In late May, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, “War Room,” and said: “Donald Trump, I believe, will be back in by the end of August.” He also said that eventually even liberals such as Rachel Maddow would admit that the election was stolen. Lindell’s bizarre theory is that all Team Trump needs is a shred of proof of election fraud to overturn the entire election. Trump and others are watching the Republican-backed audit in Arizona because they believe in a “domino theory” — if Arizona ballots can be proven to be fraudulent, election results in other battleground states that President Joe Biden won can also be overturned.
There is, of course, no legal or factual basis backing up any of this.
Lindell’s bizarre theory is that all Team Trump needs is a shred of proof of election fraud to overturn the entire election.
Sources also told The Daily Beast that Trump has started quizzing confidants about a potential return to power in August. These sources said they decided not to tell the former president what they were thinking — which was that his reinstatement was not going to happen. The anecdote says a lot about the people who still have Trump’s ear — and the continuing inability of Republicans to push back against even the most ludicrous conspiracy theories. As the GOP looks ahead to 2024, such cowardice should be cause for serious concern among party leaders. On the other hand, they may not care.
Importantly, Trump is increasingly fixating on the Republican-backed audits as he pushes the lie that he won the election. He needs to keep talking about this lie because he faces an existential political threat: His brand is based on winning, but he lost. Winners don’t lose, particularly winners who promise their fans that “we will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.”
His solution is to insist that he won. To do this, he and his allies have devised an elaborate alternate reality in which he won the election but it was stolen from him through voter fraud.
Similarly, how does a would-be authoritarian retain power after having been ousted from office? Trump figured that one out, too: remain relevant by retaining control over the Republican Party. His election lies are a big part of this strategy, as well. It becomes self-fulfilling. The more people there are who believe the election was stolen, the more real it feels to Trump and the more he hammers the point home in speeches and blog posts.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, moderate Republicans started to walk away from the party. Even some conservatives who stuck with Trump all through his presidency couldn’t stomach the insurrection. Currently, 53 percent of Republican voters believe Trump won the election. Similarly, in a national poll last month by Quinnipiac University, 66 percent of people who classified themselves as Republicans said they want Trump to run for president in 2024.
The fact that Trump still controls so many Republican voters explains the assertion by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that the Republican Party can’t “move forward” without Trump. Speeding up the Republican Party’s hardening into a right-wing extremist party is Trump’s demand that anyone who doesn’t toe the line and repeat the lie be ousted and exiled.
Trump advisers and confidants have many reasons not to push back. For one, the former president often rebuffs advisers who tell him to drop the whole stolen election story. But those in Trump’s inner circle also need to keep voters riled up if Trump’s political future — and presumably theirs — is to continue. Dangling the possibility that Trump will be reinstated in August accomplishes this.
In practical terms, it doesn’t matter whether a political figure is genuinely delusional or whether that person is lying for political gain. The effect is the same. It’s worth noting, though, that Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review believes, after having spoken to an “array of different sources,” that Trump is truly delusional: He actually does think he will be reinstated as president this summer.
Such an embrace of insanity creates a cycle in which the Republican Party sheds itself of nonbelievers, finds ways to keep the true believers angry and engaged and unhinges itself even more thoroughly from reality and becomes, arguably, increasingly dangerous. The result is that conspiracy theorists like Mike Lindell have somehow become influential, despite their very clear record of belligerent gibberish. And Trump, as he has been for five-plus years now, remains at the center of the Republican Party as it veers deeper into a made-up reality.