In a clear reference to the Nazis, Joe Biden on Friday called out Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley for perpetrating a “big lie,” a reference to the idea, often attributed to Hitler’s pet propagandist Joseph Goebbels, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
The duo cried foul, but the comparison, at least insofar as it pertains to propaganda, rings true. Arguably the original Nazi lie was that Germany had actually won World War I before being stabbed in the back. Germans who believed this lie could not accept the republic that followed as legitimate.
Sound familiar? Trump actually won! But he was stabbed in the back by cowards, communists, globalists, and the Lügenpresse.
The MAGA mob that stormed the Capitol believed the big lie that Joe Biden didn’t really win the election and acted on it last Wednesday. (Smaller, but still big, lies included the notion that the vice president or Congress could overturn the results of the election.) Will the people who believed this lie be able to accept Joe Biden’s presidency as legitimate? No way. And this perception is probably something we will be battling for a long time to come—at least among many on the right.
One reason that so many Republicans have been so susceptible to Trump’s lies is that they’ve been groomed for this. Republicans, and their media allies, have been lying to their own voters for years. The path to “Stop the Steal” started with the vow to “defund Obamacare.”
Before turning to Cruz, let’s start with Dick Morris’ infamous Fox News prediction that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 election by a “landslide.” Talk like this had an impact. A few days before the election, I attended a meeting of prominent conservative leaders who were focused on making sure solid conservatives found jobs in the Romney administration. At the start of the meeting—almost as a pro-forma throwaway—the question was asked if anyone thought Obama would be re-elected. Mine was the only hand to go up. My guess is that this mindset was not limited only to conservative leaders. Many Fox News viewers were stunned when Obama won.
But why did this happen? Maybe Morris made a grave error (it happens), or maybe he was just looking for attention or buzz by pandering to the crowd. And what is the psychological impact of having the rug pulled out from under you—of waking up the day after the election and being stunned to discover that, in fact, your guy had lost?
The next year, freshman Senator Ted Cruz sought to burnish his credentials as a conservative fighter, in preparation for a 2016 presidential bid. But the only thing he accomplished was raising false hopes among Republcan voters; everyone sensible (including yours truly) realized his plan to “defund Obamacare” was doomed to fail. Why? Because winning the battle would entail convincing Democrats and Barack Obama to go along with destroying the landmark legislation that (unofficially) bore his name.
“He knew that. He knew it. He knew it,” former Sen. Tom Coburn, a staunch conservative, said of Cruz. “It wasn’t about the shutdown. It wasn’t about the Affordable Care Act. It was about launching Ted Cruz.”
The problem with promising things you know you can’t deliver is that, eventually, your voters either blame you or the system. Cruz (like Trump) was adept at playing the victim, so the blame fell to the “establishment,” the “ruling class,” the “insiders”—who simply weren’t willing to fight hard enough to stand with Cruz.
Compared to Trump’s whoppers, Cruz’s were little white lies. Cruz wasn’t trying to bring down the republic, he was just playing a game to get ahead (this is true of his gambit in 2013, as well as his recent Electoral College objection). He’s a grifter, not a would-be dictator. Unlike Trump (who reportedly was a fan of Hitler’s speeches), Cruz started out as a “normal” (albeit, highly ambitious) Republican-politician type. He went to the right schools, sucked up to the right political leaders, and basically worked the system. His lies were more opportunistic than malicious. But they still had major consequences.
“[T]he doubt and suspicion [Cruz] sowed helped sour the base on our existing elected leaders and [held] the door for Trump,” writes Michael Steel, a Republican operative who worked for John Boehner and Paul Ryan. “Irresponsible anti-establishmentarianism turned out to be a powerful drug. Republican primary voters decided they wanted a stronger dose.”
By lying to his own supporters and performing stunts designed to make him look heroic and strong (and other Republicans appear cowardly and weak), Cruz succeeded in becoming (in)famous. But his lies weren’t victimless crimes. We are still paying for them today.
As crazy as this might sound, Trump’s base deserved more from him. They deserved real change, and he failed them. And now some of his most ardent true believers will pay the price for believing him, and acting on his claim that the election had been stolen. They are getting arrested, resigning from state legislatures, and losing jobs. Five people died. Everyone besides Trump pays the price.
Trump bears the brunt of the blame, but a straight line leads back to Cruz. Whether you’re peddling a big lie (“Biden didn’t win!”) or a small lie (“We can defund Obamacare”), it’s wrong to lie to people—much less the ones who are supporting you. There are consequences to telling them things can happen when they can’t.
If we’re ever going to turn this country around, Republicans must take responsibility for their actions, stop indulging their worst ambitions, and start the hard work of actually leading the nation. And the first step is admitting a simple fact: Joe Biden won the election fair and square.