“It is not going well for the globalists,” Bannon boomed, his huge, shaggy head filling the TV screens on every wall. “It is not going well for the elites. They’re back on their heels tonight.” Donald Trump, he predicted, was on the cusp of “another amazing come-from-behind victory.”
There was reason to be skeptical. Despite the president’s early win in Florida, the race had already begun to stabilize in the waning hours of Election Day. The math was getting harder for Trump; the swing states were swinging away. For now, Bannon and his bitter-enders were safely ensconced in their rooftop bubble—but what would they do when reality crashed down on them?
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For many of the president’s followers, the past four years have been one long, quasi-religious exercise in suspending disbelief. To adhere to the Church of Trumpism was to reject anything that might challenge its orthodoxies. The news was fake. The polls were fake. The investigations and scandals and fact-checks were fake. It only stood to reason that if Trump lost his bid for reelection, the defeat would be fake as well.
And so, at Bannon’s Election Night party, bravado reigned. When I asked Harlan Hill, a Trump-campaign adviser, how he was feeling about the race, he responded emphatically: “Oh, he’s gonna win. One hundred percent.”
“You’re that confident?” I asked.
“And if it goes the other way …”
“I’ll eat my shoe. We’ll do it in a live-stream.”
Of course, as the race turned against Trump in the days that followed, Hill was not browsing recipes for boiled loafers. He was tweeting furiously about a massive—and entirely fabricated—conspiracy to steal the election from the president. “I’m going to Philly tomorrow with a team,” he announced on Twitter Thursday. “This is war.”
Such theatrics dominated MAGA-world this week (even as many elected Republicans distanced themselves from Trump’s election-fraud claims). Mark Levin, a conservative talk-radio host, posted an unhinged all-caps tweet urging GOP state legislatures to ignore the votes of their constituents and appoint pro-Trump electors. Newt Gingrich mused on Fox News about having poll workers arrested. The Fox Business host Lou Dobbs angrily called for the Justice Department to intervene in the vote count. And Bannon detailed a vivid fantasy that involved beheading Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and placing his skull on a pike outside the White House. (After Bannon posted a video of those comments to Twitter, the network banned his account.)
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Much of this posturing is performative, of course—a cynical way to keep audiences watching, and voters mad. But there’s reason to believe that, for a certain faction of the GOP, Trump’s rigged-election narrative will become an article of faith.