The Big Lie review: Jonathan Lemire laments what Trump hath wrought

The Politico reporter and MSNBC host’s book is an indictment of the former president but also his Republican party

Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office but Donald Trump occupies prime space in America’s psyche. Mike Pence’s most senior aides have testified before a federal grand jury. An investigation by prosecutors in Georgia proceeds apace. In a high-stakes game of chicken, the message from the Department of Justice grows more ominous. Trump’s actions are reportedly under the microscope at the DoJ. He teases a re-election bid. Season two of the January 6 committee hearings beckons.

Into this cauldron of distrust and loathing leaps Jonathan Lemire, with The Big Lie. He is Politico’s White House bureau chief and the 5am warm-up to MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He has done his homework. He lays out facts. His book is a mixture of narrative and lament.

Lemire contends that Trump birthed the “big lie” in his 2016 campaign, as an excuse in the event of defeat by either Senator Ted Cruz in the primary or Hillary Clinton in the general election. Trump held both opponents in contempt.

In the primary, Trump lost Iowa – then falsely claimed Cruz stole it.

“Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified,” Trump tweeted.

In the general, a half-year later, he dropped another bomb.

“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged. I have to be honest.”

In the final presidential debate he upped the ante, refusing to say he would accept the electorate’s verdict.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.”

He definitely warned us. Lemire’s first book is aptly subtitled: “Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020.”

Then and now, Trump posited that only fraud could derail him. After he beat Clinton in the electoral college, he claimed he actually won the popular vote too. In Trump’s mind, he was the victim of ballots cast by illegal aliens.

In addition to winning the electoral college in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted.

To those within earshot, he said people who didn’t “look like they should be allowed to vote”, did.

To soothe his ego, he appointed a commission headed by Kris Kobach, a nativist Kansas secretary of state, to vindicate his claims. It found nothing.

In a blend of fiction and wish-fulfillment, Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary, and Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser, embarked on flights of fantasy. Spicer declared that Trump’s inaugural crowd was larger than that for Barack Obama. Conway introduced us to alternative facts.

Lemire’s indictment goes way beyond that offered by Clinton, who called Trump voters deplorable. He casts the issue as systemic – and punches up. He is angered but does not condescend. The Big Lie is also about elite conservative lawyers, Ivy League-educated senators, Republican House leadership and Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy.

Like Gollum in Tolkien’s Rings trilogy, the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, wants to get his hands on the speaker’s gavel that badly. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser and author of the ill-fated “Green Bay Sweep” plan to overturn the election, faces charges of criminal contempt. Such acolytes know exactly what they do.

Extremists in Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are vocal totems, empowered by an enraged ex-president and a vengeance-filled base. In such a world it seems no surprise cries of “hang Mike Pence”, makeshift gallows and Confederate battle flags in the halls of the Capitol came to supplant “fuck your feelings”, the mantra of Trump 2016.

As expected, Steve Bannon appears in The Big Lie. He loves dishing to the press. It is in his DNA. The former Trump campaign guru and White House aide, now convicted of contempt of Congress, trashes his former boss as a reflexive liar.

According to Lemire, Bannon said: “Trump would say anything, he would lie about anything.” On cue, a Bannon spokesperson disputed Lemire’s sources, telling the Guardian they were inaccurate.

Kevin McCarthy follows Trump off Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland in May 2020.
Kevin McCarthy follows Trump off Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, in May 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In Jeremy Peters’ book, Insurgency, Bannon mused that Trump would “end up going down in history as one of the two or three worst presidents ever”. In Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, he described the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr and a group of Russians amid the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.

And yet Bannon’s role in Trump’s bid to stay in power remains of central interest to the January 6 committee. On 5 January 2021, Bannon announced on-air that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”. He spoke to Trump that morning.

Despite his thoroughness, Lemire does omit the role of one group of Republicans in giving the big lie added heft. In May 2021, the Washington Post reported on the efforts of Texas Republicans led by Russell Ramsland, a businessman with a Harvard MBA.

After the 2018 midterms, Ramsland and colleagues pressed convoluted theories concerning “voting-machine audit logs – lines of codes and time stamps that document the machines’ activities”. Pete Sessions, a defeated congressman, didn’t buy what Ramsland was selling. Trump did.

For Trump’s minions, this remains a war over lost place and status.

“Republicans need to prove to the American people that we are the party of … Christian nationalism,” says Greene, a first-term congresswoman from Georgia.

Like a toxic weed, the big lie has taken root.

“It is now part of the Republican party’s core belief,” Lemire writes. Violence and insurrection have become legitimate. “The Big Lie was who they were.”

Our cold civil war grows hotter.

  • The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020 is published in the US by Macmillan


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Divider review: riveting narrative of Trump’s plot against America
Peter Baker and Susan Glasser offer a beautifully written, utterly dispiriting history of the man who attacked democracy

Lloyd Green

16, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
January 6 report review: 845 pages, countless crimes, one simple truth – Trump did it
The House committee has done its work. The result is a riveting read, utterly damning of the former president and his followers

Lloyd Green

24, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Confidence Man review: Maggie Haberman takes down Trump
The New York Times reporter presents a forensic account of the damage he has done to America

Lloyd Green

02, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Here’s the Deal review: Kellyanne Conway on Trump – with plenty of alternative facts
The former White House counselor’s memoir is tart, readable and thoroughly selective when it comes to inconvenient truths

Lloyd Green

29, May, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
So Help Me God review: Mike Pence’s tortured bid for Republican relevance
Trump’s VP is surprisingly critical of the boss whose followers wanted him dead. But surely the presidency won’t be his too

Lloyd Green

20, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Pence risks Trump’s wrath by piling on criticisms of ex-president in new book
In memoir, former vice-president protests loyalty but hits out over Charlottesville, Russia, both impeachments and more

Martin Pengelly in New York

14, Nov, 2022 @1:34 PM

Article image
Insurgency review: how Trump took over the Republican party
From 2016 to the Capitol riot, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times delivers a meticulously reported and extremely worrying tale of how and why the US came to this

Lloyd Green

13, Feb, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Cheney hits back as Pence says January 6 committee has ‘no right’ to testimony
Panel vice-chair issues statement with chair Bennie Thompson after Trump vice-president gives interview to CBS

Martin Pengelly in New York

17, Nov, 2022 @12:10 PM

Article image
Landslide review: Michael Wolff’s third Trump book is his best – and most alarming
Fire and Fury infuriated a president and fueled a publishing boom. Its latest sequel is required reading for anyone who fears for American democracy

Lloyd Green

12, Jul, 2021 @11:00 PM

Article image
I Alone Can Fix It review: Donald Trump as wannabe Führer – in another riveting read
Gen Mark Milley saw that the US was in a ‘Reichstag moment’ – four days before the Capitol riot. With this and much more startling reporting, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post deliver the goods once again

Lloyd Green

16, Jul, 2021 @11:37 AM