It was exactly three months ago yesterday when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. It was exactly three months ago tomorrow when the Washington Post published one of the most memorable quotes of the post-election period.
As Donald Trump responded to defeat by pretending he'd won, a senior Republican official told the newspaper, "What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change. He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."
Even at the time, this seemed hopelessly misguided. As we discussed soon after, Trump's far-right followers weren't in on the game. They didn't see the wink and the nod. These Americans had no idea that Republicans were merely "humoring" their failed leader. On the contrary, they were led to genuinely believe that the losing candidate was actually the winning candidate, and that there was an elaborate scheme underway to deny power to the rightful winner.
The "downside" to "humoring" Trump "for this little bit of time" was that our civil society was poisoned. The former Republican president was not content to merely golf and tweet; he actively plotted against his own country's democracy and dispatched a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol, in the hopes that a deadly riot could be used to subvert election results.
But while we tend to look at the Trump-imposed crisis in terms of the destabilizing civic toll it took on the nation, there are also financial considerations: the Republicans' "Big Lie" was expensive.
The Washington Post set out to put a price tag on Trump's "onslaught of falsehoods about the November election," and came up with a specific figure: $519 million.
The costs have mounted daily as government agencies at all levels have been forced to devote public funds to respond to actions taken by Trump and his supporters, according to a Washington Post review of local, state and federal spending records, as well as interviews with government officials. The expenditures include legal fees prompted by dozens of fruitless lawsuits, enhanced security in response to death threats against poll workers, and costly repairs needed after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. That attack triggered the expensive massing of thousands of National Guard troops on the streets of Washington amid fears of additional extremist violence.
It's worth emphasizing that this is a preliminary tally, which grows every day.
There is no way to send Trump a bill for his Big Lie or its costs. Like so many of the former president's failures, it will fall to Americans to pick up the tab.