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OPINION

The GOP’s bad bet: Declaring war on the truth

Despite Trump’s popularity with his cult-like base, his attempted auto-coup is a huge target for Republican rivals. Think of the completely accurate campaign ads that could be made encapsulating Trump’s foul scheming in a TV nutshell.

President Donald Trump smiles at supporters after a 2020 campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Dealing with a delusional sovereign has long been a curse for his courtiers. Take, for example, the dissolute George IV, Great Britain’s king from 1820 to 1830, who was given to claiming not just that he had fought at Waterloo, but that he had played a pivotal role in the battle that vanquished Napoleon once and for all.

After one such recounting of his false valor, the sovereign turned to the Duke of Wellington, who had been in command of the Anglo-allied forces at that epic clash, and said: “Was it not so, Duke?”

“I have often heard your majesty say so,” replied Wellington.

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If only Donald Trump’s Republican retinue were as mentally agile and noncommittal about obvious untruths. They are now discovering the difficult contortions that come from embracing a preposterous prevarication.

A monumental lie, after all, doesn’t poison the democratic process just once. No indeed. Once loosed upon the land, it ramifies into the lesser slithery subterfuges necessary to support the father of all falsehoods.

So it is with Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election. That fabrication created the conditions for the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. With the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack rooting out important truths about that day, the Republican National Committee has felt compelled to speak up.

Oh, not for truth, mind you. Rather, to declare the Jan. 6 attack a matter of “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” and to censure House Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating on the panel. In so doing, the RNC has as much as declared that the Republican Party is officially an enemy of the truth.

Sadly, the very way the resolution starts is a lie: “WHEREAS, The primary mission of the Republican Party is to elect Republicans who support the United States Constitution. . .”

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One can’t support both the US Constitution and Donald Trump, who schemed to subvert it. Or as Mike Pence, once Trump’s unctuously loyal vice president, put it in his recent speech to a Federalist Society gathering: “President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election. President Trump is wrong. . . Frankly there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

Yes, Trump sent lies racing around the world while Pence was slowly lacing up his running shoes, but the former vice president’s belated utterance is nevertheless important. So too was the declaration by Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, that “nothing could be further from the truth than to consider the attack on the seat of democracy as legitimate political discourse.”

Why does this matter? Because it helps establish a beachhead for truth in a party now shamefully committed to a false narrative. Although Trump remains a potent power in today’s GOP, he isn’t the only force. He has signaled that he wants to run again in 2024 — but others are also eyeing candidacies. Despite Trump’s popularity with his cult-like base, his attempted auto-coup is a huge target both for Republican rivals and for whomever the Democrats nominate. Think of the completely accurate campaign ads that could be made encapsulating Trump’s foul scheming in a TV nutshell.

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Once the Jan. 6 committee issues its report, we’ll have Congress’s best effort at documenting the anti-constitutional machination and duplicity surrounding that day’s events. By then, we should know more about the emerging false-elector flimflam. All that will establish a new fault line between truth and lies — and new campaign ammunition for anyone who wants to use it

Former close Trump associate Chris Christie has already signaled his interest in running as an anti-Trump truth-teller in the Republican primaries.

“Let’s call this what it is: January 6 was a riot that was incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words last week: overturn the election,” Christie said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Those are truths that aren’t told inside the red bubble of Trump sycophants and apologists. Indeed, as conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt noted in a conversation with Christie, Hewitt never talks about Jan. 6 because if he did, his listeners would tune him out.

If the rest of the nation were as authoritarian, cultish, conspiratorial, and willingly gullible as the Trump base, the condition of democracy wouldn’t just be dire. It would be terminal.

Yet over time, truth has always had a power and resilience all its own. You shouldn’t bet against it, even in these disconcerting times.

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But make no mistake: The Trumpist wing of the GOP is now doing exactly that.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.