Around Thanksgiving 2016, Donald Trump should’ve been focused on his presidential transition process. As regular readers may recall, the president-elect was instead focused on the inconvenient fact that Americans were given a choice in the election, and he received far fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.
Instead of downplaying the significance of the electorate’s preference for his rival, Trump came up with a conspiracy theory to make himself feel better: he secretly won the popular vote, the Republican claimed, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
He soon after started referring to “the so-called popular vote.”
On his fourth day as president, Trump hosted a private discussion with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss his legislative agenda. He spent the first 10 minutes talking about the campaign and his belief that he won the popular vote, even if reality suggested otherwise.
Nearly three years later, Trump hasn’t let this go, as was obvious in his “Meet the Press” interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd.
TODD: You didn’t like the fact that you lost the popular vote. That bothered you, didn’t it?
TRUMP: Well, I think it was a – I mean, I’ll say something that, again, is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don’t believe. I look at California.
TODD: Mr. President.
TRUMP: Excuse me…. Take a look at Judicial Watch, take a look at their settlement where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.
TODD: A million votes of what?
While deciphering the president’s weird conspiracy theories can be challenging, in this case, I think Trump was referring to California removing a million inactive voter registrations – folks who either moved out of state or died – from the voter rolls. At no point did state officials ever “admit” that a million illegal ballots were cast In fact, there’s no evidence of any illegal votes in California.
For that matter, Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote advantage over Trump was nearly 3 million ballots, not 1 million.
But even putting these details aside, this is arguably more than just another example of the president believing a weird and discredited theory.
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 a scary dynamic to consider, made worse by comments like those the Republican shared on “Meet the Press.” If Trump doesn’t accept the legitimacy of an election he won, what are the odds he’ll accept the legitimacy of an election he loses?
What’s more, if he’s convinced that the system is “rigged” – a word he repeated ad nauseam in 2016 – 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.”
All of this comes against a backdrop in which Trump talks a little too often about remaining in power beyond two terms, despite the Constitution’s limits, including a weird tweet the president published on Friday afternoon.