The Big Lie, in other words.
His remarks continue “a pattern for Trump as he steamrolls through the GOP presidential primary and toward an increasingly likely November rematch with Biden,” the AP reported. “While Trump generally refrains from claiming voter fraud in elections he wins, he spends plenty of time laying the groundwork to cry fraud should he lose an upcoming vote. He’s already been doing that with an eye toward November’s general election.”
The AP story goes on to report on the consequences of the Big Lie – eroded and lost trust in democratic institutions, threats and intimidation of election workers and a repeat of the J6 insurrection if Joe Biden wins.
Normally, when a story like this comes out, I might offer my thoughts on Trump’s authoritarian tendencies in order to inform readers that that’s what they are, and that they should do what they can democratically to prevent him from having the power to put those tendencies into action.
But in light of last week’s caucuses in Iowa and this week’s primary in New Hampshire, I wonder if a different view is worth exploring. I wonder if Trump, with all this talk about how he can’t lose, because he’s a winner, but if he does lose, it’s because someone cheated – I wonder if he’s inadvertently sending a message to GOP voters. He’s not saying this. (He would never say this!) But they might be hearing this: “I know I can’t win.”
There are a million reasons to sound the alarm about the Big Lie, first and foremost that in the event of Trump’s defeat, which I think is forthcoming, we can reasonably expect a repeat of J6, only much, much worse. Trump is going to lie bigly no matter what. His most extreme nihilist supporters will lash out violently no matter what. But I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about what the Big Lie is. At its most elemental level, it’s an explanation. And this fact – that it’s an explanation – is something that we may have lost sight of in our worries about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. We have a million reasons to be scared to death, but in the process of being scared to death, we may have forgotten what Trump is doing. He’s explaining, and the thing about explaining is that winners don’t explain themselves. They win. Losers do, often before losing.
That could be suppressing turnout for Trump.
The Big Lie could be backfiring.
For the Big Lie to succeed, electorally, there must be enough people who believe, or who can be made to believe through propaganda, that the current system by which candidates compete is so corrupt that there’s no chance of Trump winning. As the AP story reminded me, a lot of people fit that profile, indeed most of the people who call themselves Republicans.
But there are plenty of people who do not believe, and who cannot be made to believe through propaganda (because they are not locked into the rightwing media apparatus), that the current system is that corrupt. Their worldview is deeply rooted in basic faith in American institutions. I would take these people to be independent and moderate voters, many of whom definitely dislike the Democrats but absolutely hate Donald Trump.
At the same time, there are plenty of people who do not want to support someone whom they believe is going to lose. This is a hunch of mine. If there’s data supporting it, please send it along. But at a gut level, I think Americans like winners. Otherwise, Trump would not work so hard at casting himself as invincible, even inevitable. These people understand, I think, that winners don’t explain themselves. Victory speaks for them. Losers do, however, because defeat always demands an explanation.
That brings me to last week’s caucuses and this week’s primary. Trump won 51 percent of the vote in Iowa. He won 54 percent in New Hampshire. A lot of Republican voters didn’t turn out. A lot wanted someone else. Maybe they don’t like him anymore. Maybe they doubt his ability to survive his criminal trials. Whatever the case, they found reasons to stay home or support someone else, and I’m suggesting that one of those reasons is Trump saying without meaning to that he knows he can’t win.
Time will tell, of course, but the Big Lie could be backfiring. (In terms of political violence and antidemocratic politics, it’s doing exactly what it was designed to.) It may be suppressing turnout among Trump supporters who have come to believe that there’s no point in hoping for victory. (Ron DeSantis identified Trump’s “enthusiasm problem.”) It may be solidifying opposition among people who, for one thing, fear the destruction of the constitutional order and, for another, see no point in voting for a candidate who broadcasts in advance that he knows that he can’t win.
The Big Lie, in other words.