Republicans are following a key part of Hitler’s playbook: Lying your way into power

History shows that the reliance on lies for political advantage is a precursor to fascism. Now the final outcome depend on whether voters will believe their lies over the truth.


n January of 2017, Kellyanne Conway — who at the time was a senior White House strategist in former President Donald Trump’s administration — was the first to coin the term “alternative facts.” She deployed the phrase after NBC’s Chuck Todd confronted her about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s debunked lie about Trump’s inauguration crowd being the largest in history (Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 was actually the largest). Even though Conway’s remark was laughed off at the time, it was, in retrospect, prescient foreshadowing of the Republican Party’s eventual full embrace of lying as its primary political weapon.

By the end of Trump’s term, journalists at the Washington Post analyzed over five million of the former president’s words, and found that he lied more than 30,000 times (the Post’s more polite wording was “false or misleading claims”). Notably, Trump’s rate of lying rapidly snowballed in the latter years of his presidency.

“Trump averaged about six [false or misleading] claims a day in his first year as president, 16 claims a day in his second year, 22 claims a day in his third year — and 39 claims a day in his final year,” the Post reported. “Put another way, it took him 27 months to reach 10,000 claims and an additional 14 months to reach 20,000. He then exceeded the 30,000 mark less than five months later.”

Donald Trump proved to his fellow Republicans that there were no consequences for lying, as any damage to their credibility from the lie is outweighed by the benefits of wielding political power. This has led the GOP to go all-in on what scholars call “post-truth” politics. And as history shows, this is perfectly in line with the strategy that Hitler and the Nazi Party embraced in their rise to power. What remains unknown is whether post-truth Republicans will succeed in 2024 as the Nazis did in 1933.

The GOP’s lies are weapons against the marginalized

The centerpiece of Sen. Katie Britt’s (R-Alabama) widely mocked response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address was the story of Karla Jacinto Romero — a Mexican victim of sex trafficking — to argue Biden was weak on border security and immigration policy.

“President Biden didn’t just create this border crisis. He invited it with 94 executive actions in his first 100 days,” Britt said. “When I took office, I took a different approach. I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas. That’s where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped.” 

“The cartels put her on a mattress in a shoe box of a room, and they sent men through that door over and over again for hours and hours on end,” she continued. “We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace.”

As journalist Jonathan Katz first explained in a viral TikTok, Romero’s story didn’t take place during the Biden administration, but between 2004 and 2008, when former President George W. Bush was in office. Romero was also not trafficked by drug cartels, but by a street pimp. She didn’t confide her story to Britt personally, but first told it to Congress in a 2015 hearing on sex trafficking. And Romero’s experience, while horrendous, didn’t take place in the US or even near the US/Mexico border, but in Guadalajara and Mexico City. The Post confirmed with a Britt spokesperson that the Alabama senator was indeed talking about Romero, meaning Britt had to have known prior to her speech that Biden’s border policies had absolutely no connection to Romero’s experience. Yet she plowed ahead with the lie anyway.

Britt’s response to Biden’s address insinuated that Trump — not Biden — was the best choice for voters on immigration, border security, and helping victims of sex trafficking. But as lawyer and advocate Julie Dahlstrom and sociologist Heba Gowayed wrote for The Hill in 2022, the Trump administration’s policies actually made it so people like Romero who were applying for T visas (specifically for victims of sex trafficking) were stonewalled by additional layers of red tape. In 2019 and 2020, they wrote, T visa denials increased by 42%. In fact, Biden removed many of the roadblocks to T visas that Trump put in place.

Britt didn’t only lie about when and where Romero’s experience took place, but she also lied about the circumstances in which it happened. She lied about who was to blame, and she even lied about whose administration would be more hospitable to sex trafficking victims like Romero. In an interview with CNN, Romero made it clear she did not approve of or consent to Britt misrepresenting her story for political gain, saying “[Britt] should first take into account what really happens before telling a story of that magnitude.”

The late NFL commentator John Madden was famous for his Thanksgiving “turducken,” which was a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck. In a similar way, Britt’s anecdote was ultimately exposed to be a lie within a lie to justify a lie. But Britt’s turducken lie is just the tip of the iceberg for the GOP. 

As previously explored, a primary objective of a second Trump administration would be the mass deportation of millions of immigrants. In order to justify the existence of his proposed nationwide immigration raids and sprawling detention camps, Trump has repeatedly harped on an alleged “migrant crime wave” as the justification for his anti-immigrant agenda. Of course, there is no migrant crime wave: That too is a total fabrication. 

In February, two NYPD officers were beaten outside of a migrant shelter in New York City. An image of a man arrested after the altercation giving two middle fingers to news cameras (later identified as Jhoan Boada) went viral. Fox News’ Sean Hannity referred to Boada as an “illegal immigrant who attacked [an] NYPD cop.” The image of Boada also appeared in one of Trump’s campaign ads. But in fact, Boada wasn’t even present during the scuffle, and was ultimately exonerated.

NBC News dug into crime statistics and found that undocumented immigrants overwhelmingly commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans and second-generation immigrants. Despite Trump and Republicans zeroing in on one-off instances of unauthorized immigrants committing violent crimes, crime data does not show an increase in crime as a result of higher immigration. 

“[C]ontrary to public perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years,” read a 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since Trump’s supposed justification for his campaign to deport millions of immigrants has been proven to be a lie, what’s his true motivation? He may have already told us: In late 2023, Trump said immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” He specifically alluded to nonwhites, particularly immigrants “coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world.” NBC observed that Trump’s remark was lifted almost verbatim from Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf, in which the German dictator wrote “all great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning.”

