Pressed to condemn GOP election fraud, Trump peddles pernicious claims

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

Last week, the North Carolina Board of Elections, confronted with evidence of widespread election fraud, ordered a new election in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Local officials didn't have much of a choice: both parties agree there was a Republican operation that appears to have engaged in fraudulent and illegal activity.

It was against this backdrop that Donald Trump had very little to say on the subject. On Friday afternoon, a reporter asked the president whether he was prepared to condemn his own party's election fraud in North Carolina. His answer was a mess.

TRUMP: Well, I condemn any election fraud. And when I look at what's happened in California with the votes, when I look at what happened -- as you know, there was just a case where they found a million fraudulent votes. When I look at what's happened in Texas --Q: There haven't been any cases --TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. When I look at what's happened in Texas. When I look at that catastrophe that took place in Florida where the Republican candidates kept getting less and less and less and less. And fortunately, Rick Scott and Ron ended up winning their election, but it was disgraceful what happened there.So I look at a lot of different places all over the country. I condemn any voter fraud of any kind, whether it's Democrat or Republican -- or when you look at some of the things that happened in California, in particular. When you look at what's happened in Texas with all of those votes that they recently found were not exactly properly done, I condemn all of it. And that includes North Carolina, if anything -- you know, I guess they're going to be doing a final report. But I'd like to see the final report. But any form of election fraud, I condemn.

If we were to rank Trump's lies on an offensiveness scale, his ridiculous claims about election fraud would have to be among the most exasperating.

Let's take these one at a time:

* There is literally no evidence to support the assertion that a million illegal ballots were cast in California. It's absurd. There's a right-wing Facebook post that's circulating among conspiracy theorists that apparently served as the basis for the presidential nonsense, but there's no reason anyone should take it seriously.

* Trump's reference to "what's happened in Texas" is likely about the Texas secretary of state's office alleging that roughly 95,000 non-citizens may be on the state's voter rolls. It soon became obvious that the list included naturalized citizens, and the whole initiative quickly became something of a joke.

* The president pointed to election results in Florida, where his far-right allies prevailed, but where their margins shrunk as more votes were tallied. Trump considers this "disgraceful." In reality, the only "disgrace" is the voter purge Rick Scott's (R) administration orchestrated ahead of the election, and the evidence that suggests Bill Nelson (D) would've been in a position to win were it not for incompetent election management in Broward County.

But as important as these details are, they're only part of the larger problem with Trump's rhetoric on Friday.

Confronted with actual evidence of his party engaging in election fraud, Trump quickly tried to change the subject to voter fraud, pointing to examples that are fictional.

It wasn't just a matter of partisan convenience: the president needs the public to believe voter fraud (which isn't the same thing as election fraud) is a real scourge in order to (a) lay the groundwork for additional voter-suppression schemes; and (b) rationalize his failure to win the popular vote in 2016.

It was this unfortunate combination of ingredients that led to presidential word salad on Friday afternoon.