On Jan. 6, 2021, a man who lost an election tried to steal it. That man was Donald Trump, and the election was for president of the United States. Three years have passed. Three years of Trumpist lies about that day—coming from the insurrectionist-in-chief himself, his supporters in and out of office, and from MAGA parrots in the media—have had a significant impact on public opinion. They’ve warped minds. Now, as we enter the year of the next presidential election, the impact of those lies is as strong as it’s ever been.
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Trump and lies have had a long and fruitful relationship. He lied over 30,000 times in four years as president. That’s twenty times a day; it’s second nature. It’s one thing, however, to lie about the size of his Inauguration Day crowd. But lying about attempting to destroy our democracy is a whole other bottle of spray tan.
The twice-impeached, disgraced former president has spent three years lying about the Jan. 6 insurrection (among many other things). These lies might not matter as much if he weren’t trying to ride them back into the White House, from where, lest we forget, he promised that he would be a dictator, if only “on day one.”
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Hardcore members of MAGA nation revel in the events of Jan. 6. Nevertheless, Trump knows he can’t win this November without convincing enough other voters that he didn’t do what we all saw him do on live television—namely, incite a mob to storm Congress and prevent the rightful certification of Joe Biden as our next president. Unfortunately, more and more of those voters are getting convinced.
A new poll conducted by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland was released on Jan. 2, and the results are as distasteful as the Trumps’ White House decorating style. It’s not just about the percentage of people who believe Trump’s lies, it’s about the fact that those numbers are going up, in particular among Republicans.
The partisan divide is clear, as the Washington Post explained: “Republicans are more sympathetic to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol and more likely to absolve Donald Trump of responsibility for the attack than they were in 2021.” The image below shows that the percentage of Republicans holding Trump responsible has fallen from an already low 27% to a truly pathetic 14%. The percentages among independents and Democrats, by comparison, remained essentially the same.
Additionally, “Republicans are showing increased loyalty to the former president as he campaigns for reelection and fights criminal charges over his attempt to stay in power after losing in 2020. They are now less likely to believe that Jan. 6 participants were ‘mostly violent,’ less likely to believe Trump bears responsibility for the attack, and are slightly less likely to view Joe Biden’s election as legitimate than they were in a December 2021 Post-UMD survey.” This next image shows that the percentage of Republicans who see the people who stormed the Capitol three years ago as “mostly violent” fell from 26% to 18%, while, once again, the percentages barely moved among independents and Democrats.
Likewise, 11% fewer Republicans (and 7% fewer independents) than two years ago now believe that the punishments meted out to the insurrectionists—the people who violently disrupted the peaceful transition of power from a president of one party to another that has defined our democracy since 1800—were either fair or too lenient. In other words, more Republicans wanted to let these criminals off with a lighter sentence, or no punishment at all.
Any individual poll is of limited value, as social scientists can tell you. But some of the most valuable pieces of information polling can reveal are changes over time. When the same pollster asks the same questions at two different points in time, using the same methodology, that’s an apples-to-apples comparison of what people believe, and can reveal a great deal. That’s what we have in this case.
The polls described above demonstrate, with verifiable data, that right-wing lies have moved Republican voters. The fact that the shift is smaller to nonexistent among other voters, including independents, suggests strongly that those who consume right-wing media and listen to right-wing demagogues from Trump on down are much more likely to believe the lies about the insurrection than those Americans who do not. Three years of hearing nothing that resembles the truth about Jan. 6 has taken its toll on our public discourse. And that’s exactly what the Tangerine Palpatine wanted.
When the Jan. 6 insurrection failed, many of us hoped we’d seen the last of Donald Trump on the national political stage, as a leader of his party and/or our country. But that hope has been dashed. Three years have passed, and the fight to save our democracy rages on. If we are going to win, it will take a lot more than hope.
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Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)
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