The Big Lie is expanding: Majority of Republicans now insist Trump never tried to overturn election

As Trump's legal saga unfolds, his followers are sticking their heads in the sand

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 27, 2023 9:52AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It may seem obvious that everyone in the country knows that Donald Trump tried to overturn the election results in 2020 because we all watched him do it live as it was happening. His campaign filed more than 60 lawsuits in various states — as was his right — none of which were found to be meritorious. His minions and accomplices in the Republican Party, both in Washington and around the country, actively tried to help him pressure election officials and persuade local officials to sign on as "alternate electors." I think you'd have to have been in a coma not to know that he aggressively tried to bully Mike Pence, his vice president, into refusing to count the electoral votes on January 6. 

Trump's famous Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger was all over the news the very next day. Recall he very pointedly said:

 "What I want to do is this. I just want to find, uh, 11,780 votes, which is one more than [the 11,779-vote margin of defeat] we have, because we won the state."

The state had already certified its results showing that Joe Biden won after several recounts, both by machine and by hand. There is simply no doubt that Donald Trump was attempting to overturn the election. They didn't try to hide it. 

Moreover, 139 Republican House members explicitly voted to overturn the results of the electoral college on January 6 at the behest and direction of Donald Trump, even after the violent mob stormed the capitol in an attempt to stop the counting of the certified electoral votes. New Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has been called “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” that day aimed at keeping Trump in office even after he lost. In fact, his status as an influential election denier for filing a widely derided amicus brief seeking to invalidate the 2020 election results in four swing states Biden won was key to gaining the unanimous vote for Speaker just this week. 

And long after Trump was comfortably ensconced at his Mar-a-Lago beach club he was pushing his supporters to pursue "audits" of the vote, even telling people that he would be reinstated in a matter of months. As recently as the fall of 2022 he was demanding that he be returned to the White House or hold a new election!

Whether you believe he was justified in doing it, or even think it was his patriotic duty to try, there is simply no doubt that Trump tried to overturn the election results. Denying that fact is simply delusional. And yet, as Aaron Blake at the Washington Post reports, it appears that tens of millions of Americans are in deep denial:

The Economist and YouGov this week became the latest to publish a head-scratching poll showing Republicans rejecting basic facts about Trump and his legal jeopardy.

The poll asked people whether Trump was “involved in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.” He, of course, was...But to most Republicans, this apparently never happened. Just 18 percent in the YouGov poll said Trump was involved in trying to overturn Georgia’s results, compared to 59 percent who say he wasn’t.

It’s now the second poll to show the vast majority of Republicans saying Trump wasn’t even involved in trying to overturn the election. YouGov asked similar, non-Georgia-specific questions in August. Republicans said just 38-30 percent that there was an attempt to overturn the election. That’s shocking in and of itself. But then it showed only half of that 38 percent said Trump was personally involved.

So in both polls, only about 1 in 5 Republicans said Trump tried to overturn the election — the very basic threshold fact that undergirds two of his four indictments.

Now maybe they see this as a matter of semantics and judge that he wasn't really attempting to "overturn" the election because it wasn't really legitimate in the first place. But that would be an awfully convoluted explanation. More likely this is related to the fact that he's been indicted in federal court in Washington D.C and Fulton County for doing just that and they are simply unwilling to believe he's guilty of it. 

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What this means is that The Big Lie, which was originally simply Donald Trump's insistence that the election was stolen from him, now includes an equally absurd lie that Trump never tried to overturn it. 

The Big Lie gets bigger and bigger as time goes on and Republicans seem powerless to resist it.

It's easy to blame the voters for this and ultimately it is their responsibility as citizens to be smart enough to resist such a ridiculous falsehood. But perhaps they just don't know the truth because their media diet is so reliant on right-wing propaganda that the facts aren't easily available to them. According to a new Pew Research Poll, while Americans generally are turning out the news more than they used to, Republican attention to current events has dropped precipitously:

In 2016, 57% of Republicans and independents who lean Rep­­ublican said they followed the news all or most of the time. In the 2022 survey, 37% said the same, a decrease of 20 points. By comparison, the share saying this among Democrats and Democratic leaners dropped by only 7 points, from 49% to 42%. 

It's likely that many of them are sticking their heads in the sand because on some level they either know the truth and don't want to admit it or they believe that any news they don't like is fake. They have been conditioned by Trump and the right-wing press to only hear what they want to hear. After all, he told them outright, "what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening" and they believed him.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Trump's legal saga unfolds over the next few months. At this point it looks as though Trump's hand-picked judge in Florida will drag the classified documents case out until after the election. And who knows when any trials in the Georgia case will take place? As things stand now, the federal case in Washington is the one most likely to go first and that's where the evidence of Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the election will be laid out in great detail. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that it will affect most Republican voters even if he's found guilty and sentenced to jail because they are impervious to the truth when it comes to their Dear Leader. The Big Lie gets bigger and bigger as time goes on and Republicans seem powerless to resist it. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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