This post originally appeared at The Nation.
On the third full day of Donald Trump’s attempt at a presidency, his press secretary insisted that “our intention is never to lie to you.” On the same day, Donald Trump intentionally lied to us. During his first official meeting with congressional leaders, the 45th president claimed the reason he lost the national popular vote on Nov. 8 was because 3 million to 5 million “illegals” cast ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Two days later, on the fifth full day of his presidency, Trump doubled down on his big lie, and turned it into a threat; tweeting on the morning of Jan. 25: “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal…”
The news that Trump was again peddling “voter fraud” fantasies had headline writers struggling with the challenge posed by a prevaricating president.
“Without evidence, Trump tells lawmakers 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote,” declared The Washington Post headline.
Clinton won 65,844,610 votes. Trump received 62,979,636 votes. That’s a 2,864,974 popular-vote victory for Clinton.
USA Today went with: “Trump Again Makes Debunked Claim: ‘Illegals’ Cost Me Popular Vote.”
“Trump talks replacing Obamacare, reiterates unsubstantiated voter fraud claims,” read the headline on CNN’s website.
The New York Times got it right: “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers.”
It is vital to be clear about the fact that Trump is lying — intentionally, deliberately and consistently — about so-called “illegal” voting.
There are two overarching reasons why clarity counts:
1. Claims about “illegal voting,” made by Trump and others, have been used as an excuse to enact laws that make it harder for Americans to vote in states across this country. Election observers have argued that voter-suppression measures played a significant role in giving Trump narrow wins in the handful of states that handed him an Electoral College victory and the presidency. “We have a president-elect who was elected literally with two thumbs and eight fingers on the scale in terms of depressed, suppressed votes in communities all across the country,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.
Even before Trump tweeted on Jan. 25 about launching his investigation — which will only heighten tensions over election rules — Republican officials around the country were moving to make it even harder to vote. After the Michigan House endorsed strict voter-ID requirements in early December, The Detroit News reported that state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), said: “‘There’s certainly no proof’ that any voters who cast ballots without photo identification last month were committing fraud, but they or their peers could nonetheless face a ‘modern-day poll tax’ under the legislation.” Irwin explained: “This is going to cause confusion and chaos at the polls. There’s going to be arguments, voters aren’t going to understand, and long lines are going to get even longer. Maybe that’s the point.”
2. Trump’s popular-vote defeat is an obsession of his. He returns regularly to the issue of his missing mandate and the questions it raises about the legitimacy of his presidency. Monday’s incident was not the first time that Trump lied about “illegal” voting.
In November, he tweeted: “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,” and then declared: “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California — so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!”
Trump’s claims were false. Election officials said so. Journalists who observed the election and reviewed Trump’s claims about it said so. The investigative journalism project ProPublica reported: “We had 1,100 people monitoring the vote on Election Day. We saw no evidence the election was ‘rigged.’” ProPublica noted that its reporters had found “no evidence that undocumented immigrants voted illegally.”
The Pulitzer Prize–winning PolitiFact project concluded that
Neither Trump nor his allies have presented any evidence of widespread illegal voting. In reality, studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes.
Indeed, the ability to carry off such a far-reaching conspiracy — potentially involving millions of people over the course of several months and without being noticed by election administration officials, many of them in states controlled by Republicans — is ridiculously illogical. We rate Trump’s statement Pants on Fire.
As in: pants-on-fire lie.
Donald Trump and his aides — including Spicer, who on Tuesday dutifully defended his boss’s latest lie as the expression of a “long-standing belief” on the part of the president — could not have missed last fall’s challenges, clarifications and headlines. The Trump team cannot be unaware of the reality that, as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison said: “There is no record of millions of people who are not authorized to vote voting in this election. The reason that Donald Trump lost the popular vote is because most Americans don’t prefer him.”
So when Trump pushes the “millions of people who voted illegally” line now — not as the president-elect but as the occupant of the Oval Office — he is using the bully pulpit of the presidency to deliberately deceive the American people. And when he proposes an investigation of a “problem” that does not exist, he engages in an Orwellian abuse of the power of that office to spread a big lie.
The truth is this: 54 percent of Americans voted for someone other than Donald Trump for president. Hillary Clinton won 65,844,610 votes for president, while Donald Trump received just 62,979,636 votes. That’s a 2,864,974 popular-vote victory for Clinton. Donald Trump is the president. But he has no mandate. That fact has so unhinged Trump that he is now shaming himself and his office by promulgating obvious lies.