Rudy Giuliani knows what he can get away with these days; and he and his cohorts are correct when they assume that even the most bizarre falsehoods will find an extensive audience in the far-right media ecosystem. They know that multiple right-wing outlets will carry them; that millions of supporters of President Donald Trump will believe them; and that enough members of the Republican Party will barely bat an eye at even the most utterly unsupportable lies.
Giuliani knows this because Trump has waged a four year-long assault on reality. But for those anticipating some type of reprieve with President-elect Joe Biden in the White House, you’d be wise to buckle up: The worst is likely yet to come as the competition to be the main conduit for Trump’s post-presidency bile heats up.
Thursday’s utterly lunatic press conference by Trump’s campaign lawyers, including Giuliani, shows how far things have already spiraled. Among other things, the lawyers alleged that Trump’s defeat had been engineered by “communist money” and rigged voting machines in a scheme hatched by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Among the other alleged culprits: George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, and “communistic” countries like China and Cuba.
"We will not be intimidated,” insisted Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. “We are going to clean this mess up now. President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it.” (Note: They have not only not proven it, but have failed to provide any evidence to support their claim.)
As NBC News’ Ben Collins wrote on Twitter, “This is unhinged stuff straight from the bowels of 4chan.”
Chris Krebs, the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency who was fired on Tuesday for insisting — correctly — that the 2020 election was secure and free from digital tampering, tweeted: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky.”
But millions of people know exactly what he’s talking about. The entirety of the press conference was broadcast live on Fox News. A clip of it claiming that Trump won the election was tweeted out by the Republican National Committee. And it was extensively covered throughout the Trump-friendly media, which is now competing for the loyalty of the MAGA-verse.
Trump’s team also knew that even the most deranged tin-foil hat charges had the imprimatur of the president of the United States himself. Trump has embraced already debunked conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems that originated in the fever swamps of QAnon. These theories have since made their way up through the media chain to Giuliani, who has whispered fervently in his ear that the election is still winnable.
“People are not going to stand for having this Election stolen from them by a privately owned Radical Left company, Dominion, and many other reasons!” Trump tweeted last week
Advance Democracy, a non-profit group that tracks misinformation, found that tweets that included the #Dominion hashtag exploded from just 75 tweets a day to nearly 36,000 per day within a week.
The cascade of misinformation is accelerating in large part because the center of gravity of the right’s media ecosystem has shifted toward the bizarre as it races to keep up with the latest Trumpist conspiracy theories.
As Politico notes, there is a mad rush “to determine which outlet — cable, radio, internet or otherwise — will embrace Trumpism the tightest. And the competition is driving the far-right MAGA echo chamber to cannibalize itself.”
Claims that Trump actually “won” the election, and that it is being stolen by Biden, have flooded Facebook and other social media platforms. This creates immense pressure on conservative media to echo the same complaints.
Fox News now faces intense competition from One America News Network and Newsmax, which have been eager to push Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories about the election among other subjects. They are making a concerted play for an audience that has grown accustomed to a steady diet of outrage and grievance. Their drive for ratings fuels the willingness to embrace Trump’s lies.
The situation is rife with irony: Fox News rose to prominence by creating and then feeding the appetite for easy answers that morphed into Trumpism. The network created a safe space for many on the right, but in the wake of the election, the anxieties of its audience has turned against them.
These tensions were evident at a November pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C. when marchers chanted “Fox News sucks,” after the network called the election for Biden.
Trump himself is egging on the attacks on Fox. "They forgot what made them successful, what got them there,” he tweeted. ”They forgot the Golden Goose."
For much of the right-wing media, Trump has laid golden egg after golden egg over the years, and they risk massive backlash and even excommunication if they fail to stoke the undiluted grievances of Trump-world.
The success of this campaign of falsehoods about the election is already evident in the polls. The latest Monmouth University survey found that 77 percent of Trump supporters believe that Biden’s win was fraudulent. “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen,” remarked one of the pollsters.
That anger is not likely to dissipate anytime soon, especially if Trump decides to exploit that sense of victimization to launch a 2024 comeback bid. For many on the right, loyalty to Trump will continue to be a litmus test and competition for his favor. This will only intensify, even if it means undermining confidence in the political system itself.
Like Republican politicians, right-wing media outlets live in terror of offending the Trump base. So yes, it’s bad now. But it will get worse, and the threat to democracy is real.