Donald Trump warned the country that the Ebola virus would pour over our borders if elected leaders did not follow his advice on quarantining and restricting those infected with or potentially affected by the virus. He latched onto the issue as the 2014 midterm elections approached, mirroring what was being argued on Fox News day in and day out. The election faded, and so did the clamor.
Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency by claiming that the Mexican government was sending criminals across the border — rapists, drug dealers. It was an echo of right-wing rhetoric, and, even when challenged, Trump refused to back down, reframing his complaints as though they were simply about the risk of crime associated with immigration. That this, too, was false didn’t derail his insistence that it wasn’t. The attention generated by his business partners ending their relationships with the Trump Organization quickly gelled the political support of a large part of the Republican primary electorate.
Donald Trump claimed in November 2015 that he had seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The front-runner for the Republican nomination offered no evidence for his false claim, instead elevating tangential claims and noncredible evidence from people who agreed with him. A pattern was forming: Trump would make indefensible claims and leave the defenses to fervent supporters who constantly shifted the goal posts. Another pattern already existed: Trump was painting Muslims — like immigrants — as inherently dangerous, an effort that culminated in his declaration that Muslims should be barred from entering the country.
Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign included making wild accusations about criminal activity by his political opponents, including his eventual opponent, Hillary Clinton. The most bizarre accusation Trump made during that period, though, involved the father of one of his primary opponents: He suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father might somehow be involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Donald Trump spent his presidency making other false claims about his and America’s perceived enemies to bolster his political position. He shared social media posts falsely impugning Muslims. He claimed that the young Black and Hispanic men arrested and charged with the 1989 assault of a jogger in Central Park were guilty despite their having been exonerated. He said that wind turbines, long a target of his false assertions, caused cancer. He hinted that a prominent television host had perhaps committed murder. He alleged that a cabal of government officials up to Obama himself had conducted an unfounded investigation into his 2016 campaign and stated without evidence that the phones had been tapped at Trump Tower.
Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that voter fraud was rampant, implying that Democratic officials were routinely orchestrating the casting of millions of illegal ballots without detection. He claimed that people would vote, leave, put on a hat, come back and vote again without interruption.
Donald Trump regularly embraced conspiracy theorists who spread obvious misinformation. During the 2016 campaign, he sat down for an interview with Alex Jones, perhaps America’s foremost purveyor of falsehoods. He endorsed Republican candidates linked to fringe extremist ideologies like QAnon. Asked about QAnon specifically, he repeatedly declined to criticize the theory that held that he was fighting a secret war against satanic pedophiles from within the government. During one interview, he even praised the ideology’s adherents for their ostensible concern about sex crimes against minors.
Donald Trump’s political existence was predicated on, first, leveraging false claims from conservative media to endear himself to Republican voters and, then, generating false claims that propagated in conservative media to provide a buffer of political protection. He said more than 30,000 untrue things as president, most of them more than once. Many of them were explicitly conspiratorial. And then voters decided he didn’t deserve a second term in office.
Donald Trump spent the two months after he lost the 2020 presidential election claiming that rampant fraud had occurred in a number of states, denying him a victory. Those claims continued day after day, even after they’d been debunked by state officials and the media. He embraced even the wildest assertions about fraud, including that electronic voting machines that his allies claimed were linked to various Communist regimes had been used to swing the vote in unclear and undetectable ways. He actively and enthusiastically spread any claim that came across his Twitter feed or into the Oval Office in an effort to mislead the public and his supporters about what happened in the election.
Donald Trump told his supporters that he’d won the election and that unless Vice President Mike Pence intervened on Jan. 6, Congress would steal the presidency from him. So his supporters, believing his conspiracy theories, stormed the Capitol, disrupting the counting of the electoral votes formalizing President Biden’s victory.
Once the Capitol was cleared, a majority of congressional Republicans went ahead and agreed with the violent mob that maybe the electoral votes shouldn’t stand as submitted. There was no reason to hold this position, though many rationalizations were generated. It was simply a decision made by Republican members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), that it was easier to go along with Trump’s fraud claims than to challenge him and his base of support. Just as so many of them had gone along with his claims about fraud before the election and just as they’d gone along with his claims about everything else from the moment he won the Republican nomination.
On Thursday, Republicans were dealing with headaches caused by another conspiracy theorist. Past comments from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of those QAnon-supporting candidates Trump embraced, were emerging at a rapid clip. Before winning the Republican primary last year, Greene had been deeply immersed in the furthest fringe of right-wing conspiracies. She endorsed violence against Democratic politicians. She alleged that Clinton was involved in satanic rituals. She suggested that a mass shooting at a high school in Florida in 2018 was a “false flag” operation and supported the idea that the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 was staged. Among other things.
McCarthy wasn’t in Washington to deal with this. Instead, he was in Florida visiting Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to show unity with the former president impeached two weeks ago for inciting an attempted insurrection. Trump’s office released a photo of the two of them, smiling while surrounded by the resort’s gilded finery. The statement assured the world that Trump would help McCarthy and the Republicans in the 2022 House contests; after all, Trump’s endorsement “means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” as the statement said.
A party that spends more than five years looking the other way at Trump’s claims, a party that even now, after his lies spurred a violent attack on their own workplace, travels in supplication to his house to seek his support — that’s not a party that has strong standing to hold Greene to account for her past statements.
You can’t simply weed a garden left untended since June 2015.