Donald Trump isn’t moving on. Neither is his party.
More than six months after his defeat, Trump continues to declare that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him. And this lie, sometimes called “the Big Lie,” continues to have a major impact on American politics.
The lie would matter, as a matter of principle, even if it wasn’t having much of a practical effect. But it matters even more when it is fueling a national Republican push to make elections laws more restrictive, playing a significant role in who wins GOP nominations and leadership positions, motivating a partisan push to “audit” the 2020 results, causing another partisan fight in Congress, aiding the QAnon conspiracy movement, and affecting public perceptions of the current president.
Here are nine ways the Big Lie continues to reverberate.
Fuel for restrictive voting laws
Among other things, Republican proposals would reduce the availability of ballot drop boxes, shorten early voting periods and absentee voting periods, make it harder for voters to obtain mail-in ballots, increase voter identification requirements, prohibit 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, eliminate Election Day voter registration, limit who is allowed to return someone else’s absentee ballot and more aggressively purge voter rolls.
In many cases, it’s not clear whether Republican legislators actually believe the 2020 election was fraudulent or whether they are cynically using voters’ own misapprehensions about the election as political cover. The distinction is irrelevant in practice, since the lies are turning into suppressive bills no matter what the real reason is.
A career problem for Republicans who stood for truth
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who stood firm against election lies, now faces a primary challenger who has Trump’s powerful endorsement: Congressman Jody Hice, who began his campaign by uttering election lies (and last week made a misleading claim about the Capitol riot on January 6). And Raffensperger has already had some of his power stripped by the Republican governor and state legislature.
Another Georgia Republican who stood up for facts about what happened in 2020, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, announced this week that he would not seek reelection. Like Raffensperger, Duncan has made Republican enemies by declining to humor Trump’s nonsense.
It isn’t just Georgia officials on the hot seat for speaking truth. Nevada’s Republican Party Central Committee voted in April to censure Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske for refusing to investigate (baseless allegations of) election fraud and being too “dismissive” of (baseless) concerns about “election integrity.”
A rationale for a crackdown on elections officials
Republicans have not only targeted particular state elections chiefs. Lies about how particular counties conducted the 2020 election have provided a rationale for a broad Republican effort to restrict local elections officials.
A new Georgia law gives a state board the power to appoint someone to temporarily take over local elections boards. A new Florida law says a county elections chief can be penalized up to $25,000 if any drop box is made available in a way that violates the law’s requirements. An Iowa law signed in March allows local elections officials to be fined up to $10,000 for a “technical infraction” and charged with a felony for failing to implement guidance from the Iowa secretary of state.
An impetus for a change in House Republican leadership
Last week, Republicans removed Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the third-ranking spot in the party’s House leadership because of her vocal criticism of election lies — and replaced her with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has repeatedly promoted those lies and who tried to get the election overturned.
A factor in open primary races
Josh Mandel, the former Ohio treasurer who is now running in the Republican primary for the US Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Rob Portman, has turned the Big Lie into an applause line in his speeches — proclaiming that he, unlike his “establishment” rivals, is willing to flatly declare that the election was stolen from Trump.
In Virginia, the just-concluded Republican gubernatorial primary featured a candidate, state Sen. Amanda Chase, who also emphasized her baseless position that the election was stolen.
Chase finished third in a seven-candidate field. But she wasn’t really alone: the winner, businessman Glenn Youngkin, made “election integrity” one of his campaign issues and declined for weeks to say that Biden had been legitimately elected, changing his tune only after he secured the Republican nomination last week.
The basis for an Arizona “audit” — and pushes for other audits
The Big Lie underpinned the decision of Arizona’s Republican-controlled state Senate to commission a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election in the state’s most populous county, Maricopa, after the county had already conducted an audit that found no problems.
The state Senate hired an obscure, inexperienced firm that is run by someone who has promoted election lies; the firm’s Maricopa processes have been widely criticized by actual elections experts. But Republicans in other states, from Georgia to Michigan and California, are now pushing for similar “audits.”
Another fight in Congress
The Big Lie led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Now, instead of working together on any number of other issues, Congress is spending time fighting over whether to create an independent commission to investigate what happened.
Of course, the two sides aren’t equivalent here: It is Republicans in particular who have turned what could be a moment of quick and easy bipartisan unity into yet another partisan scrap.
Ammunition for conspiracy theorists
As CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan has reported, the Arizona “audit” that is based on the Big Lie has become a fixation in QAnon conspiracy circles — a basis, albeit a ludicrous basis, to continue to believe that a series of states will somehow overturn President Joe Biden’s already-certified victories and that Trump will soon be returned to office.
Granted, QAnon adherents always manage to find some nonsensical reason or another to justify their nonsensical beliefs. But there’s no doubt that the continued prevalence of election lies has given the movement some ammunition.
An (unknown) effect on the public
Polling evidence suggests that there is a widespread perception among Republican voters that Biden was not legitimately elected. For example, a CNN poll in late April found that 70% of Republican respondents said they did not think Biden legitimately won enough votes to be president.
It’s impossible to say with certainty how this false belief is affecting these voters’ broader perceptions of Biden’s presidency. But it seems highly likely that it contributes to the polarization of the public, limiting the President’s capacity for earning the support of people who voted for Trump — and even limiting average Americans’ ability to have productive political conversations with each other.
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