The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion George Conway: A presidency fueled by lies finishes with the worst of them all

A man walks past a mural depicting President Trump in McConnellsburg, Pa., on Wednesday. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)
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This column has been updated.

It’s somehow fitting. A presidency launched with lies, and fueled by them ever since, was destined to finish with the worst of them all.

Donald Trump’s presidency began on Jan. 20, 2017, with what he asserted was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period,” a claim whose absurdity was evident to anyone with eyes. From his first week in office, the president lied about an election that everyone agreed he had won. He claimed that “VOTER FRAUD,” by “millions” of noncitizens, cadavers and “people registered in two states,” had deprived him of a popular-vote majority in 2016.

“I don’t think anybody has done what we did over the [first] 100 days,” Trump proclaimed — after having uttered hundreds of falsehoods during that time. He asserted, without evidence, that President Barack Obama had placed a “tapp [sic]” on “my phones.” He lied about health care, the economy, immigration and trade — repeatedly. He even claimed that, under his proposed tax plan, he’d “probably pay more than I’m paying right now,” which might, unlike the rest of his claims, have been literally true, because, as we now know, he was barely paying taxes at all.

But all that was just the beginning. Trump has told lies about virtually everything ever since, lies big and small, meaningful and meaningless, saying anything to put himself in the best position or the best light. He lied about paying off a porn star. He lied, despite photographic evidence, about having never met a woman who accused him of rape.

He lied about what he was impeached for, and about what he should have been impeached for, by claiming his phone call with the Ukrainian president was perfect, and by asserting that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had exonerated him. He lied about deceptively marking up a hurricane map with a Sharpie.

And on and on and on.

As time passed, Trump self-servingly misled with ever-increasing speed, about subjects of escalating import. By the end of August, when he accepted his nomination for reelection, he’d told more than 22,000 falsehoods in office, barrelling ahead at a clip of more than 50 a day, meaning that he’s probably over 25,000 by now.

The newer lies are the most serious — for individual citizens and for our democracy. Without hesitation, Trump has said anything about the pandemic he has thought politically helpful, whether it was true or made sense. We know the litany by heart: The coronavirus affects virtually no one. We’ve rounded the corner. A vaccine is almost here. Herd immunity will save us. We have so many cases because we test. Doctors and hospitals are lying about deaths, to get money. The press talks about covid, covid, covid to hurt me. Come Nov. 4, you’ll never hear about the virus again.

On Nov. 4, the country recorded a record 104,004 new infections. The death toll has surpassed 233,000. We’ll be counting cases and deaths long after we finish counting votes.

As for our democracy, Trump unceasingly and maliciously maligned the electoral process, just as he did when he took office. Facing an uphill reelection fight, he made every false claim he could to delegitimize, or set the stage for challenging, the result — truth, logic and consistency be damned, even at the price of undermining the democratic system he swore an oath to protect.

Mail-in voting begets fraud, Trump said, except when conducted by people or in places supporting him. Democratic governors were sending mail-in ballots to dogs. Ballots were being “dumped in rivers.” Votes were being faked, votes were being discarded — take your pick. “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” “a great embarrassment to the USA,” he tweeted in July. He said he could lose only if the election were “rigged.”

In effect, Trump announced long ago precisely what he would be doing now: spuriously assert victory, and mendaciously claim thievery, “a fraud on the American public,” before all the votes were counted, and without the slightest evidence of fraud. In states where he was behind, he’d say votes had been miscounted, or needed to be counted again; where ahead, he’d insist that merely counting new votes amounts to the “finding” of fraudulent ballots.

Claim “plenty of proof” of “Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud” — without an ounce of it. And wherever it matters, bring meritless lawsuits. Argue to “STOP THE COUNT!” — or not — depending not on the facts, or the law, or simple fairness, but upon what he believes at any moment might help him.

Trump’s conduct illustrates, as well as anything else over the past four years, his unfitness for office. Trump may lose his lawsuits and the election, but he will never give up on his claims of fraud.

That was on florid display in the White House briefing room on Thursday night, when Trump claimed, without any basis, that he had won the election. “This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election, they’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” Trump asserted. He said every “legal” vote should count — but, of course, his view of a legal vote is one that is cast for him.

In the end, his deranged claims of fraud will have accomplished only one thing: He will have squandered his last and best chance to show he could admit the truth and, for once, do something right by the country instead of himself.

Watch Opinions videos:

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center warns that the president is doing the work of our foreign adversaries by undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. election. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Evan Vucci/AP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Colbert I. King: Whether he goes or stays, Trump has done damage that can’t be forgiven

Paul Waldman: A quick guide to Trump’s legal efforts to throw out votes — and why they’ll fail

E.J. Dionne Jr.: The only priority now is to stop a selfish president from demolishing our democracy

The Post’s View: Surprise! The election is unfolding as predicted.

George F. Will: America is battered, but a somewhat happy ending is in sight