In the weeks after the 2016 election, we were all trying to explain how Donald Trump had, somehow, narrowly won the presidency. And one phrase that had cropped up just before the election was suddenly on the lips of many analysts: “fake news.” Deliberate election disinformation from dubious websites had infected such social media platforms as Facebook, leading many people to believe utterly false things like that the pope had endorsed Trump or that Hillary Clinton had sold weapons to the Islamic State militant group. Some studies even suggested it might have swung the election.
Given that last narrative, Trump and his supporters quickly sprung into action. They commandeered the term, twisting it to refer to something else entirely. Suddenly, it was used to describe media reports and media figures with whom they disagreed. Thanks to Trump’s knack for branding and repetition, this latter meaning became more pervasive. A pithy phrase used to describe a legitimate media phenomenon that risked undermining Trump suddenly became an even pithier political cudgel for him to use against his foes.
Today, a similar effort is afoot to re-purpose another phrase that has become a liability for Trump’s party: the “big lie.”
The decisions by Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines to push back on Georgia’s new voting law has united much of the conservative movement — Trump supporters and critics alike — against them. The right has accused the left and the media of overstating the suppressive elements of Georgia’s law and these corporations of swallowing the claims whole.
It has been rightly noted that such laws and their more extreme variants are predicated, in many ways, on Trump’s “big lie” of a supposedly stolen election. GOP legislators have justified such efforts by saying that they are needed to address even the perception of problems, regardless of nonexistent evidence of the widespread voter fraud that Trump claimed.
Conservatives, though, are appropriating that phrase not to describe the predicate for laws like Georgia’s, but rather the pushback against it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used the phrase twice in a statement Monday accusing the corporations of falling victim to a disinformation campaign.
“All the facts disprove the big lie,” McConnell said, referring to polls showing strong support for the kind of voter ID requirements that Georgia will apply to absentee ballots, as well as Washington Post fact-checks of President Biden’s false claims about the law’s effect on Georgia’s early-vote poll closing times.
McConnell added that “a host of powerful people and institutions apparently think they stand to benefit from parroting this big lie.”
McConnell’s statement follows on a Wall Street Journal column titled “Corporate America’s ‘Big Lie’ ” that also focused on the voter ID elements of the law. Another well-trafficked column, from the Hill newspaper on Monday, attacked the MLB for pushing “Biden’s big lie about ‘suppressed’ GA voting.” Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that Democrats were “engaged in big lie smear against Georgia.” Other conservatives have used the phrase, as well.