At an event in West Virginia last week, which was ostensibly about tax policy, Donald Trump talked at some length about his belief that millions of people conspired to cast illegal votes in the 2016 presidential election. As the president put it, “They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory folks, millions and millions of people.”
As a rule, candidates who win elections don’t try to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the results, but in this case, Trump has long been uncomfortable with the fact that he received far fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. As a result, he concocted a conspiracy theory that he insists isn’t a conspiracy theory.
A reporter brought this up yesterday during White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ briefing.
Q: The president talked about those claims of voter fraud again. It’s something he’s repeatedly brought up. It’s just getting the idea of when words matter, particularly in moments of a lot of international pressure, like this moment right now, what his standard of accuracy is when he’s speaking to the American public.
SANDERS: Certainly, the president still strongly feels that there was a large amount of voter fraud, and attempted to do a thorough review of it.
This struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. First, note that the president’s chief spokesperson didn’t say there was a large amount of voter fraud; she said Trump “feels” there was a large amount of voter fraud. It’s as if the White House press secretary didn’t want to be directly associated with peddling nonsense, so Sanders was more comfortable attributing the absurd claim to her boss.
Second, since when do the president’s “feelings” override evidence and demonstrable facts?
If it seems like this comes up with alarming frequency, it’s not your imagination. Members of the White House team recently gave Trump a presentation on Amazon.com and the Post Office, but it didn’t matter – because the president believed his feelings on the issue were more important than the data.
Last week, Trump expressed dissatisfaction with his approval rating, and decided he that he feels his support is around 58% – 18 percentage points higher than national independent averages.
The president doesn’t want to learn about current events so much as he wants to “feel” them, drawing conclusions that make him feel better about himself and his assumptions.
For the rest of us, however, reality is stubborn.