Whether it’s petulance or a cunning attempt to spur voter suppression, Donald Trump’s irresponsible, unfounded claim that he would have won the popular vote but for the millions of “illegal” votes cast is a new low in a presidency that has not even formally begun.
Trump has yet to name most of his Cabinet members. He has but eight weeks to assemble a new administration, prepare for his first congressional session and get ready to deliver the State of the Union address. Yet here he is, still obsessing about the outcome of an election that he won. For those who harbored some faint hope that with victory might come a measure of stability, here is more evidence that Trump just can’t help himself.
It’s worth detailing the back story here: On Sunday, stung by Hillary Clinton’s growing victory margin in the popular vote — now at 2.2 million — and the recount effort promoted by the Green Party, Trump embarked on a Twitter rant that resembled the ravings of a maudlin loser unable to face reality. Unable to deal with the fact that even though he won, he was not the people’s choice, Trump instead is bitter about the “so-called popular vote.” Apparently there can be no legitimate popular vote that does not have him as the winner.
With no evidence, he has claimed “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” and blamed news media bias for not reporting on a phenomenon that exists only in the fevered minds of conspiracy sites like Infowars. That site started the fraud allegation with a story based on a supposed analysis of 180 million voter registrations by an organization called VoteFraud. Except that PolitiFact, an award-winning fact-checking site, found that VoteFraud apparently did no such report. PolitiFact debunked the story more than a week before Trump’s hissy fit.
The myth of massive voter fraud, assiduously cultivated by Republicans, is simply without basis in fact. When PolitiFact contacted Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, he said, “The idea that 3 million noncitizens could have illegally voted in our elections without being detected is obscenely ludicrous.”
The recount efforts led by failed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which apparently triggered Trump, pose little threat to his victory, if history is any guide. In Wisconsin, which begins its recount Thursday, Trump leads by more than 22,000 votes. That is already a larger margin than has ever been reversed through a recount. Minnesota’s 2008 Senate recount, one of the most exhaustive in modern history, changed the final tally by only a few hundred ballots. In the infamous Florida recount of the 2000 election, George W. Bush had a final recount margin of 537.
And while Trump has been whining about the election he won, his electoral margin actually grew on Monday, with Michigan certifying its results and awarding him another 16 electoral votes.
The U.S. voting process has withstood scrutiny time and again and is undeserving of Trump’s childish tantrum. It is in fact so illogical that we fear a more nefarious purpose at work: attempts to further erode Americans’ trust in yet another institution, paving the way for more voter suppression, which has proved a far bigger problem than voter fraud.
It should be clear by now that Trump’s outbursts will require an adjustment by the news media, which need to bring a double-helping of skepticism to coverage of a fact-averse president-elect. Too many initially posted headlines that simply repeated — without qualification — Trump’s baseless illegal voting assertion did his work for him. Those headlines rocket around the internet, further solidifying the notion in the minds of those who won’t go deeper, that Trump is some kind of plain-spoken truth teller, instead of a Twitter troll who needs to get off social media and get back to work.