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“Just Say We Won”: New Book Places the Origins of Trump’s “Big Lie” Squarely at Giuliani’s Inept Feet

Attorney for the President, Rudy Giuliani, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company

The lie that Donald Trump was the true winner of the 2020 presidential election has become the linchpin of the Republican Party. And according to a new book, the origin of this baseless and entirely false fantasy was the brainchild of none other than Rudy Giuliani.

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Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s upcoming book I Alone Can Fix It is based on “hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 people, including the most senior Trump administration officials, friends and outside advisers to the 45th president.” An excerpt published in the Washington Post describes the moment when what has been dubbed “the Big Lie” was born.

On election night last November, Trump got around COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings by hosting his party at the White House—despite a longstanding rule against using the White House for “overt political purposes,” a tradition Trump had already broken anyway.

The book describes Trump watching results come in in his private residence, alternating between watching alone and with family. Outside the residence, there was more of a party atmosphere since those early results (the in-person ballots) predictably favored Trump.

But in the middle of that party, Giuliani and his son/unqualified White House employee Andrew sat huddled together, “staring intensely” at a laptop.

“The Giulianis made for an odd scene, as partygoers swirled around them. After a while, Rudy Giuliani started to cause a commotion,” Leonnig and Rucker write. “He was telling other guests that he had come up with a strategy for Trump and was trying to get into the president’s private quarters to tell him about it. Some people thought Giuliani may have been drinking too much and suggested to Stepien that he go talk to the former New York mayor. Stepien, Meadows and Jason Miller took Giuliani down to a room just off the Map Room to hear him out.”

From there:

Giuliani went state by state asking Stepien, Meadows and Miller what they were seeing and what their plan was.

“What’s happening in Michigan?” he asked.

They said it was too early to tell, votes were still being counted and they couldn’t say.

“Just say we won,” Giuliani told them.

Same thing in Pennsylvania. “Just say we won Pennsylvania,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani’s grand plan was to just say Trump won, state after state, based on nothing. Stepien, Miller and Meadows thought his argument was both incoherent and irresponsible.

“We can’t do that,” Meadows said, raising his voice. “We can’t.”

And yet they did!

Trump was reportedly livid when Fox News was the first major network to call Arizona for Biden. Trump’s main data cruncher Matt Oczkowski told him that they were calling the state “way too early” and that lots of people still thought Trump could win there. And it’s true that Fox’s call was early. It would be more than a week before the other networks issued their final analysis for the state. Fox News’ political director was even fired over the call. But in the end, he was still right.

Of course, that didn’t stop Trump from assuming he’d won.

“What the f— is Fox doing?” Trump screamed. Then he barked orders to Kushner: “Call Rupert! Call James and Lachlan!” And to Jason Miller: “Get Sammon. Get Hemmer. They’ve got to reverse this.” The president was referring to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, as well as Bill Sammon, a top news executive at Fox.

Trump’s tirade continued. “What the f—?” he bellowed. “What the f— are these guys doing? How could they call this this early?”

And Trump’s toadies were there to encourage his delusions. Oczkowski “tried to soothe” him. Eric Trump reportedly (though he denies it) berated staff and yelled that the “election is being stolen.” And Giuliani just pushed Trump to ignore Arizona and declare an overall victory—literally just to go and “deliver a victory speech.”

“Just go declare victory right now,” Giuliani reportedly told Trump. “You’ve got to go declare victory now.”

Trump and his surrogates had already been laying the groundwork to either win or declare fraud, as they’d spent months attacking the growing reliance on mail-in voting. That night, he leaned into that idea hard.

Around 2 am, Trump went out to speak to his East Room party guests. Rather than read the (probably already abhorrent) remarks prepared for him by Stephen Miller, he rattled off some “stream-of-consciousness thoughts.” He called the election a “fraud” and an “embarrassment.”

“We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election,” he told the crowd. “So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list, okay? It’s a very sad moment. To me, this is a very sad moment, and we will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”

So that’s how the Big Lie was born. You might remember that a few days later, an anonymous senior White House official tried to dismiss the lie as being harmless fantasy.

“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” the official said at the time. “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.”

Two months later, hundreds of violent rioters attempted an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, hellbent on stopping Congress from certifying the results of that “stolen” election. Even now, polls show that more than half of Republican voters and nearly a quarter of all adults believe Trump won the election.

There was a lot of harm in “humoring” Trump and Giuliani’s lies. They were also easily debunkable, as you’d expect from any plan made up by those two doofs. And yet so many Republicans have decided to die on this incredibly inane hill.

(via Washington Post, image: BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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