The GOP takes a page directly from Hitler’s playbook

Hitler lied about marginalized communities strategically to both justify his quest for power, and as a reason to stay in power. While Trump’s claim that he didn’t actually lose the 2020 election is known as the “Big Lie,” that term actually first came from chapter 10 of Mein Kampf. Hitler used the term to describe how Jewish people were supposedly spreading a “big lie” that German General Erich Ludendorff was the reason Germany lost World War I (Hitler maintained Germany didn’t lose, but was instead betrayed from within). The New York Times’ Edwin James observed that Hitler’s claim that Germany didn’t actually lose the war was his “biggest lie.” 

And in a 2018 Washington Post essay, Cold War historian Zachary Jonathan Jacobsen wrote that Hitler’s assertion about Jewish people spreading a “Big Lie” was classic projection

“Adolf Hitler first defined the Big Lie as a deviant tool wielded by Viennese Jews to discredit the Germans’ deportment in World War I. Yet, in tragically ironic fashion, it was Hitler and his Nazi regime that actually employed the mendacious strategy,” Jacobsen wrote. 

“Jews, Hitler contended, were the weak underbelly of the Weimer state that exposed the loyal and true German population to catastrophic collapse,” he continued. “To sell this narrative, Joseph Goebbels insisted ‘all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands.’”

“In short, Nazi fascism hinged on creating one streamlined, overarching lie… the Nazis built an ideology on a fiction, the notion that Germany’s defeat in World War I could be avenged (and reversed) by purging the German population of those purportedly responsible: the Jews,” he added.

Psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer also used the phrase “big lie” in a 1943 report (PDF link) for the Office of Strategic Services, for his profile of Germany’s fascist dictator. Langer wrote that Hitler’s “primary rules” were to “never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

The above quote has a lot of obvious parallels to Trump — particularly in repeating big lies frequently until they are believed by a broad swath of the public. Trump’s full embrace of lies has effectively created armor for him that is impervious to truth and fact-checking. The more his lies are exposed, the more he and his followers freely dismiss the truth as “fake” and double down on the lie.

A great example of this is in Trump’s characterization of the United States today as a crime-infested, impoverished nation in decline led by an incompetent, doddering octogenarian that can only be saved by Trump swooping back into the White House to save America from total ruin. These are common themes in his campaign speeches, and they have an effect on public sentiment. Gallup found in November that 77% of Americans believe crime has increased since last year. And in February, 55% of respondents told Pew Research that they associated crime with higher immigration. 63% of Americans told Gallup in January that the economy was “getting worse.”

But just like his claims about migrants, Trump’s claims about crime and the economy are not even remotely true. Murder rates saw their most precipitous drop on record last year including in large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. FBI data shows that the rates of other violent crimes, like rape, aggravated assault, and robbery, are also trending downward. Personal and property crime rates have been gradually declining for decades.

Under any metric, Biden has presided over an economy that continues to outpace expectations. More than 15 million jobs have been created since he took office, unemployment has remained at a historic low, wage growth is outpacing price growth, inflation continues to fall, the Dow Jones, the Nasdaq, and the S&P 500 have all hit record highs this year, American consumer confidence hit a new two-year high at the end of January, and the US has had the best post-pandemic economic recovery out of all G7 countries. Even Trump’s assertions about Biden being too old for the job are questionable — not only due to mounting evidence of Trump’s own cognitive decline — but Biden’s feisty, combative, hour-long State of the Union speech seems to have thrown cold water on that argument as well. Biden’s campaign raised more than $10 million in the 24 hours following his nationally televised address.

Republicans are waging an all-out war on truth

Republicans are nonetheless continuing to lie in direct defiance of the facts. Reps. James Comer (R-Kentucky) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who chair the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, respectively — are still charging ahead with their efforts to impeach Biden even after their primary source was indicted for lying to the FBI. 

Last month, the DOJ charged 43-year-old Alexander Smirnov with making false statements to investigators in a 1023 report (for confidential informants) about Biden and his son Hunter supposedly soliciting $10 million in bribes. Comer and Jordan used that now discredited report as the foundation of their own investigations. The DOJ later accused Smirnov a few days after the indictment of having contact with “high-ranking” Russian intelligence officials who sought to sow disinformation about Biden ahead of the 2024 election.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) posted a tweet earlier this month suggesting Biden was soft on energy independence. That tweet was widely panned by both X/Twitter’s community notes function and thousands of commenters, who pointed out that domestic oil production under Biden’s watch is outpacing not only Trump, but all other presidents as well. Grassley has not deleted the tweet nor apologized for the claim as of this writing.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) recently suggested that Americans were better off four years ago — when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the economy and was killing thousands every day — than they are now. In fact, in March of 2020, Trump was arguing that Americans shouldn’t be let off of a cruise ship because he didn’t want to increase the number of active Covid cases, and Americans were panic-buying toilet paper. Stefanik is notably on the short-list of Trump’s potential running mates. 

Republicans’ lies don’t start and end with elected officials: The far-right Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) insisted that NBC was engaging in “willful disinformation” in reporting that Nazis were seen openly mingling with attendees at its 2024 gathering. However, the NBC reporter who authored the story stood by his claims and said Nazis were “posting about their presence at CPAC online” and were still not removed from the conference.

The GOP is counting on the ability to lie freely and without consequence in order to reclaim the White House and the US Senate. It’s incumbent on not just journalists and media outlets, but on voters themselves, to resist the urge to grow weary of fact-checking and let post-truth politics take over. History shows that the reliance on lies for political advantage is a precursor to fascism, and the final outcome of Republicans’ well-documented plans to implement unchecked authoritarianism will depend on whether voters will believe their lies over the truth.


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