A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.
American voters were given a choice last year between two major-party presidential candidates, and to the annoyance of the White House, Donald Trump came in second. In fact, Hillary Clinton not only earned roughly 3 million more votes than her Republican rival, she had the strongest performance of any American candidate ever who wasn’t inaugurated.
This not only denied Trump a credible claim to a mandate to his regressive agenda; it also hurt his feelings. And with this in mind, the GOP president responded to the election results by repeatedly telling people that he secretly won the popular vote, pointing to evidence that exists only in his imagination.
He is, however, not the only one thinking along these lines. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the voter-suppression pioneer who’s helping lead Trump’s “voter integrity” commission, spoke today with MSNBC’s Katy Tur, and it led to an interesting exchange:
TUR: Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 to 5 million votes because of voter fraud?
TRUMP: We’ll probably never know the answer to that question, because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.
The host, seeking clarification, added, “So, again, you think that maybe Hillary Clinton did not win the popular vote.” The Kansas Republican responded, “We may never know the answer to that question.” Tur, incredulous, said what I was thinking. “Really?” she asked.
But this led to an equally interesting exchange, looking at the absurd conspiracy theory from the opposite direction:
TUR: So are the votes for Donald Trump that lead him to win the election in doubt as well?
All of this is deeply ridiculous. We know, because the evidence tells us, that Trump lost the popular vote by millions of votes. We know, because the evidence tells us, that there was no systemic “voter fraud,” and that Kobach’s efforts to prove otherwise are a sham. Common sense suggests he should have no role in a “voting integrity” commission.
But what’s especially striking about this is the bizarre habit of Republicans to call into question the integrity of an election process in which they won. In light of developments such as Trump-Russia scandal, and the role of a foreign adversary’s espionage operation to elect its preferred candidate, there are plenty of Trump critics on the left who’ve questioned the legitimacy of the current president’s election.
But Kobach’s interview with Katy Tur served as a reminder that Trump and his allies are raising similar questions from a different perspective. It’s the opinion of the Trump White House that Trump may have won an election whose integrity is in doubt.
In these divisive times, I suppose that any kind of bipartisan consensus is a rare treat, but this really shouldn’t be the kind of consensus Republicans have in mind.