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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.