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Trump Continues To Push Election Falsehoods. Here's Why That Matters

May 20, 2021
Originally published on May 25, 2021 8:24 am

With Twitter taken away from him, former President Donald Trump has been largely out of the spotlight and unable to drive news narratives the way he did when he was president and on social media.

But Trump continues to have great influence with Republican elected leaders because of his continued popularity with the GOP base.

And he's ramping up the messages he's sending for all to see on the blog-like portion of his post-presidency website. What's he focused on? Relitigating his election loss.

An analysis of Trump's posts on the site shows that his entries have spiked so far this month and that overall a plurality of the statements have mentioned his 2020 election loss or baseless claims of fraud or have cited efforts at relitigating the results.

One focus for the former president has been the controversial election review that continues in Arizona. And the messages come as that state and other Republican-led states, like Georgia, have enacted new voting restrictions.

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By the numbers, here's a look at the kinds of posts that Trump has put out, through midday Wednesday:

  • 83 total posts, dating back to late March (The blog portion of his site launched May 4, but other posts — statements from his Save America PAC — were then added.)
  • 30 mention the 2020 election or reviews of it, or about 36% of the total
  • 18 about endorsements
  • 10 about Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
  • 9 have included policy criticisms of President Biden

Jan. 6 commission and Cheney

It's clear where Trump's focus is. He wants to continue to influence the GOP message and be a kingmaker. Given his current front-runner status for the 2024 presidential nomination and his popularity within the Republican Party, he's well situated to do that.

And Republican elected officials appear to be listening.

On Wednesday, the House passed a measure to create a 9/11-style commission to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The bill passed with all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans supporting it. But Republican House leadership formally opposed it and urged conference members to vote against it. (Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also opposes the measure.)

"Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement Tuesday, "and given the Speaker's shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation."

That's right in line with what Trump said later the same day on his website.

"Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission," he wrote. "It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately."

On Jan. 6, as the violence was unfolding, McCarthy phoned Trump, urging him to call for calm. On the House floor, McCarthy voiced disapproval of Trump's actions that day, but since then, he has done an about-face. McCarthy met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, posing for a photo together.

And after initially backing Cheney to stay in leadership, McCarthy later joined ranks with those calling for her ouster.

Cheney voted for Trump's impeachment and has continued to speak out against the former president, his baseless claims about the election and his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Cheney was voted out of conference leadership last week.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump, the former president defeated in the 2020 election, lost his access to social media after he used it to encourage an attack on democracy. But it's a free country. He can still talk, and he has exercised his freedom of speech by issuing statements which matter because an NPR analysis shows a direct line from Trump's comments to the words and actions of the Republican Party. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are these statements that you analyzed?

MONTANARO: Well, he's been sending statements to anyone on his email list and now putting them up on this blog-like feature of his post-presidency website. And what we found is that he's focused on relitigating his election loss and efforts to review it. I mean, just yesterday, he was grousing about that loss, about - and browbeating Republican leaders for not doing more about it. He also got defensive yesterday about the number of visitors to his site and reiterated that he plans to launch a separate social media platform, something we've reported on in the past and just how daunting a task that is, especially since he's lost such a big - such big platforms with Twitter and Facebook.

The posts he's put up has, in the past couple of weeks, spiked. In total, since late March, there have been about 90 posts to the site. More than a third of them mention the 2020 elections or reviews of it. Eighteen include endorsements or are about endorsements. Eleven are about Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was ousted from Republican leadership in the House after her repeated criticisms of Trump's role in the January 6 insurrection, and that's something Trump has been beating the drum about. And just 10, by the way, have included policy criticisms of President Biden, so you see what this is all about. He's never been able to find an off-ramp for his election loss. He wants to keep his ability to run in 2024 alive. And it's clear ahead of next year's midterms, he wants to be a kingmaker in the party.

INSKEEP: If there aren't that many people who find his website directly, why do these statements matter?

MONTANARO: Well, the former president's considered, you know, the front-runner to be the GOP presidential nominee again in 2024, and he remains the most popular person within the Republican Party. And that has meant that Republican elected officials are listening. You know, if he dropped his continued lies about the election, it's pretty likely the Republican Party would move on. But since he keeps stressing it, unsurprisingly, so are they. So he's been a real weather vane for the rest of the party. So it's easy to think, just because Trump isn't on Twitter, that he's out of sight, out of mind. But he's not for half of the policymakers in Washington.

INSKEEP: And of course, those messages can get picked up by conservative media or out-of-reality media - OAN-type folks - and also just read directly by political leaders, even if not that many voters read them directly.

MONTANARO: For sure.

INSKEEP: So how is that influence playing out in the party?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's been pretty evident the last few weeks. Republican leaders oppose a bipartisan commission to examine what happened on January 6. So does Trump, who blasted the 35 House Republicans who voted for it. And even though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier had criticized Trump for his role in the violence that day, they're now singing from the same tune as Trump, and it's all written on the same page of paper or on the same portion of the internet that you can see on his blog-like portion of his site.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks very much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.