(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

Republicans have spent years pushing lies about voter fraud in order to justify vote suppression measures. But Donald Trump took these lies to another level entirely. He not only claimed in advance of the election that its outcome would be illegitimate if he lost. After winning the electoral college, he then falsely claimed that “millions” had voted illegally and that he’d actually won the popular vote, to dramatically inflate impressions of his popular support and mandate and, worse, apparently to continue eroding public confidence in our elections and democratic institutions.

Now two top Republicans have been given the opportunity to set the record straight about Trump’s claim that “millions” voted illegally. Both declined — making them complicit in Trump’s efforts to undermine that public confidence and, by extension, weaken our democracy.

Here’s Paul Ryan, on CBS’s 60 Minutes:

QUESTION: Trump tweeted in the last week or so that he had actually won the popular vote, if you deduct the millions who voted illegally. Do you believe that?

RYAN: I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.

QUESTION: Wait a minute. You have an opinion on whether millions of Americans voted illegally.

RYAN: I have no way of backing that up. I have no knowledge of such things. But it doesn’t matter to me. He won the election.

Meanwhile, RNC chair Reince Priebus was asked on Face the Nation to account for Trump’s claim. “I don’t know if that’s not true,” Priebus insisted. Pressed further, he actually said: “It’s possible.”

Ryan’s answer is marginally better than Priebus’s, since Ryan kinda sorta admitted there’s no evidence for the claim, while Priebus actually tip-toed towards validating it by allowing it might be true. But both passed on the chance to state clearly and unequivocally that, no, millions of people did not vote illegally in our presidential election. There might even have been a more subtle way to transmit this message, for example by saying something like: “Oh, that’s just Trump being Trump. Americans should see no reason to doubt that the votes are counted properly. Our elections are sound.” But they declined.

We still don’t know what Trump truly intends with such talk. But it is reasonable to be on guard for the very worst — that Trump’s continued efforts to undermine faith in our elections is by design. This isn’t a partisan concern, by the way. Evan McMullin, the conservative independent candidate, had a good piece today arguing that Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes may well have a deeper, more nefarious motive:

Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.

As McMullin notes, this is particularly disturbing when viewed alongside all the other things during the campaign that demonstrated Trump’s “authoritarian tendencies.” McMullin writes that Trump has “questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and…undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power” and “commitment to truth.”

All this should also be seen in another context as well. As I’ve argued, Trump’s continued suggestion of rampant voter fraud signals the possibility of a major wave of voting restrictions and vote suppression. That might include a refusal by the Department of Justice to enforce remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act and an insistence on pursing bogus efforts to purge voter rolls in the name of fighting fraud, as well as a push from Congressional Republicans to nationalize voting restrictions. If this does come to pass, Trump’s efforts to undermine faith in our elections may well continue, from the pulpit of the presidency.

And more “responsible” Republicans will likely continue to countenance those efforts, even though they go farther than most Republicans have gone before — because they will serve a concrete, long term electoral purpose for the party. The potential long term cost to the civic health of our liberal democracy, needless to say, is apparently not a concern in the least.

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UPDATE: Here’s still more. Jennifer Rubin reports that Mike Pence, too, is subtly validating Trump’s lies about “millions” voting illegally. As Rubin notes, Pence is abandoning “any pretense of telling the truth.”

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* TRUMP TAPS BEN CARSON FOR HUD: Trump has picked Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Post comments:

[It’s] an unconventional choice that underscores Trump’s willingness to forgo traditional policy expertise in some Cabinet positions to surround himself with allies….Carson will…lead the charge to reform what Trump has described as America’s blighted and dangerous inner cities, a dystopian, racially-charged image criticized as frequently at odds with the facts.

Reassuringly, a close friend of Carson recently said that Carson didn’t want a different top job, because he “has no government experience” and putting him in a top post might “cripple the presidency.”

* REPUBLICANS THINK VOTERS DON’T CARE ABOUT TRUMP CONFLICTS: Politico reports that Republicans see no need to bother themselves over the looming conflicts involving Trump’s presidency and global business holdings:

Republicans…think Americans don’t care about these entanglements…Voters rewarded Trump in part on the idea that success in business will equal success in government, and Republicans are therefore unwilling to encourage the president-elect to put distance between the Oval Office and Trump Tower, or between himself and the children who serve him as trusted advisers.

Brilliant! As this blog has argued, Congressional Republicans could be taking steps right away to limit conflicts (and corruption) later. Their abdication is a big part of this story.

* FAKE NEWS HAS VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES: How much more of this will there be?

A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.

After fake news stories claiming that Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the restaurant, the Post relates, “the restaurant, its owner, staff and nearby businesses have been attacked on social media and received death threats.”

* TRUMP’S NSA PICK TRAFFICKED IN FAKE NEWS: Note this nugget from the Post story on the gunman:

Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true.

Flynn’s tweet doing this is right here. The perfect pick to keep Trump grounded in national security realities.

* GOP LAWMAKERS WILL KILL THEIR CONSTITUENTS’ HEALTH CARE: NPR has an interesting look at the district of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who wants to repeal Obamacare, including Medi-Cal, the Medicaid expansion in California:

Two counties represented by the Republican leader are among the most heavily dependent on Medi-Cal in the state. Roughly half of the residents are covered by Medi-Cal, which added about 212,000 enrollees after Obamacare took effect. Nearly 29,000 residents have purchased health plans through Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange, with coverage heavily subsidized by the federal government.

Of course, McCarthy was reelected with 70 percent, so he needn’t care about those people. The question is how many Republicans will end up caring enough to replace it.

* GOP WILL REPEAL THE ACA AND BLAME DEMS: Paul Krugman comments on the GOP’s emerging strategy to repeal the ACA on a delayed schedule, to give them time to supposedly replace it later:

By then, G.O.P. leaders promise, they’ll have come up with the replacement they haven’t been able to devise over the past seven years. There will, of course, be no replacement….But the political thinking seems to be that they can find a way to blame Democrats for the debacle. It’s all very Trumpian, if you think about it….his hallmark has been turning a profit on failed business projects, because he finds a way to leave other people holding the bag.

One unknown here is whether a handful of GOP senators may end up refusing to vote on a repeal plan unless it comes packaged with a replacement. It seems unlikely, but we’ll see.

* AND TRUMP IS DISSEMBLING ABOUT CARRIER DEAL: Trump claims that his deal with Carrier and its parent company United Technologies will save 1,100 jobs. Glenn Kessler takes the claim apart:

Trump’s numbers concerning the Carrier plant yet again demonstrate how sloppy he is with the facts. United Technologies is keeping only 800 out of 2,100 jobs that were heading to Mexico, yet in the interest of winning favorable headlines, Trump is willing to exaggerate the number of jobs saved and play down the number of jobs lost.

Carrier is getting tax breaks in exchange for shipping out fewer jobs than it had previously threatened to do. Way to stand up to corporate America!