Big Lie politics: NPR interview a reminder of what’s at stake in the coming months

John L. Smith

Listeners who tuned in to NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday were possibly entertained, and as likely appalled, by former President Donald Trump’s interview with co-host Steve Inskeep.

The interview had been planned for 15 minutes, but Trump hung up after spending nine minutes mostly promoting his false claims about the 2020 presidential race with Inskeep parrying each attempted deception. To no surprise, each time Inskeep knocked down a lie about a rigged election, Trump merely talked faster and kept pitching.

By now, even your family dog is hip to Trump’s hustle.

Listeners heard yet another episode in the dangerous soap opera of Trump’s Big Lie. At a time when a congressional committee is attempting to investigate the root causes of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by rage-fueled Trump supporters and the Senate is still debating voting rights in 2022, the former president continues to campaign for his lost cause election as he schemes for 2024.

Some may question whether the NPR co-host should have interviewed the former President at all. Despite Inskeep’s best efforts, the interview still resulted in a page torn from Trump’s playbook: Repeat your misdirection, eat up air time, try to steam roll the host and, failing that, get the last word by hanging up.

That’s funny, because other hosts usually have trouble getting him to stop talking. The difference this time is that Trump was being interviewed by NPR, not pleading his case in the kangaroo court of Fox News. Inskeep’s ability to counterpunch with the Don King of American politics managed to keep the segment from degrading into a campaign ad.

Why should Nevadans care about Trump’s Big lie blather via public radio? Because our state GOP continues to espouse the Big Lie and remains mesmerized by the twice-impeached ex-president who lost here to Joe Biden by more than 33,000 votes. A lot of people still deny the undeniable.

Nevada’s election system, which has stood many tests and close races over the years, was repeatedly degraded and graffitied by Trump’s acolytes with baseless lawsuits and “Stop the Steal” protests that sowed distrust in the institution and division on the street.

It was shameful, but it was part of a strategy that helped craft the narrative which laid the foundation of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and the peaceful transition of power. The Big Lie grew louder with every specious lawsuit and conspiracy theory.

As usual, Nevada was front and center in the snipe hunt with Republican State Party Chairman Michael McDonald leading the parade of prevarication.

Former state Attorney General and current U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt was there, too, promoting one of many fact-free lawsuits alleging widespread voter fraud. Watching litigation get laughed out of court did nothing to dampen his ardor for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” deception.

As a candidate out to unseat incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Laxalt in August – more than 14 months before the 2022 election hinted at the possibility of filing pre-emptive voter fraud lawsuits. As David Siders and Zach Montellaro observed in Politico, “Trump may have started the election-truther movement. But what was once the province of an aggrieved former president has spread far beyond him, infecting elections at every level with vague, unspecified claims that future races are already rigged.”

More recently, the most audacious Big Lie rhetoric has morphed into talk of “ballot security” and “election integrity,” but Laxalt and his fellow Republicans are still using the sleight-of-hand to fire up the base and fundraise.

Beyond the carnival elements of Trump’s appearance, the NPR interview serves to remind those who imagine the Republican Party is ready to shake off the Trump era and move on are only kidding themselves.

As if we needed more proof, the recent GOP gubernatorial primary debate left no doubt about the elasticity of the Big Lie as a campaign strategy. Candidate after candidate endorsed the deception without blinking or blushing. After all, at least in theory, they have a lot riding on the ability to keep a straight face and pretend that hordes of the Walking Dead and rigged voting machines were all that kept their fearless leader from maintaining power.

This week, we learned that the dangerous election fraud charade included sending a false slate of electors from several states, including Nevada, to the National Archives in an effort to further fog the fact that a free and fair election had been conducted. If Republican Secretary of State candidate and “Coalition of America First” acolyte Jim Marchant has his way, the Big Lie and its myriad conspiracy theories will continue to haunt us until the next presidential race.

With too many Republican candidates showing too little interest in moving on from the Big Lie, it’s incumbent upon the press to redouble its efforts to hound office-seekers who embrace false conspiracies promoted by the former president.

Which leads me to my favorite moment in the recent interview of Trump by Inskeep. The final one.

With more than 5 minutes remaining in his scheduled segment, Trump tired of having his lies swatted like blow flies. So he decided to end the conversation.

When the going gets tough, The Donald hangs up.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, I have one more question,” Inskeep exclaimed as Trump cut the call short.

That line should be printed on T-shirts and worn by every journalist in the country.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.

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