In the April 18, 2021 edition of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson answers the question I would have posed.
According to CNN, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has scrapped the idea of the “America First Caucus” after considerable pushback, now claiming that she had not approved the platform released on Friday and announced by her own spokesperson.
I have been thinking a lot about Republican lawmakers like Greene lately, and about the Republican Party these days. As I sort through it all, I find myself absolutely gobsmacked that today’s party is shaping itself around the Big Lie that Democrat Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election. This is a lie. There is no doubt that this is a lie. Trump or his surrogates filed and lost at least 63 lawsuits over the 2020 election, most of which were dropped for lack of evidence.
When voting company Dominion sued Sidney Powell, one of those arguing Trump won the election, for defamation, her lawyers argued that “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”
And yet, despite the fact that Biden beat Trump by more than 7 million votes and by 306 to 232 electoral votes, Trump insisted, and continues to insist, that he really won the election.
In part, this appears to have been a fund-raising ploy. Thanks to a terrific story by Shane Goldmacher in the New York Times, we now know that the Trump campaign boosted revenues by tricking donors into making recurring donations before the election, replenishing its badly depleted funds. When unsuspecting donors found out and complained, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee ended up having to make more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million. That money came in after the election, as Trump promised to fight the election results because, he said, he had been cheated.
“In effect,” Goldmacher writes, “the money that Mr. Trump eventually had to refund amounted to an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race.” To keep the money to cover the refunds coming in, the former president had to maintain that the election had been stolen.
But, as the January 6 insurrection proved, that stance was much more than a grift. Trump and his spokespeople urged supporters to come to Washington, D.C., and somehow pressure Vice President Mike Pence to count the certified ballots not for Biden, as they were prepared, but for Trump. Pence had no authority to do such a thing, and he told Trump so, in writing, prompting Trump to tell his supporters that Pence had let them down. So they took matters into their own hands.
When the Capitol was finally cleared and Congress got back to counting the certified ballots, 8 senators and 139 representatives voted to challenge at least one of the state ballots, turning what is normally a formality into the suggestion that there was something wrong with Biden’s election. At the time, pundits suggested that they did not dare to fall afoul of Trump’s voters, who were the only solid Republican voters, and whom many of the Republicans hoped to be able to count on in their own next elections.
And yet, they have not repudiated that stance. One hundred and forty-seven of our lawmakers—people sitting currently in Congress, listening to reports from the intelligence committee, shaping our foreign policy—have signed onto the lie that the 2020 election was tainted.
Their support for Trump’s outlandish lie had enabled it to metastasize. Now Republican legislators in 47 states have proposed 361 voter restriction bills with the argument that they need to address concerns about voter fraud. That is, without evidence, they have convinced their voters that the 2020 election was stolen, and now they are attempting to change laws to address that conviction. Not coincidentally, the new laws are expected to strengthen Republican power: had it been in place in 2020, for example, the new law Georgia passed would have enabled Republicans to hand the election in that state to Trump.
But the more they harden Trump’s base by pretending that the former president won the 2020 election, the harder it is for them to move away from Trump. In Republican primaries in Republican states, candidates are vying to get Trump’s endorsement.
It is a vicious downward spiral, based on a lie. As Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who was the Republican candidate for president in 2012, said after the insurrection, “The best way we could show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.” And yet, Republican lawmakers continue to feed the narrative that Trump won in 2020.
Last month, six in ten Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll said they believed the election was stolen. Where do Republican lawmakers think this is going to end?