The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s aides told him the truth. Now they are finally telling us.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its second public hearing on June 13 in D.C. (Jabin Botsford/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack heard Monday from a cavalcade of former officials who worked for President Donald Trump around the time of the 2020 election. They all wanted Mr. Trump to win. Yet they all testified that they were confident that the election was not stolen and that they told Mr. Trump so. Anyone in Trumpworld with a shred of intellectual honesty apparently concluded that the claims of Mr. Trump and other 2020 crackpots were obviously false — “bull---t,” as former attorney general William P. Barr put it. The lesson is that, in the age of social media and hyper-partisanship, it is unsettlingly easy to manufacture national crises out of absolutely nothing. Americans must shift how they vote accordingly.

Well before the 2020 election, Trump campaign staff members knew that early returns would skew Republican and later returns Democratic. They said they counseled Mr. Trump not to declare premature victory. Mr. Trump ignored them. He alleged major fraud “right out of the box on election night,” Mr. Barr testified, “before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence.”

As Mr. Trump cried fraud, his staff evaluated the facts. Former campaign manager Bill Stepien testified that he ran “Team Normal,” which concluded the allegations were false. Mr. Trump increasingly sidelined these people in favor of cranks who told him what he wanted to hear, such as his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. It is well that Mr. Stepien and others are now telling their stories. But why didn’t “Team Normal” say more publicly in late 2020, when Mr. Trump’s attempt to subvert the election was underway?

Mr. Barr, who did speak up then, said bogus allegations came in so profusely that he had to play election conspiracy “whack-a-mole.” Richard Donoghue, who served as acting deputy attorney general after Mr. Barr resigned in December 2020, said Mr. Trump, after being told an allegation was false, would simply fixate on another one. Mr. Barr testified that Mr. Trump had “become detached from reality” and that there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.” If there is a second Trump administration, it’s a good bet that only the cranks will be allowed in.

Americans have long had the luxury of voting for leaders based on day-to-day issues such as economic performance or tax, education or environmental policy, because the major parties’ nominees have shared commitments to basic facts and to the U.S. political system. We no longer have that luxury. Voters must now prioritize honesty on core issues and commitment to democracy above all else. If we fail to repudiate politicians who lie or who amplify lies about U.S. democracy, more will do so. If more do so, confusion and division will become only more severe, and the likelihood of an antidemocratic takeover, perhaps as soon as 2024, will rise.

In 2022, some candidates are avowedly running on the most obvious fiction about 2020. But these are not the only villains. There are some who do not speak as explicitly but sowed doubts by objecting to the 2020 electoral college vote or by expressing concerns about election integrity as they passed new voting restrictions. There are those who remain silent amid this dishonesty and cynicism, in hope of political advancement. And there are some, such as the Jan. 6 committee’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who have behaved patriotically. Whether we have another 2020 — or worse — in 2024 depends heavily on what voters do this November, not just with the conspiracy fanatics but with all those who have spinelessly played along.

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