Political Twitter is having fun this morning with President Trump’s latest conspiracy theory: Google is rigging its results, so when you search “Trump news,” only “Fake” news criticism of Trump pops up, while conservative media are getting suppressed!
Trump’s claim is, of course, absurd: As Daniel Dale explains, this is based on a bogus right wing media claim, and all it really means is that when you google about Trump, you are likely to initially see stories from major news organizations that are legitimately reporting aggressively on Trump, rather than from conservative opinion sites that are putting out propaganda on his behalf.
But while this might seem like typical Trumpian buffoonery, at its core is some deadly serious business. These attacks on the media — which are now spreading to extensive conspiracy-mongering about social media’s role in spreading information — form one part of an interlocking, two-piece Trumpian strategy (whether by instinct or design is unclear) that serves to underscore the urgency of this fall’s elections.
Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.
At the same time, that campaign of lies is designed to get Republican voters out for the purpose of keeping in place the mechanism of accountability that is not functioning right now — the GOP-led Congress — preventing a Democratic takeover of the House, which would impose genuine accountability.
To varying degrees, Republicans are now unabashedly campaigning on this idea — that if Republican voters don’t show up to keep the GOP in charge of Congress, a Democratic-led House will exercise real oversight on Trump.
This week, Axios reported on a memo circulating among alarmed House Republicans, who laid out a list of investigations Democrats might undertake with control of the House. Among them: getting access to Trump’s tax returns; trying to force more transparency around Trump’s business holdings, to determine whether or to what extent revenue going into his pockets violates the emoluments clause; and examining the process leading up to the thinly veiled Muslim ban and the enactment of Trump’s family separations.
The implicit argument that this memo’s existence makes is striking. The fact that Trump’s combined self-dealing and lack of transparency create extensive possibilities for corruption, and the fact that Trump’s financial dealings with Russia and possible conspiracy with Russian sabotage of our election could subject him to blackmail, should ideally suggest to those tasked with oversight that they should, you know, exercise more oversight.
Instead, as Jonathan Chait points out, Republicans have converted all this into a rationale not to exercise oversight — and into a reason to keep Republicans in control of the House to keep this status quo undisturbed. Notes Chait: “Republicans have so internalized their subordination to Trump that they are now leaning into the cover-up as a case for maintaining their power.”
It’s also worth noting that Republicans have made this argument explicit. Remember, on leaked audio, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes flatly stated that if Attorney General Jeff Sessions won’t rein in Mueller’s probe, House Republicans are Trump’s last line of protection. “If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones,” Nunes said. “We have to keep the majority.”
We are now getting a look at what reversing this state of affairs might look like. In interviews with Michelle Goldberg, Democrats who would head House investigative committees vow a range of probes mostly focused on matters involving Trump’s financial dealings, including with Russia, with an eye toward restoring confidence in functional oversight and democracy. Of course, this is also an unsettling reminder — should Republicans keep the House — of what will be lost.
An argument that works on GOP voters
The argument that Republicans must be elected to defend Trump literally no matter what he does may be working on GOP voters. Today in Florida, Trumpist Ron DeSantis is expected to prevail in the GOP gubernatorial primary. DeSantis attacked his Republican opponent for criticizing Trump over the “Access Hollywood” tape. Trump just rewarded him with a mighty get-out-the-vote tweet.
This has become a pattern: Multiple GOP candidates have found themselves on the defensive for criticizing Trump over the revelation that he was captured on video boasting about committing sexual assault with impunity. Their opponents have cast the disloyalty of these reprobates as a failure of moral fortitude — they failed to stand up to the liberal plot to defeat conservatism by any means necessary, when it really counted.
Which brings us back to Trump’s rage-googling. No matter how absurd the details get in any given case, the story he tells Republican voters is always pretty much the same: The mechanisms of accountability are really functioning as an illegitimate plot against him — against them — so they must get out to vote, to keep Congress in Republican hands, to act as a shield against that plot.
If Republicans keep the House, all these lies will have worked, and congressional oversight will remain largely nonexistent, emboldening Trump to an unforeseeable degree. Fortunately, the media and the Mueller probe would remain. But with Trump still seriously mulling replacing Sessions after the election with a loyal attorney general — and Senate Republicans signaling they might go along with it — there’s no guarantee that the second of those will remain fully functional, either.
Update: Multiple sources have confirmed that Trump didn’t actually Google himself this morning, and actually got his “information” about Google’s alleged rigged plot against him from Fox. So I’ve edited the post to correct.