May 3, 2021
Since the January 6 insurrection, Democrats have called the Republican adherence to the idea that Biden did not win the 2020 election “the Big Lie.” This term refers to a propaganda technique associated with Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels (although it did not actually originate with him). It refers to a lie told to garner power, a lie that is so big, so monstrous, and so outrageous that people believe it because they cannot imagine someone lying about something so important.
One of the hallmarks of the former president was his ability to turn any accusations against him into an attack on his opponents. True to form, this morning he set out to appropriate the term “the Big Lie” for his own. Rather than meaning his refusal to admit he lost the election, he wants to use the phrase to mean the opposite: that it refers to “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020.”
Trump’s insistence that he was robbed of the 2020 election is pure fantasy, designed at least in part to enable him to continue to raise money (as I’ve written about before), and certainly designed to whip up supporters to believe the Democrats are illegitimate. It has been the driving force behind voter suppression efforts in a number of Republican-dominated states, efforts that, in Florida, were so extreme they had Republican operatives contemplating carving out exceptions for elderly and military voters to make sure those traditionally Republican constituencies will not be hit by the new rules.
The effort to stoke the Big Lie continues to the present day. The Republican-controlled Arizona senate has authorized a private company with deep ties to Trump and his Big Lie to perform yet another recount of the ballots cast in Maricopa County last year. The firm, Cyber Ninjas, has no experience doing such a recount and is running the process without bipartisan observation. The goal appears to be to “prove” that the 45,000 votes Biden won in the county in 2020 were fraudulent, bringing his win of the state into question to “prove” that Biden’s overall win was fraudulent. One of the people performing the recount is Anthony Kern, a former state representative who was part of the January 6 insurrection.
Today’s incarnation of the Big Lie, though, appears to be an attempt of the former president to solidify his power over the remnants of the Republican Party leadership. According to a recent CNN poll, 70% of Republicans do not believe that Biden actually won the election, but a few leading holdouts, including Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), refuse to follow the party line. For her troubles, Cheney is facing a move to push her out of her position as the conference chair of the House Republicans, the third most powerful spot in the House for her party.
As he has consolidated power over the Republican Party after leaving office, the former president has been less and less tolerant of those Republicans who have called out his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election for what it is: a dangerous attack on our democracy. But Cheney is not giving in. After Trump’s announcement this morning, she tweeted: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
This fight is a proxy fight over whether Trump will win full control over the Republican Party. His loyalists have vowed to get rid of Cheney from her position in party leadership by the end of the month. An ally of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Scott Wong and Mike Lillis of The Hill: “She’s a liability, and McCarthy’s as fed up as the rest of us that she is focused on the past rather than winning back the House.”
But Cheney appears to have some key backing, including that of former president George W. Bush, who has recently said that if the party stands for “White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, then it’s not going to win anything.” Cheney is speaking out and standing firm. In a speech today at the annual retreat for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, in Georgia, she said: "We can't embrace the notion the election is stolen. It's a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy…. We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."