The Big Lie of 2020 is conventionally defined as the claim that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. But it’s broader than that. It also encompasses a softer version of this idea: The insultingly disingenuous baloney that because GOP voters have reasonable grounds to merely lack confidence in the results, all sorts of new voting restrictions are justified.

Taken all together, this bundle of falsehoods and pathologies is now getting so absurd and unsustainable that more Republicans are running away from it.

This is driven home by two new developments — the resignation of a senior Republican from a national group over continued fallout from the “Stop the Steal” madness, and news of more Republicans criticizing various GOP voter suppression efforts.

The chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association has just resigned his post, amid criticism of the group for sponsoring a now-infamous robocall urging people to descend on the Capitol to “Stop the Steal.” That echoed Trump’s campaign to overturn the results, which incited the Jan. 6 violent attack.

The official, Chris Carr — who is also Georgia’s attorney general — explained his resignation in a letter obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Carr cited a “fundamental difference” among the group’s members over “the significance of the events of January 6.” Specifically, he noted, some members resisted accepting the recent resignation of the group’s executive director over the robocalls, which urged “patriots” to attend the rally to defend “election integrity.”

This has marred the group’s effort to choose its next executive director and “restore” its “reputation,” Carr admitted. In short, the group — which comprises GOP attorneys general across the country — is in turmoil because some want to move on from the Big Lie, and others don’t.

The Big Lie is unsustainable

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that some state-level Republicans are now criticizing voter suppression bills that their colleagues are busily crafting, as part of a wave of such restrictions across the country.

Republicans in Arizona, for instance, balked at a measure that would have allowed the state legislature to overturn presidential election results. Some Florida Republicans blocked a proposal to entirely ban drop boxes for mail ballots. In Georgia, there was some GOP pushback against a provision in its new law that transfers some power over local elections to state legislators.

To be clear, the pushback is extremely modest in the larger scheme of things. In some states, while some things are getting nixed, many voter suppression provisions directly targeting non-White voters remain.

Meanwhile, in many states, voter suppression efforts continue. There’s the Georgia law, with its numerous provisions making it harder to vote in ways plainly targeted at African Americans.

And in Montana, Democrats are suing to block a new law that eliminates Election Day registration and curtails the use of student IDs to vote, which appears designed to limit younger voters’ participation.

More broadly, these efforts remain very robust. As FiveThirtyEight noted, efforts at restricting voting have been concentrated in the four states that were closest in the 2020 election, and which President Biden won. What a spectacular coincidence!

Still, the Big Lie is growing so hard to sustain in all its various forms that support for it is cracking to a greater degree than before.

The question Republicans can’t answer

The one question that Republicans simply cannot credibly answer is this: Given that the 2020 election actually proved to be a remarkable civic success amid exceptionally challenging conditions, what is the public interest justification for all the new voting restrictions?

There isn’t one.

“The 2020 election was judged to be the most secure in U.S. history, with no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the highest turnout in 120 years,” voting rights reporter Ari Berman told me. “Based on these facts, there is no valid reason to make it harder to vote.”

Along these lines, buried in the Times piece is an interesting concession, at least relative to what we’ve seen. Some Republicans privately admit their argument for some of these bills is problematic:

They acknowledge, however, that their timing is bad. Pushing for any bill that includes new requirements for voting after an election that went more smoothly than many expected raises an inevitable question: Why now, if not to try to thwart Democrats?

Do tell! Can we have some more media discussion of this critical point? How about an effort to confront more Republicans with this question, and get their answers on record?

The confidence canard

Republicans have tried to finesse this problem with what you might call the confidence canard, the idea that even if there wasn’t widespread fraud in 2020, these restrictions are necessary to restore voter “confidence.”

That’s also the idea behind the slimy talking point that these measures are merely about restoring “election integrity.” But this rationale, too, falls apart: There is no actual reason for GOP voters to lack confidence in the last election — indeed, if they do, it’s because Trump and GOP lawmakers created that situation by feeding them lies about it — or in future ones, for that matter.

Obviously it would be ideal if Republicans across the board fully renounced both the lie that the election was illegitimate and the intermediate claim that GOP voters legitimately lack confidence in the election, necessitating new voting restrictions.

But given the depths of ongoing GOP radicalization against democracy, that appears highly unlikely.

One thing 2020 showed us was that we do need some Republican officials to be willing to draw the line somewhere against the most flagrant anti-democratic conduct. So if more are now edging away from the Big Lie in various forms, that should probably be encouraged.

Of course, that this micro-movement in a salutary direction amounts to a form of progress is itself a sign of how far we’ve fallen.

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