The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Here’s why the Trump GOP’s crazy quotient is expanding

A pair of QAnon and pro-Donald Trump signs appears in Sterling Heights, Mich., on April 11. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump and his post-truth pioneers have expanded the frontiers of fakery this week.

The former president used his Truth Social site on Monday to demand that he be declared “the rightful winner” of the 2020 election, and he followed that by posting and sharing on Tuesday a barrage of QAnon slogans and themes, doctored photos and false conspiracy notions, including a claim that the “FBI colluded with Antifa” in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and a forged tweet falsely purporting to be from Ivanka Trump calling covid vaccines “useless.”

Later Tuesday, a court filing by the Justice Department included a sworn certification from Trump’s office that flagrantly misrepresented the status of classified documents hoarded at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s “custodian of records,” Christina Bobb, certified “on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump” on June 3 that after “a diligent search,” it had turned over “any and all” classified documents taken to Trump’s residence. But the FBI later seized at Mar-a-Lago more than 100 documents with (often colorful) classification markings. “That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made” by Trump’s team, the filing said.

Also late Tuesday, The Post’s Colby Itkowitz reported that at least nine Republican congressional candidates had “scrubbed or amended” references to Trump, the 2020 election, or abortion from their websites or online profiles. A shift in emphasis after primaries is common; a Soviet-style airbrushing that makes positions disappear entirely is not.

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If it appears the volume of deception coming from MAGA Republicans is increasing, that’s because it is. Two academics from New York University set about documenting the proliferation of rubbish in a study they described this week for The Post’s Monkey Cage feature. They found that 36 percent of the news that Republican congressional candidates shared on social media came from unreliable sources on an average day from January to July, up from 8 percent for the same period in 2020. (The news shared by Democratic candidates from unreliable sources rose to 2 percent from 1 percent.)

The most ominous finding is where the crescendo of crazy is coming from. Incumbent Republican members of Congress were relatively truthful: Only 6 percent of the news they shared came from unreliable sources. Among Republican challengers, fully 45 percent came from unreliable outlets.

This makes sense. The way to get ahead in Trump’s GOP — the way to win an open-seat primary or to oust a Republican incumbent — is to push the boundaries of flimflam ever further. Republicans are caught in a vicious cycle: By discrediting the truth, they’ve created an incentive for each iteration of Republican challengers in each election cycle to distinguish themselves by embracing an even more sensational blend of falsehoods and conspiracy beliefs. It’s disinformation Darwinism: Falsify more, or fade away; become more outrageous, or perish. The ceiling of crazy in one cycle becomes the floor in the next.

Trump, for his part, now appears to be hoping to monetize the QAnon conspiracy movement, whose sometimes violent followers hold that a network of pedophiles secretly controls the government. His Truth Social media venture has struggled — losing money, gaining few users, squabbling with a vendor and seeing its stock price fall nearly 75 percent since March.

So Truth Social is wooing the QAnon crowd, banished from more reputable sites. NewsGuard, which rates the reliability of media organizations, reported this week that Truth Social awarded its verification badges to 47 QAnon-promoting accounts, each with more than 10,000 followers. In all, it said, 88 QAnon-associated users (32 of them previously banned from Twitter) have more than 10,000 followers apiece on Truth Social. Trump and current and former Truth Social executives have shared QAnon graphics and messages and promoted the QAnon accounts. Trump had done so 65 times, the report said — and that was before his QAnon extravaganza Tuesday.

That day, Trump reposted QAnon slogans “Where we go one we go all” and “I am the storm”; a message from reputed QAnon founder “Q”; allegations that Democrats, not Russia, are the “enemy”; false claims about law enforcement and a voting-machine maker; altered photos of President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland (with hammer-and-sickle lapel pin) and others; and various versions of the 2020 election lie.

There were five dozen such posts and reposts in Trump’s QAnon spree — a whole lot of fakery for one morning. But — who knows? — maybe tomorrow the Office of Donald J. Trump will issue a sworn certification attesting that, after a “diligent search,” it could not find a single QAnon post Trump had shared, ever.

Once you’ve disqualified the truth, your only means of advancement is an ever bolder lie.