A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky.
Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP

Trump uses false claims to try to undermine confidence in elections

Updated

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump whether he was bothered about losing the popular vote in 2016. True to form, the president rejected the premise, insisting, among other things, “California admitted to a million votes.”

It was effectively gibberish – I’m still not sure what that sentence about California was supposed to mean – but the underlying point was clear: Trump believes a discredited conspiracy theory about millions of illegally cast ballots, which prevented him from winning the popular vote.

Yesterday, speaking to a group of far-right students, the Republican peddled a similar line:

“Don’t kid yourself, those numbers in California and numerous other states, they’re rigged. You got people voting that shouldn’t be voting. They vote many times, not just twice, not just three times. They vote – it’s like a circle. They come back; they put a new hat on. They come back; they put a new shirt. And in many cases, they don’t even do that. You know what’s going on. It’s a rigged deal.”

As a factual matter, all of this was completely and demonstrably wrong. Undocumented immigrants don’t vote, and there’s literally no evidence to support the idea of anyone casting multiple ballots. Whenever the White House has been asked to substantiate any of these presidential claims, it’s failed.

And at face value, it’s important in its own right that the sitting president keeps lying about a voter-fraud conspiracy that doesn’t exist, deliberately trying to undermine public confidence in his own country’s electoral system.

But just below the surface, there’s a related question that’s even more serious: what exactly does Trump intend to do about these bogus beliefs he keeps peddling to the public?

If the president simply wants the public to see him as some kind of pitiful victim, persevering despite a “rigged” system stacked against him, fine. It’s absurd, but such rhetoric probably won’t amount to much.

But what’s far more unsettling is the idea that the White House will consider measures intended to address Trump’s bizarre beliefs – or worse, challenge election results the president finds unsatisfying.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, there’s been speculation for quite a while about whether Trump would accept defeat in 2020 if he lost. Those concerns grew a little louder earlier this year when Michael Cohen, the president’s former fixer, told a congressional committee, “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump. I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

It’s an unsettling dynamic to consider, made worse by the Republican’s increasingly routine public comments about the integrity of the country’s voting system. If Trump is convinced that “numerous” states have corrupt elections, this false belief could serve as a convenient excuse for him to reject results he dislikes.

What’s more, if he’s convinced that the system is “rigged” – a word he used more than once yesterday and repeated ad nauseam in 2016, when he thought defeat was likely – what exactly is Trump prepared to do to create an electoral dynamic that satisfies his expectations?

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently added, “I think Democrats are vastly underestimating the ways a corrupt and lawless president can use the powers of the presidency itself to cheat in an election. The ‘sure I’d collude’ stuff is just the tip of the iceberg.”