The MyPillow guy might be Trump's ultimate chump
Impeachment wasn't followed by conviction. None of the congressional Republicans who cosseted the election conspiracy theories that inspired the Capitol sedition have resigned from office. It's not clear what, if anything, will come of congressional investigations into the events of that day. But there is one accountability tool which is dividing bone from marrow, wheat from chaff, sheep from goats, Fox News and Newsmax from Rudy Giuliani and the MyPillow guy.
That tool is defamation lawsuits. Two voting machine companies, Dominion and Smartmatic, feature prominently in the fevered tales of rigged vote results circulating among former President Donald Trump's supporters and friendly media outlets since Election Day. Those companies are now suing, with revealing results. Even facing $1.3 billion lawsuits, Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell seem to be sticking to their stories. Do they really believe it all?
Other targets of the defamation suits have made amply clear they do not. Forced to choose between these theories and hundreds of millions of dollars, there's no contest.
Newsmax published a statement "to clarify its news coverage" of election fraud claims in mid-December. "No evidence has been offered that Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogrammed software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election," the outlet said, further specifying that the companies aren't run by George Soros, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), or socialist Venezuela. Newsmax hosts have recently refused to let Lindell make his allegations on air, with one host apparently walking off set to avoid legal implication as Lindell rambled on.
Fox News and Fox Business issued retractions, too, the latter running a segment in which Lou Dobbs introduced a refutation of his own past commentary on the subject. Dobbs' show was canceled soon after, without official explanation but amid wide speculation of connection to Smartmatic's $2.7 billion suit against Fox. Dobbs "and others at Fox News had agreed to join [Trump-linked lawyer Sydney] Powell and Mr. Giuliani to spread the disinformation" about the Smartmatic's role in the election, the suit alleged, including "endorsing Ms. Powell's claim that Smartmatic is to blame for ‘massive corruption across the country.'" Now Dobbs is off air.
Even One America News Network, initially defiant toward a looming Dominion suit, has backed off: It deleted articles about Dominion from its site, and it aired Lindell's election conspiracy documentary (titled "Absolute Proof") prefaced with a giant disclaimer of responsibility.
Contrast that with Lindell himself. He continues to peddle his theories entirely unabashed. "I want [the voting machine companies] to sue me," he said on CBS in January. "Please. Because I have all the evidence, 100 percent."
Lindell's enthusiasm was utterly undimmed when the Dominion lawsuit finally arrived this week. "It's a very good day. I've been looking forward to them finally suing," he told the Associated Press. "I'd love to go to court tomorrow with Dominion." Giuliani similarly responded to being sued by rejoicing that he'll now be able to probe Dominion's "history, financing, and practices fully and completely." (He also reportedly attempted to flee the process server delivering notice of the lawsuit. Powell did too.)
Maybe this is mere bluster. Giuliani declined to make election fraud claims in court even though he repeated them elsewhere, the suit against him observes, which suggests he knew those claims to be false (or, at least, he knew he couldn't prove them to be true). As a lawyer, he must understand his legal position. Still, Giuliani hasn't retracted his allegations like Fox and Newsmax did. He's the subject of legal disclaimers, not the issuer.
Lindell even more than Giuliani strikes me as a true believer. It's the only way his behavior here makes sense. The Dominion suit accuses him of promoting conspiracy theories as a roundabout marketing campaign. "After hitting the jackpot with Donald Trump's endorsement for MyPillow and after a million-dollar bet on Fox News ads had paid out handsome returns," the Dominion complaint begins, "Michael Lindell exploited another chance to boost sales: marketing MyPillow to people who would tune in and attend rallies to hear Lindell tell the 'Big Lie' that Dominion had stolen the 2020 election."
It's true that Lindell has farcically mixed pillow promo codes with apocalyptic political content. But it's also true that his unfounded allegations have led to MyPillow being dropped by major retailers. Maybe sympathy sales are currently making up for those loses, but it's difficult to see how a man worth an estimated $300 million net worth will come out ahead if he loses a $1.3 billion lawsuit. A settlement with lower damages could still prove enormously costly. What is the plausible path to profit here?
Even if the suit ends without Lindell paying a dime, he's undoubtedly done his company long-term harm. Sympathy sales won't last forever (as Lindell seems to know). There are only so many Trump superfans, and they only need so many pillows.
Before he was known for conspiracy theories, Lindell made a name for himself with a remarkable rags-to-riches story. If he's sincerely convinced of the nonsense he's spouting now, he just might delude himself back into rags.