At first, this was a political headache for me and my colleagues: Few elected Republicans wanted to spend much time or political capital refuting people who were part of the base. But then a small group of lawmakers in the House and the Senate, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), started telling the base what they longed to hear: that Republicans could indeed defund Obamacare simply by insisting on it as part of a larger annual government spending bill. These members, and indeed every other elected Republican, knew better, but very few were willing to say so. I had dozens of meetings with individual lawmakers, as well as group sessions, imploring my colleagues to take a different approach, because shutdowns don’t work. Often, these same members would leave the meetings and go on cable TV to talk about how leadership wasn’t fighting hard enough, and only they were. And the shutdown was born.
This pattern repeated itself at a new level around the 2020 election. “Stop the Steal” narratives about widespread fraud, albeit without evidence, sought to undermine the results. Bloggers and certain friendly radio and TV shows didn’t need to worry about providing defensible facts or being confronted with the truth. Soon, President Donald Trump was talking about how the election could be overturned and awarded to the “true” winner — him — if only a secretary of state . . . or a governor . . . or the judges he appointed . . . or congressional Republicans . . . or the vice president would fight like he wanted them to. It was ultimately all political posturing, and I honestly don’t know if the president believed the story or not — but many in the GOP base did. Two-thirds of voters who are Republican or lean Republican have been misled into thinking that there is solid evidence of widespread fraud in the election, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found this month.
To my fellow Republicans who hope that Trump’s departure from office will end this cycle, I would remind them that it started long before he descended the escalator in Trump Tower more than five years ago. And left unconfronted, it will continue long into the future.