Ex-President Donald Trump’s big lie came full circle on Saturday as he traveled to Arizona to dangerously seize on the false fruits of a sham election “audit” precipitated by his own discredited claims the 2020 election was stolen.
On a late afternoon of delusion and incitement, Trump offered a preview of how he could exploit grievances of millions of supporters who buy his lies about voter fraud to power a possible new presidential run in the future.
His speech underscored the nation’s split reality over last November’s election — the real one in which he lost and President Joe Biden was fairly elected and the nonsensical but powerful one that he sells to his supporters.
The now self-sustaining myth that Trump was improperly ejected from power is at the center of a belief system that the ex-President is imposing on his party and is making a litmus test for 2022 GOP candidates seeking his endorsement, including in the Arizona Senate race, which is one of the GOP’s top targets as they try to take back the Senate.
In his latest return to campaign speeches, Trump showered praise on Arizona state senators who organized the non-scientific audit.
He insisted he wasn’t involved, trying to create a false impression of independence and legitimacy in a politicized process inspired by his lies.
“There is no way they win elections without cheating,” the former President said of Democrats, at a packed event entitled — with Orwellian overtones — the “Rally to Protect Our Elections.”
The one-term, twice-impeached ex-commander-in-chief related prolonged and false stories of election fraud across the country.
He also claimed that many more Republican-run states were seeking their own audits of election results, even though multiple judges have ruled that there was no election fraud.
Trump’s appearance was full of the usual bluster, boasting, self-pity and too many falsehoods to count, and was in many ways a sideshow compared to the critical current challenges — including a pandemic that is quickly worsening again because millions of Republican voters will not get vaccinated.
But his appearance was also a warning of one of the most dangerous problems haunting a divided nation’s deeply polarized politics — the fact that lies and conspiracy theories now represent sincerely held views of a large minority of the electorate thanks to Trump’s mastery of demagoguery and the endless flattery of a compliant right-wing propaganda machine.
The ex-President did tell his supporters to get the vaccine on Saturday — but in such a way that offered an out for those who have bought into conservative misinformation about it — and in an attack on Biden, he further politicized the issue.
Yet again, Trump showed that he was not willing to diminish his own political capital for the greater good.
“I recommend that you take it, but I also believe in your freedoms 100%,” Trump said, before adding, “because they don’t trust the President, people aren’t doing it.”
Trump also lashed out at Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for refusing to buy into his lies and conspiracies about the last election.
He also attacked former Vice President Mike Pence for fulfilling his constitutional duty to oversee the certification of the election in Congress and former Attorney General William Barr for saying there was no election fraud.
Among unanswered questions is whether Trump’s campaign of falsehoods and refusal to accept the result in 2020 — which is rife among his base voters — will further alienate the suburban and more moderate voters who were crucial in his defeat last November.
The coming months and years will also show whether Republican voters — especially when the next presidential primary race heats up — want to spend the entire campaign going over lies about the last election or will seek new candidates who might share Trump’s populist extremism but offer a path to the future.
But there is no doubt about the power of Trump in fast forming primary races ahead of the midterm elections next year.
A stream of pro-Trump candidates has made the journey to Arizona to curry favor with the ex-President by highlighting the unofficial audit that has so far shown no evidence of voter fraud but has twisted the facts about the election.