The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The great Trump whitewash is underway. Kevin McCarthy’s big lie confirms it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on May 12 said no one was questioning the election legitimacy two days after former president Donald Trump did. (Video: The Washington Post)

After House Republicans purged Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership role, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy further debased himself by serving up one of the biggest, most widely mocked lies of the year.

“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” the California Republican insisted, miraculously refraining from bursting out in snickers. “I think that is all over with.”

This nonsense has been massacred by fact checks and widely mocked on Twitter. But it’s more than just a sad, sick joke: It shows that a careful and deliberate scheme is underway to erase very large truths about this moment, a project we cannot allow to succeed.

An important new piece in the New York Times helps demonstrate this. As it shows, many Republicans pushing voter suppression efforts across the country are not primarily justifying this with the full-blown lie that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Instead, they’re relying on a softer claim: These suppression measures are necessary because Republican voters lack “confidence” in the electoral system, because whatever the reality, they have reasonable grounds to believe the 2020 outcome might have been dubious.

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The Times piece is the first major treatment of this ugly game by a news organization I’ve seen (though your humble blogger has been obsessing over it). Here’s a remarkable tidbit:

Lawmakers in at least 33 states have cited low public confidence in election integrity in their public comments as a justification for bills to restrict voting, according to a tally by The New York Times. In several states — including Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Iowa — the bills have already been signed into law, and legislation in Texas is very close to passage.

This absurdity — that suppression is needed in the name of “election integrity,” to restore “confidence” in our system — has been employed in nearly three dozen states. Of course, if anyone does “lack confidence” in our elections, that’s because Trump and Republicans made it so by deceiving their voters about the 2020 outcome for months on end.

What’s really happening here is that Republicans, having executed a monstrous crime against our democracy, are now spending the booty from the crime hand over fist while busily covering up their tracks to erase their culpability for all of it.

A crime against democracy

The crime was to go all in with Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, which included mass support for a lawsuit to invalidate millions of votes based on fictions and 147 House Republicans voting to invalidate President Biden’s electors. The relentless GOP feeding of Trump’s lies helped inspire the insurrectionist mob assault on the Capitol.

As David Leonhardt puts it: “Never before have so many elected members of Congress from one party tried to disrupt a clear victory by the other party.”

The spending of the booty consists in executing the voter suppression efforts now underway everywhere. Republicans aren’t just justifying these by claiming the election’s outcome was illegitimate, though they certainly are doing that.

More widespread is the justification that voter “confidence” in our system must be restored. That Times report documents numerous examples of Republicans making all sorts of disingenuous versions of this claim. In some cases, the suppression bills themselves echo this language.

While Republicans have long justified suppression with claims like these, this time it’s different. As the Times notes, the scale and breadth of it are unusual, and in this case it’s being justified by a lack of confidence directly traceable to a “disinformation campaign," one executed by Trump and Republicans themselves.

To appreciate just how devious this is, note that the “lack of confidence” claim is both justification for suppression and a covering of GOP tracks for their crime.

That’s because it allows Republicans to say they are no longer pushing Trump’s “big lie,” obscuring their ongoing radicalization, while simultaneously enabling them to keep deceiving their voters into lacking confidence in electoral outcomes.

McCarthy’s claim that no one is "questioning the legitimacy of the election” is of a piece with this broader softening. Even as he claims this, the softer “confidence” canard is in full force, and with it, the very voter suppression that could help Republicans take back power.

The whitewashing of Jan. 6

It gets even worse. Also central to this great erasure is a wholesale whitewashing of the insurrection itself. CNN’s Brianna Keilar aired a terrific segment Thursday that juxtaposed scenes of the violent mob assault with Republicans who now describe it as a “normal tourist visit” and say the real victims are Trump supporters getting charged with federal crimes.

Meanwhile, other Republicans are claiming there’s no proof the rioters were Trump supporters. And as the Post fact-checking team documents in detail, Republicans are widely claiming leftist violence is the real problem (to muddy up culpability for the insurrection) and that Trump himself isn’t responsible for the attack.

Remarkably, this comes after numerous Republicans themselves admitted just after the assault (when they were still shellshocked into fleeting honesty) that he was indeed responsible for it. All this is now being erased entirely.

McCarthy’s claim might seem like disingenuous, mock-worthy clowning. But it’s symptomatic of a much broader, deeper and more comprehensive deception campaign. We can’t allow it to prevail.

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