SOUTH BEND - How do you defend the Big Lie without lying?
     
That’s a problem for many Republicans in Washington. They know, after all the failed court challenges, recounts, audits and lack of any suspicious traces of bamboo on Arizona ballots, that Donald Trump lost the presidential election.
     
They also know that Trump continues to promote the Big Lie that he actually won. And he demands obedience in furtherance of that delusion from Republicans in the House and Senate and other elected offices around the nation.
     
Trump stresses that his base won’t support Republicans who reject harping about a stolen election. Woe to any admitting that fraud allegations have been thoroughly and conclusively disproven. 
     
Trump warned bluntly in a recent statement: “If we don’t solve the presidential election fraud of 2020 - which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented - Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
     
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana confronted the problem in a Fox News interview. When asked repeatedly if he believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, Scalise won a dance contest, avoiding a direct answer and contending only that some states didn’t follow their standard election laws  - true because of the pandemic but not changing vote results.
     
Why did Scalise dance? Why not flat-out lie? Why not claim, as Trump does in his obsession with blotting out an ego-shattering defeat, that Joe Biden isn’t a legitimate president?
     
Well, Scalise knows the election was long ago decided and he doesn’t want to go down in history as a liar. 
     
Why then didn’t Scalise respond with the whole truth, Biden won, no fraud? Well, he knows that such a truthful response would bring the wrath of Trump. 
     
Trump would denounce “Stupid Steve” and demand that House Republicans remove Scalise as whip, just as they removed Liz Cheney from a leadership post when she rejected the Big Lie. 
     
Another Louisiana Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy, did speak out against Trump’s demand for Republicans to be obedient. “If we relitigate 2020 over and over again, it won’t change the result in 2020, but we are sure to lose in 2024,” he said. “If we choose to look forward, bringing positive solutions to the American people who have needs, we win. If we choose to be bullied, we lose.”
     
Trump response? Typical. He gave the senator a new title, “Wacky,” and said he isn’t really a Republican.
     
Fear of such treatment keeps more Washington Republicans from telling the truth about the Big Lie. Better to dance, they calculate politically, and call for more investigations of 2020 “fraud.”
     
If a Republican member of Congress crosses Trump, that member is likely to be opposed by a Trump-backed opponent in the next GOP primary. Trump warns about that. And polling shows his base remains strong, strong enough to be decisive in a many Republican primaries.
     
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 78% of Republicans want Trump to run for president in 2024. He gained GOP support since May, when the poll found 66% wanting him to run again.
     
Now, that doesn’t mean that all those Republicans believe the Big Lie, although a lot probably have been convinced by the repetition of the claim.
     
Some just want Trump back, no matter the 2020 results.  The way Democrats bumbled for the entire summer without passage of a popular infrastructure bill no doubt adds to that opinion.
     
The resulting drop in Biden’s approval ratings and enhanced chances of Republicans gaining control of the House in 2022 also provide incentive for congressional Republicans. Defend the Big Lie without lying. Just dance around it and hope it turns into a victory dance for a Republican congressional majority.

Colwell has covered Indiana politics for the South Bend Tribune.