Rare is the person who likes being played for a fool.
Our everyday speech is rich with idioms that underscore that sentiment.
My mama didn’t raise no fool, declares a fourth. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, observes a fifth.
So why is it that so many people who would otherwise consider themselves gimlet-eyed skeptics possessed of a well-calibrated nonsense detector are so accepting of being lied to, led down the political primrose path, or otherwise deceived?
That question came to mind seeing the nakedly cynical post-primary flip-flop executed by US Senate nominee Don Bolduc of New Hampshire. During his successful primary campaign, the retired US Army general had repeatedly declared that Donald Trump was the real winner of the 2020 presidential election.
But less than two days after winning his party’s nomination, Bolduc effectuated an epic about-face.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this and I have spent the past couple of weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state, from every party, and I have come to the conclusion, and I want to be definitive about this, that the election was not stolen,” Bolduc said. Coming next: After long decades of study, Bolduc declares it was in fact a collision with an iceberg, and not a rich-rival-targeting J.P. Morgan, that sank the Titanic.
Now, it’s altogether fitting and proper to view Bolduc as a political con man — but you can’t do that without seeing any number of other Republicans in the same light. They know the election wasn’t stolen. At this point, one would have to be a confirmed conspiracy theorist or a world-class dunderhead to believe that.
And yet, the GOP now has at least eight election deniers running for governorships around the country, including Geoff Diehl in Massachusetts and Paul LePage in Maine. The party has some 10 election deniers running for secretary of state, whose ranks include Rayla Campbell here in the Bay State.
Here’s a quick recapitulation of why claims of a stolen election are absurd. The Trump team’s dozens of post-election lawsuits claiming electoral fraud came up with essentially nothing and went nowhere. We know from law license-related disciplinary hearings that Trump’s legal team made “demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public” about voter fraud. Indeed, one legal spreader of lies defended herself in a defamation lawsuit by saying reasonable people should haven’t taken her election-fraud claims as factual.
We know that audits, recounts, and reviews in various states, including crucial Georgia and Arizona, found no widespread fraud and nothing of a magnitude to reverse their outcomes. According to an exhaustive Associated Press report, there were fewer than 475 truly contested ballots in all swing states put together.
Now, Republicans might well rationalize away a candidate’s election-denialism by saying: Well, GOP candidates must enable that nonsense because they have to stay on the right side of Trump, who remains a potent force in the party and maintains the election was stolen.
So let’s look at Trump himself. We know from the Jan. 6 committee hearings that key members of his own team told him that wasn’t so. Indeed, in her upcoming book, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman writes that in the immediate aftermath of the election, Trump seemed to accept that he had lost and even queried aides about what had gone amiss.
So why does the former president propagate the falsehood?
The charitable explanation would be that he’s taken complete leave of his senses. But that’s obviously not the case. Rather, it’s because he believes he can dupe his supporters with a shameless lie. And if he can convince them that the election was stolen, they will not just stay with him, but also act on his cue to vote for other Republicans who echo his absurd claim.
The sad fact of the matter is that with some of them, he’s been proven right. That’s not a particular surprise. There is, after all, a long American tradition of susceptibility to perfervid conspiracy theories. That proclivity for poppycock is more pronounced when embracing it helps voters reject election results uncongenial to their party affiliations.
One common theme of right-wing populist politics is resentment of so-called coastal elites who supposedly look down on workaday Americans or residents of “fly-over” country. Indeed, that’s a time-honored aspect of the Fox News formula.
But almost two years after the November 2020 election, it’s time to pose this question: Shouldn’t the real target of grass-roots conservative ire be the political shysters who persist in trying to play them for fools?