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Republicans turn to gaslighting in response to Justice Dept report

The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014.

It's been a rough couple of days for reality. On Sunday morning, for example, two of Donald Trump's most loyal congressional lieutenants, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), rejected the idea that the president pressed a foreign country to investigate his political rival -- something we already know Trump did.

About 24 hours later, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, Republican counsel Steve Castor disputed the idea that former Vice President Joe Biden was a leading Democratic presidential candidate over the summer, shortly before Castor also rejected the idea that Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to look into Biden.

And a few hours after that, Donald Trump reflected on a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the origins of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

"The IG report just came out, and I was just briefed on it, and it's a disgrace what's happened with respect to the things that were done to our country. It should never again happen to another President. It is incredible. Far worse than I would have ever thought possible. And it's — it's an embarrassment to our country. It's dishonest. It's everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse. [...]"The report, actually — and especially when you look into it, and the details of the report — are far worse than anything I would have even imagined.... This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow. And a lot of people who were in on it, and they got caught. They got caught red-handed."

For those who actually "looked into it," and read "the details of the report," the president's assertions yesterday were gibberish. Horowitz's findings actually exposed Trump's conspiracy theories as lies -- which evidently led the president to believe it'd be a good idea to gaslight the public, assuming Americans wouldn't know the difference.

But while Trump's up-is-down posture was predictable, it's worth appreciating the degree to which his allies scrambled to sell the public the same ridiculous fiction.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared on Fox News, for example, and said the Horowitz report pointing to "a government trying to overthrow a president," which is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel argued that the inspector general's findings proved that the FBI "spied on" the Trump campaign, which again, is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said.

Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said his takeaway from the inspector general's findings was that partisans in the Justice Department "spied on a political opponent," which is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who happens to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to describe the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal as a "criminal enterprise," which in no way reflects what the Horowitz report actually said.

We're left with a dynamic in which Republican leaders, en masse, have examined our reality, found it politically inconvenient, and replaced it with an alternate reality they find more satisfying.

The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein noted this morning that Trump's GOP is trying to "shape reality for an audience enveloped in the conservative Information ecosystem," indifferent to the truth. Brownstein added, "This is a level of systemic distortion U.S. politics hasn't faced."

I think that's entirely right, though I'd add that it's also a level of systemic distortion that our political system is ill-equipped to handle.

Update: Adding to the record, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters this morning that the IG report proved that "a law-enforcement agency spied on a presidential campaign." That's the opposite of the truth. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, argued that the Horowitz report showed that Carter Page was "falsely accused of being a Russian agent." Again, that's just not what the report said.