President Donald Trump’s lonely insistence that massive voter fraud tarnished the November 2016 election that he won took a substantial step further Wednesday.
“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
It is not clear who would conduct such an investigation or under what legal authority. But it is very clear Trump is preoccupied by his conviction that there was widespread fraud.
“He seems to be obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud. So I would urge the president to knock this off,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday. “This is going to erode his ability to govern the country if he does not stop it.”
Trump’s crusade began soon after the election. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” he Tweeted on Nov. 27, 2016.
When he met in private with the congressional leadership Monday at the White House, he started off by explaining that he would have beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote except for ballots cast by up to 5 million illegal immigrants.
Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, also has pushed the unproven claim. “I think he’s stated his concerns of voter fraud, and people voting illegally during the campaign, and he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him,” Spicer said Tuesday.
While it is concerning that the president would so adamantly repeat false claims about something so central to the integrity of elections, unilaterally ordering an investigation of his theory is a more serious and consequential move. A high-profile probe backed by a zealous president has the potential to further erode the public’s disappearing trust in government.
The bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State issued a statement Tuesday that said: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”
Researchers at Dartmouth College examined Trump’s accusations of rampant voter fraud and published a report in December that found no evidence it happened.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said this week that he had “seen no evidence” serious voter fraud.
“When these falsehoods are told, our Republican colleagues have an obligation to reject them,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.
Republicans, however, are not pushing back hard on the new president. ''I don't see the evidence [of fraud],” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said. “But he's the president and if he thinks it's there, have at it.''
News organizations have been struggling to find ways to report on the president’s allegations that are both accurate and respectful. A headline in The Wall Street Journal read: “Sticking to Unsubstantiated Claim, Trump Seeks Voter-Fraud Inquiry”
The New York Times on Wednesday had an even more aggressive headline and sub-head: “Trump Promises ‘Major Investigation’ of Voter Fraud: Mr. Trump doubled down Wednesday on his fraudulent assertion that millions of illegal immigrants gave Hillary Clinton her 2.8 million-ballot victory in the popular vote.”
Some Democrats believe President Trump is paving the way for more restrictive voting laws that would tend to suppress participation.
“The president can join me and my staff, and we will show him there is no voter fraud,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This is not about Donald Trump. This is about the soul of our democracy.”
The prospect of a sitting president challenging that “soul of democracy” has been a concern since the November election. Now it is a reality.