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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Trump's twin hoaxes, on voting and virus, fade in 2020 hindsight

House impeachment managers walk to the Senate chamber

House impeachment managers walk to the Senate chamber Tuesday for Trump's second impeachment trial. Credit: Bloomberg/Ting Shen

The beginning of the end beckons for twin right-wing hoaxes of 2020. The election proved legitimate; so did the medical rationale for masks and distancing. False denials of both facts now lose power as the exhaust fumes of the Donald Trump administration fade. Even the ex-president's C-list team of impeachment lawyers gives no hint of trying to revive his election-fraud blather against President Joe Biden. No, the lawyers' best argument is that the First Amendment gives Trump the right to mislead with weaponized words.

Other Republican postures are as weak.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, in a hearing last May: "I don't think you're the end-all. I don't think you're the one person who gets to make a decision." Nobody had made an "end-all" assertion, of course, but Paul wanted to deride states' precautions against COVID-19 because he was in tune with Trump's messaging. Paul, who'd contracted the disease earlier in the year, recently shunned wearing a mask on the Senate floor.

Trump's vote hoax and virus hoax explicitly crossed paths when he tried to deter mail-in balloting that was expanded as a health measure for citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even one of the lawyers now on Trump's impeachment defense team went to court against the president last year, charging Trump had "no evidence in support" of his claim that mail voting breeds fraud.

An impressive chronological video of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, shown Tuesday in the Senate impeachment proceedings, rekindled political emotions. But the event's lethal moment has passed. For better or worse, Biden is president, the Capitol is functioning, and the rioters and Trump are facing possible criminal and civil fallout.

Both the vote lies and the virus lies have cost citizens' lives as surely as the old lies about Iraq and Vietnam. The political mood may now turn away from frantic, and toward exhaustion. This is an off-year for national elections.

Making political statements with riot videos, as Senate Democrats did Tuesday, surely resounds. Most likely, footage of violent anti-police demonstrations in U.S. cities last year won some votes for Trump.

As a mayoral candidate in 1993, Republican Rudy Giuliani ran campaign ads, over and over, that showed scenes from the lethal Crown Heights violence two summers earlier, including rioters overturning a police car. Giuliani won the election. Nearly three decades later, there was the ex-mayor, blustering at the Jan. 6 Trump rally about having "trial by combat."

QAnon believers, who glorified Trump in occult myths, took part in the Capitol invasion and thought their hero would chase out "deep state" conspirators to restore his power.

All of it proved as idiotic as it sounded. But now there is Q buzz about March 4, and a magical swearing-in of Trump. The ex-president's hotel in Washington has raised its rates for the date, according to news reports. While some hoaxes endure, however, more accounts are emerging of people acting to dispel the rumors.

Whether Republican leaders continue to bend and pander to irrational cults remains to be seen. Mainstream Democrats in New York City seem to have stopped echoing fevered "defund the police" shouts of last summer. Extreme slogans are perishable. At least they won't be fanned for a while from the White House.