The Atlantic Daily: The GOP Doubles Down on Denialism

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The country is still dealing with the consequences of Donald Trump’s attempt to undermine the 2020 election results.

In Arizona, Republican officials have forced a dubious audit of the state’s ballots. And in Washington, D.C., GOP leaders are bucking an effort to establish a bipartisan commission investigating the January riot at the Capitol. Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the initiative, but the Democratic-led House voted to push it forward anyway. Just 35 of 211 Republicans joined them.

The theme that connects the audit with the commission fight is Republican denialism, my colleague David A. Graham argues: In Arizona, it’s an unwillingness to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s win; in D.C., it’s an unwillingness to acknowledge the former president’s singular role in the insurrection.

I caught up with David to discuss the GOP’s choice to double down on denial as a political strategy.

The conversation that follows has been edited and condensed.

Caroline Mimbs Nyce: How long can the GOP reasonably keep these strains of denialism alive?

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David A. Graham: The party has clearly decided that this is going to be the strategy from now until the 2022 midterms. Everything leads us to believe that Republicans will take back the House, and maybe the Senate, in 2022, so they’re going to conclude that it worked. Which means we’re likely to see this until at least 2024, whether Trump or a Trumpist candidate runs.

Caroline: You’ve written that Trump has all but disappeared from public life. Are Republican elected officials appeasing him? Or is it Trump’s voting bloc?

David: A little bit of both. You’ve got places where some members are clearly concerned about whether Trump will try to retaliate against them, as we saw with the purging of Liz Cheney from the House’s Republican leadership. But in other cases, you have members who just think that talking about January 6 is bad for them.

There’s another strain of denialism that we saw in the Cheney ouster. Even people who were critical of Trump over the riot are like, Yeah, what happened was bad, but we need to stop talking about it, and Liz Cheney won’t stop talking about it. But the person who won’t stop talking about it is Donald Trump.

Caroline: Which one is more concerning to you: the Arizona audit or the fight against the January 6 commission?

David: Arizona, definitely. The audit is really dangerous because it encourages false beliefs. It lays the groundwork for efforts to overturn elections and to undermine faith in democracy generally.


What to read if … you’re concerned that all the vaccine incentives—such as the Ohio lottery—are getting a little gimmicky:

Stop worrying about free beer and doughnuts, David H. Freedman argues. We’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Read a poem: We recommend Kyle Carrero Lopez’s “Black Erasure.”

A break from the news:

Parking destroys cities. Michael Manville, an urban-planning professor, explains how.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.