Lara Trump's Big Lie hiring: Republicans stick with loser strategy that failed them in 2020 and 2022

Election denial doesn't impress voters, but it sure attracts massive defamation lawsuits

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published March 29, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Lara Trump speaks at the NCGOP state convention as former U.S. President Donald Trump on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)
Lara Trump speaks at the NCGOP state convention as former U.S. President Donald Trump on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

As with many news items in the Donald Trump era, we must file this under "shocking, not surprising": People who are being interviewed by the newly Trump-controlled Republican National Committee (RNC) report that they're being asked if they "believe" President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. This is after Trump installed his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as a co-chair of the RNC and she vowed to use the committee's funds to pay Trump's legal bills. (She's now denying that is the plan, even though documentation shows that the fundraising agreement between Trump and the RNC does, in fact, prioritize paying Trump's legal bills over funding the party.) Under Lara Trump's leadership, there has already been a staff purge, no doubt, as these reports show, to re-staff the RNC with people who are willing to back Trump's lies about the 2020 election. 

Grim stuff, watching the already-radicalized GOP lose any remaining shreds of pro-democratic sentiment and hardening into what can only be seen as a fascist party. There is a silver lining, however. There's good reason to believe Trump's strategy of going all-in on election denial will backfire. Under Trump's leadership, Republicans made conspiracy theories about voter fraud the centerpiece of their campaigns in 2020 and 2022. In both, they lost major elections they could have won. There's little reason to think voters will be more fond of the madness going into 2024. 

While it's not clear what continuing the Big Lie will buy Trump and his acolytes, what is likely is that, if they keep it up, they'll face another heap of very expensive legal trouble.

The 2022 midterms are especially robust in data, because it was after Trump turned election denial into a litmus test to get his endorsement. A Trump endorsement is valuable in a competitive Republican primary, but in a general election, the Big Lie hurts a candidate. Research published in spring of 2023 shows that Republicans who backed the Big Lie fell anywhere from 2.3 to 3.7 percentage points behind the performance of Republicans who admitted Biden won in 2020. That may not seem like a lot, but it was a game-changer in swing states where elections often come down to fractions of a percentage point. It certainly helped Democrats keep the Senate because Trump endorsees lost in close races in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada. 

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So far, 2024 is shaping up the same way: The Big Lie candidates do well in the primaries, only to come across as embarrassing kooks on the general election campaign trail. Bernie Moreno of Ohio is running against LGBTQ rights, but was exposed for having a profile on Adult Friend Finder looking for "Men for 1-on-1 sex." (He's blamed an intern for it, which maybe someone out there believes.) Kari Lake is running for in Arizona for Senate, having lost in 2022 for governor on the grounds of out-of-control battiness. The GOP candidate for governor in North Carolina, Mark Robinson, has a humiliating past soundbite drop practically every week now, including the latest where he calls Beyoncé a "skank.

It's not just the problem of what is euphemistically called "candidate quality," either. As the Washington Post reports, the RNC still faces resistance from Republican voters to voting by mail. Trump stigmatized mail-in ballots as a Democrat thing in 2020, as part of his years-long effort to build up the idea that the election was "fraudulent" before the first ballot was even cast. That's a problem, of course, because people who plan to vote by mail are more likely to get it done. Waiting until Election Day raises the chance of being too busy to vote or getting discouraged by long lines. Giving Democrats this huge get-out-the-vote advantage is not a great campaign strategy. 

Of course, as in 2020, it may just be that Trump is more focused on stealing the election than on winning fairly. That fits in with his lifelong habit of preferring shady and corrupt dealings over clean-nosed business, even when the latter is more lucrative. (If Trump had simply invested the money given to him by his father in a mutual fund, he would have been far richer than he got through his decades of fraud methodology.) Trump rarely leaves Mar-a-Lago, while Biden is hitting the campaign trail hard. Not a difference that suggests Trump is focused on winning over voters. Instead, as in 2020, the resources are being directed towards setting up false claims of "stolen" election, likely meant to justify another coup attempt. 

The good news is that, as Ed Kilgore argued for New York magazine, "while Trump remains entirely capable of trying to steal the presidency, his options have narrowed." He doesn't have the power of the White House to exploit, or a vice president he can pressure to refuse to certify the election. His efforts to sue his way to victory in 2020 didn't work, and are even less legally plausible this time. Perhaps most importantly, if he does somehow do what he failed to pull off on January 6 — keep Congress from certifying the election — that won't get him much. Last time, he was the incumbent and the plan was to use the derailed election to seize power permanently. This time, however, it's Biden who controls the White House. He will definitely not budge just because Trump is whining a lot. 

While it's not clear what continuing the Big Lie will buy Trump and his acolytes, what is likely is that, if they keep it up, they'll face another heap of very expensive legal trouble. As Aaron Blake at the Washington Post wrote Wednesday, the civil liabilities flowing from the election lies stoked by Trump keep piling up, at least for his allies. Lake just lost a major defamation lawsuit filed by an election worker that she falsely accused of stealing the election from her in 2022. "Lost" may be too dignified a word, really. Her lawyers declined to defend her lies, knowing full well there's no use in wasting time and money in bothering. 

As Blake writes: 

Throw in the $787.5 million Fox News agreed to pay a voting machine company over bogus theories that it aired bolstering Trump’s stolen-election claims and the $148 million judgment against Giuliani, and the combined bill is north of $1 billion — and potentially growing, thanks to Lake’s capitulation and other lawsuits.

The Trump political movement has long had a truth problem. That has now manifested itself as a very expensive defamation problem.

In theory, they could just make vague claims about the election being "stolen," and the MAGA masses will dutifully repeat the lie without a shred of evidence to back it up. In practice, however, Trump and his minions know that's not good propaganda. It's more emotionally satisfying for them to have real-life people to demonize. The temptation to falsely accuse real people of leading the imaginary conspiracy will be hard to resist. It would be better if they didn't victimize people (or voting machine companies). But as the pressures of fundraising and getting the base riled up mount, it's quite likely the Big Liars will start defaming actual people and companies again.

Whether or not Trump mounts his own self-imposed obstacles to win in 2024, one thing we can likely expect is another round of defamation lawsuits in 2025. And if they push it to the level of committing crimes, as happened in 2020, there may be even more indictments and arrests coming soon. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Big Lie Commentary Election Denial Elections 2024 Lara Trump Republican National Committee