As Republicans Debate Tonight They Face A Self-Reckoning on Honesty

By Robert Weiner and Annie Cayer

As the first Republican presidential debate of 2023 kicks off tonight, it is clear that Republicans must save themselves, the country and the political system with something unique- honesty. 

The most credible witnesses and spokespeople in the Jan. 6 Committee hearings and in all the indictments against Trump are the Republicans on the inside who were and are distressed at the dishonesty and the destruction of the democratic process– from Judge John Michael Luttig to Elizabeth Cheney to William Barr to Cassidy Hutchinson. 

What comes out is a slavish allegiance to former President Donald Trump and his acolytes from House and Senate members afraid of losing their primaries — but as candidates are losing more and more general elections.  

 While indictments are a norm for the country this year, Trump has shockingly received a fourth, as prosecutors in Georgia unveiled a new indictment. The former president is facing 91 criminal charges, most recently in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election. 

 Despite the mountain of disturbing allegations, Trump has pleaded not guilty in the three earlier cases in New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C., and has until Thursday, August 25 to surrender to authorities in Georgia. These criminal cases are likely to shadow over his presidential race but if Trump took a new tactic- honesty rather than denial it might not cast such a long shadow over the news headlines. 

Questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election is not inherently dishonest. However, it becomes dishonest when false information is continually dispersed to the American public.
“The indictment shows that the President was advised multiple times by people working for him, by state officials, by his own Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, that there was simply no factual basis to find that there had been any kind of election fraud on a scale that would be outcome-determinative,” said, Mary McCord, the executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University and a former acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security. 

With Honest Abe and “never tell a lie” George Washington, it is a ludicrous statement that Trump would comment to his own Vice President Mike Pence that, “You’re too honest.” If Pence was pressured to lie to the American people, it would have been the right choice for him to tell the truth.

With misinformation and fake news spreading rampantly throughout the media politicians should be doing their utmost to discourage themselves and their party from perpetuating these lies. Yet, once again we see the Republican side doing so. 

Annie Cayer

The Trump campaign lashed out at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis as a “rabid partisan” and accused her of interfering with the 2024 presidential campaign. In addition to wrongfully accusing Fani Willis, the campaign goes on to activate fear of the Democratic party into the eyes of their followers

“All of these corrupt Democrat attempts will fail,” the campaign said in a statement. “These activities by Democrat leaders constitute a grave threat to American democracy and are direct attempts to deprive the American people of their rightful choice to cast their vote for President.”

Georgia is now seeing large rallies by religious leaders and others in support of Willis’s honesty and warning of the backlash if Republican Georgia legislators try to shut her down.

This is not to say all Republicans are supporters of dishonesty; there are of course a huge chunk of people who are morally guided but fear to speak up. Why are all of the Republican witnesses so much more honest about what is going on than the elected Republicans in congress? And how do we get to the point where the candidates don’t act only in fear of their primaries and of a Trump dump by him or his base.

 Maybe the solution is open primaries and ranked voting where independents could vote– if Republicans want any hope of expanding their base and actually winning general elections. A political landscape built on honesty is more stable and resilient. 

In the long run, the tendency to abandon Western political pillars will shape the concept of post-truth politics. Post-truth politics appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy.
As the New York Times wrote, “Facts hold a sacred place in Western liberal democracies. Whenever democracy seems to be going awry, when voters are manipulated or politicians are ducking questions, we turn to facts for salvation.” But now, facts seem to be on the decline.

In 2018, political commentators lambasted post-truth politics in nations such as Brazil, India, and Russia among others. 

In Russia, post-truth politics,  “places strong emphasis on new possibilities and favors political manipulation, brainwashing, affective language games, and misleading analogies.”  That sounds eerily like how politicians in the United States are beginning to act.

We have now definitively entered the “post-truth era.” 

Donald Trump totaled 30,573 false or misleading claims over his four years in office according to the Washington Post.  As we know these lies did not end at the end of his term. Trump continued to dominate the political landscape and demonstrated the danger of his lies through the attack on our democracy through his “Big Lie”- his false claims of winning the election.

It might seem ridiculous that we can solve the problem of lies in politics. Nonetheless, striving for a political landscape rooted in honesty can lead to improved governance, a stronger democracy, and a more prosperous society. There are solutions many states are now aiming toward, and more should do so. Everyone should be supportive of a viable and honestly competing two-party system.  

Robert Weiner is a member the Pulse Institute National Advisory Board, a former Clinton and Bush White House spokesman, former Spokesperson under Chairman John Conyers for the House Government Operations and Judiciary committees, and senior aide to Charles Rangel, Ed Koch, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Annie Cayer is policy and research analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change. 

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