Mike Johnson kisses the ring — and boosts Trump's Big Lie

"Election integrity" is the GOP codeword for an incoherent racist conspiracy theory. MAGA Mike is now on board

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 15, 2024 9:42AM (EDT)

Donald Trump listens as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Donald Trump listens as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Donald Trump likes to proclaim himself the greatest businessman, greatest president, greatest everything — and none of it is even remotely true. Well, there is one category in which he is the undisputed greatest of all time: He's the greatest sore loser in world history. He's such a sore loser that even when he wins, he whines that he was cheated out of winning even bigger.

The best example of this was his lament after the 2016 election, when he won in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, that those votes were all illegal. He couldn't live with the fact that even though he had technically won the election, it was not by popular acclamation. He used to say, "People get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again." (That does not happen, needless to say.) And of course he claimed that most of those supposedly illegal votes came from undocumented immigrants.

Almost immediately upon taking office he convened a Commission on Voter Integrity and tapped Vice President Mike Pence and right-wing "vote fraud" activist Kris Kobach to head it up, larding the rest of the board with Republican hacks. Kobach and his various henchmen quickly lost whatever slight chance of credibility they might have had by trying to strong-arm the states into turning over massive amounts of private voter data. That resulted in a succession of lawsuits that blocked most of the commission's activities and caused chaos for election officials all over the country.

One of the Democratic members of the commission was forced to file a lawsuit in federal court to get Kobach and company to share working papers with the other commission members. After a federal judge agreed, the commission was abruptly disbanded without ever issuing a report. They purportedly turned the whole matter over to the Department of Homeland Security and that was that.

But as we all know too well, that did not stop Trump from continuing to insist that the election system was rigged despite absolutely no evidence. That question was adjudicated more than 60 times after the 2020 election, and of course Trump's claims went nowhere. But the Big Lie persists because he has relentlessly flogged it virtually every day since then. Polls show that two-thirds of Republicans still believe that election was stolen. In fact, going back to his first election in 2016, Trump has planted the seeds even before voting begins that the system is somehow rigged against him. As we found out on Jan. 6, 2021, he has many followers who agree that he had better win, or else.

These pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago have become a ritual for all Republicans with any ambition. In fact, Trump's resort has become a required stop for foreign politicians eager to cover all their bases as well.

After he incited that insurrection, it briefly appeared that the Republican establishment would finally break with Trump and put an end to this insanity. Party leaders stood up on the floor of the Congress and denounced Trump's behavior. A few even brought themselves to vote for conviction in his impeachment trial, which would presumably have prevented him from running again. But not quite enough of them were able to summon the courage and it wasn't long before Kevin McCarthy, then the House minority leader, scurried down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring and make clear that Trump remained the GOP's dominant figure despite his coup attempt and numerous crimes. That set the stage for his inevitable comeback.

These pilgrimages have become a ritual for all Republicans with any ambition. (In fact, it's become a required stop for foreign politicians eager to cover all their bases as well.) Just last week House Speaker Mike Johnson made the trek, obviously to beg for protection from his arch-nemesis, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is contemplating a power play aimed at stripping Johnson of power, and possibly his position as speaker as well. (She is threatening a vote to "vacate the chair," something made possible by McCarthy's 2023 deal with the GOP far right.)  

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Trump was noncommittal about that whole mess: He'd like to keep Greene onside, since she's hugely popular with the MAGA crowd and he apparently agrees with her on cutting off aid to Ukraine. But he also wanted to support Johnson, whom he clearly views as a puppet. It was a sad display on the whole, with Johnson looking like an eager schoolboy as Trump stood behind him grimacing like a stern headmaster.

Although we know why Johnson went running to Big Daddy, his ostensible reason was to announce a new proposal for — you guessed it! — "election integrity." The speaker made a noble pledge to introduce legislation to make it illegal for non-citizens to vote, specifically undocumented immigrants, claiming that “potentially hundreds of thousands of votes” could be cast by migrants in the November election.

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Trump and his allies seem to want to convince the public that a major priority for the desperate people making their way across the southern border — who Trump claims are a bunch of criminals and escaped mental patients — is somehow registering to vote. Are they suggesting that these wily migrants are thinking ahead to the future when voting for Democrats might someday entitle them to citizenship? Of course the entire scenario is absurd, and as usual it's not backed up with any evidence. As CNN reports:

The right-leaning Heritage Foundation’s database of confirmed fraud cases lists less than 100 examples of non-citizens voting between 2002 and 2022, amid more than one billion lawfully cast ballots. And the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice analyzed more than 23 million votes from the 2016 election and found an estimated 30 examples.

All of this amounts to just another way for Trump to play to his base's prejudice and pump the paranoid "great replacement" theory, a formerly fringe belief that has now become mainstream on the right, which maintains that immigration from largely nonwhite countries is a plot to displace native-born white folks and create a permanent Democratic majority. Trump is folding all this together into his Big Lie Redux preview as a two-for-one package of xenophobic outrage.

Perhaps Democrats should just let the Republicans pass this redundant piece of flimflam so that when Trump loses again, they can say, well, the election must be legitimate since Donald Trump and Mike Johnson ensured that the integrity of the vote was fully protected. I'm sure that wouldn't stop Trump from his inevitable primal-scream ritual — but it would be pleasurable to say it anyway. 

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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