At a rally in early July, Donald Trump made an offhand, unscripted comment that was more important than the former president probably intended. Offering a peek into his approach to reality, the Republican told his followers, "If you say it enough and keep saying it, they'll start to believe you."
A few days later, Trump reiterated the thought, declaring, "If you say it long enough, hard enough, often enough, people will start to believe it."
It's a handy encapsulation that captures the former president's approach to reality: People will believe lies just so long as those peddling the lies are relentless in promoting the falsehoods. Through repetition and rhetorical brute force, many can be made to believe nonsense.
This was a staple of Trump's term in the White House. As we were reminded over the weekend, the tactic is at the heart of his post-election strategy, too.
On Friday, Arizona's utterly bonkers sham election "audit" backfired on Republican conspiracy theorists when state GOP officials and their contractors grudgingly agreed that President Joe Biden won Arizona — by a slightly larger margin than previously reported. A day later, Trump headlined a rally in Georgia, where he read from his teleprompter and pretended the ridiculous process bolstered his absurd ideas:
'It is clear in Arizona that they must decertify the election. You heard the numbers. And those responsible for wrongdoing must be held accountable. It was a corrupt election.'
In a series of written statements, the former president pushed similar nonsense. In one, Trump insisted, "The Audit was a big win for democracy and a big win for us." In another, he said Arizona's process "conclusively" proved there were "fake votes" that could have changed the outcome. In yet another, the Republican again declared, "Arizona must immediately decertify their 2020 Presidential Election Results."
In "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," there's a scene in which villagers decide they want to burn a suspected witch, and John Cleese's character offers proof of her evil ways: "She turned me into a newt." When the woman makes clear that she's not a witch, and Cleese's character is clearly not a newt, he says sheepishly, "I got better."
Enraged villagers, indifferent to the evidence, exclaim moments later, "Burn her anyway!"
I couldn't help but think of the scene while watching Trump's latest tantrum. He spent months hyping Arizona's sham audit, certain it would justify his bizarre calls to decertify the state's election results. When the votes were examined (again), and the results showed the Republican losing Arizona (again), Trump effectively replied, "Decertify anyway!"
Some observers likely hoped that the end of the Arizona debacle might force some kind of shift in direction. Those hopes have obviously been dashed.
The sham audit was a humiliating fiasco, but Trump is still lying about the results.
The sham audit was a humiliating fiasco, but Trump still expects Arizona to decertify last year's election results.
As a New York Times analysis from Saturday put it, "[F]or those who have tried to undermine confidence in American elections and restrict voting, the actual findings of the Maricopa County review that were released on Friday did not appear to matter in the slightest."
It's tempting to think reality would have some bearing on the debate, but for Trump and his allies, reality can be bullied into submission.
If you say it long enough, hard enough, often enough, people will start to believe it.