voters cast signi­fic­ant numbers of ballots in Arizona, legis­lat­ors still intro­duced a bill to increase voter roll purges in the state. Geor­gia passed a law limit­ing drop boxes and restrict­ing access to mail-in voting — both in response to base­less claims made in failed lawsuits. Legis­lat­ors in Pennsylvania and Wiscon­sin also intro­duced voting “reforms” to remedy wholly fabric­ated fail­ures in the 2020 elec­tion.

State Rep. Barry Flem­ing (R), chair of the Geor­gia House Special Commit­tee on Elec­tions, compared mail ballots to “the shady part of town down near the docks you do not want to wander into because the chance of being shang­haied is signi­fic­ant.” Pennsylvania State Rep. Russ Diamond (R), spon­sor of restrict­ive voting bills in the state, said he believes that offi­cials coun­ted 200,000 extra votes and considers certi­fy­ing Pennsylvani­a’s elec­tion results to have been “abso­lutely prema­ture, uncon­firmed, and in error.”

Some spon­sors of restrict­ive voting laws expli­citly connec­ted their bills to debunked claims of 2020 voter fraud. When intro­du­cing legis­la­tion to enhance voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ments and make regis­tra­tion more diffi­cult, Texas State Sen. Paul Betten­court (R) claimed that the “Novem­ber 2020 elec­tion demon­strated the lack of trans­par­ency and lack of integ­rity within the elec­tion process.” 

The clamor has grown so loud that it poses a threat not only to our elec­tions, but to the phys­ical safety of our elec­tion offi­cials. More than one in six local elec­tion offi­cials have been threatened, some­times with death, and often by people who specific­ally refer­ence the false claims that Donald Trump spread.

The commit­tee should focus on its prin­cipal task: outlining the crim­inal conspir­acy by Donald Trump and his minions to over­throw Amer­ican demo­cracy. As they do so, let’s remem­ber that the poison they are uncov­er­ing has spread through­out our polit­ical system. The commit­tee can’t stop that. We can.