The result is that many Republicans now question the election results — and the lie has taken on a life of its own.
I went back to CNN’s fact checks and historical warnings to put together this guide to the Big Lie and its various elements.
Where did the term “the Big Lie” come from?
It comes from Adolf Hitler, actually. In Mein Kampf, he accused Jews of spreading lies about how the German army performed in World War I.
Adolf Hitler first defined the Big Lie as a deviant tool wielded by Viennese Jews to discredit the Germans’ deportment in World War I. Yet, in tragically ironic fashion, it was Hitler and his Nazi regime that actually employed the mendacious strategy. In an effort to rewrite history and blame European Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler and his propaganda minister accused them of profiting from the war, consorting with foreign powers and “war shirking” (avoiding conscription). Jews, Hitler contended, were the weak underbelly of the Weimer state that exposed the loyal and true German population to catastrophic collapse. To sell this narrative, Joseph Goebbels insisted “all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands.”
Why did people start using that term to describe the 2020 election?
Use of the phrase started as a way for Trump critics to warn about the toxic nature of his election lies.
How did Trump come to adopt the term?
This is another irony.
Trump, master propagandist, has since seized the term from his critics and now routinely uses it to claim it is he who is the victim of untruths and conspiracies. “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE! ” he said in a statement issued by his PAC on May 3.
Since then, Trump’s use of it to claim his own persecution has arguably eclipsed its use to warn about his lies as a form of propaganda.
What are the elements of Trump’s big lie?
1. The election was stolen because it’s not possible Trump didn’t win.
In Trump’s telling, the big lie is that the election was stolen from him. A lie as massive as the stealing of an election with hundreds of millions of voters requires a bunch of smaller lies Trump’s used to sow doubt about the election.
- “… millions of ballots that have been altered by Democrats, only for Democrats.”
- “All of the mechanical ‘glitches’ that took place on Election Night were really THEM getting caught trying to steal votes.”
- “700,000 ballots were not allowed to be viewed in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which means, based on our great Constitution, we win the State of Pennsylvania!”
In every key state he lost, Trump has pushed an explanation, sowing doubt without actually proving anything.
That’s just Georgia.
2. There was a massive technological conspiracy to rig the election.
A key element of Trump’s system of lies is that the voting equipment and software company Dominion Voting Systems was biased against him, had “bum equipment” and helped rig the election.
This notion was revived in the Arizona audit, where Trump this past weekend seized on the idea that an election database had been deleted. The auditors hired by the state GOP acknowledged on Tuesday that it had not been.
3. Theories and wild claims pushed on the internet find their way into lawsuits and are then pushed by Trump.
Another example, from just this past week, is when Republican lawmakers in Arizona fed that false allegation that an election database had been deleted. It wasn’t deleted, as a Republican election official made clear — but not until after the allegation had been pushed to close followers of the conspiracy theories.
4. Investigators are biased, too.
Just as recounts that found no change to the election results were labeled by Trump as frauds and hoaxes, a review of the January 6 insurrection launched after his election lies can only be slanted. Trump turned hard on a bipartisan agreement to investigate the insurrection.
“Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left. Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!” he said in a statement.
5. Trump supporters questioning the results are just being good citizens.
In the growing case of collective amnesia many Republican lawmakers are developing about the January 6 insurrection, there’s the idea that the people who stormed the Capitol were just concerned and wanting to be heard. Similarly, the lawmakers who voted to throw out the election results were just channeling the concerns of voters who think the process might be flawed, despite the lack of evidence there was any actual fraud.
McConnell and McCarthy, who as Senate and House minority leaders are the two top Republicans at the federal level, had both been critical of Trump’s false claims on the election and had previously criticized the insurrection in strong terms.
“Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left,” Trump said Tuesday night after both leaders had come out against the commission. “Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!”
There is no room for rejecting Trump’s Big Lie, as Republicans who do so are ostracized by the party leadership.
Trump’s big lie worked
The sham audit in Arizona continues, although behind closed doors, unlike the open counts and recounts of ballots the first time. A similar “forensic review” of ballots in Georgia is being pushed by allies of the former President.
Polls suggest a majority of Republicans — 55% in an April Reuters poll — think Biden’s victory was the result of illegal voting or rigging.