The January 6, 2021 insurrection did not end when federal officers expelled the attackers from the US Capitol. It assumed a less dramatic but equally deadly form.
With Big Lies, Facts Don’t Matter
Donald Trump launched his political career on the wings of a Big Lie about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. In response to Trump’s spurious claims, President Obama provided a copy of his birth certificate.
It didn’t matter. As of December 2017, 51 percent of Republicans still believed that President Obama was born outside the US.
A more dangerous Big Lie fueled the unparalleled insurrection that put the republic to its most severe stress test since the Civil War, endangered members of Congress, and placed Trump’s own vice president in harm’s way. More than 60 judges – many of whom are Trump appointees – rejected his claims of voter fraud that supposedly stole the election from him. So did Republican election officials in numerous states that Trump targeted.
None of that mattered. As of March 2021, 65 percent of Republicans still believed that Biden’s win was due to voter fraud, and 29 percent say they will never accept him as president.
The GOP Has Embraced the Latest Big Lie
When fear of Trump’s mob was still fresh in his psyche, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saw the truth quite clearly.
Jan. 19: McConnell takes the Senate floor and says, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.”
But continuing fear of Trump’s mob overcame him.
Feb. 13: Now the minority leader, McConnell votes to acquit Trump.
Feb. 25: McConnell says he will “absolutely” support Trump if he is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.
And now McConnell’s fear is so profound that he killed an independent commission that would have put added pressure on every Republican to acknowledge the truth.
May 28: Despite support from a majority of US senators and the American public, bipartisan legislation from the House that would establish an independent commission to investigate the insurrection comes up short of the 60 votes required to overcome the GOP’s filibuster. The final vote in favor of creating the commission is 54-39.
The Big Lie Metastasizes
The Big Lie is now fueling the GOP’s ongoing effort to dismantle democracy.
- Arizona: Experienced companies have audited Maricopa County’s 2020 election results multiple times, finding no problems. But Republican legislators in the state’s senate hired yet another company to do it again. Its CEO has spread election-related conspiracy theories (“Stop the Steal”) that the vote was rigged against Trump. Even Republican leaders in the state now describe the current effort as “a grift disguised as an audit” that has spun out of control.
- Pennsylvania: Despite the absence of any evidence of election fraud in Pennsylvania, a small group of Republican state lawmakers from the state visited Arizona recently. At least one of them later said that he wanted Pennsylvania to conduct a similar audit.
- Since the January 6 insurrection, Republicans have relied on the Big Lie to enact new voting restrictions in 14 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
- President Biden called the new Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Among the state’s new rules to make voting more arduous is a criminal penalty for offering food or water to people waiting in line. Other provisions of the law will make those lines longer.
- Voter-restriction bills are still advancing in another 18 states, including Texas, where Democratic legislators scored a temporary victory by walking out shortly before a vote on legislation that would have imposed some of the toughest restrictions yet.
Democracy Hangs by a Slender Thread
In the coming months, watch GOP-controlled state legislatures gerrymander congressional districts in an effort to regain Republican minority rule in the House of Representatives. For extended periods over the past 20 years, Republicans achieved that goal in the Senate.
The GOP hasn’t enjoyed popular support from a majority of American voters since 1996. But it controlled the Senate from 1994 to 2004 and again from 2014 to 2018. Today, the GOP has the same number of senators as Democrats and independents combined, but those Republicans represent only 43.5 percent of the US population.
When asked about House Republicans punishing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) for choosing country over party and calling out Trump’s Big Lie, McConnell said, “100 percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”
McConnell’s evasive response is telling. Trump’s Big Lie intersects with the efforts of a Republican minority to suppress the vote and retain power. That’s why the Big Lie is now GOP orthodoxy – and representative democracy isn’t.