Opinion writer

(Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

As you’ve heard, in a meeting with congressional leaders, President Trump privately repeated the claim that millions voted illegally in the presidential election, and if you discount those votes, Trump actually won the popular vote. In his latest rendition of this tale, which he had previously recited just after the election, Trump claimed that as many as three to five million people voted illegally.

Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was grilled on this news, and disconcertingly, Spicer confirmed that Trump really believes this to be the case:

During the daily briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that widespread voter fraud is a belief President Trump has "maintained for a while." (Reuters)


That’s bad enough. But this quote from Spicer may be even more worrisome:

“I think there have been studies; there was one that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed 14 percent of people who have voted were not citizens. There’s other studies that have been presented to him. It’s a belief he maintains.”

Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee posted a piece Tuesday taking apart Spicer’s assertion. There are no studies that show what Spicer claims.

But what’s really problematic here is that there are no indications that any of Trump’s advisers have been able to talk him out of this belief, presuming they even tried, which is not clear, either.

After all, Spicer himself said that Trump gathered his conclusion from actual data — the “studies that have been presented to him.” Did any of his advisers try to “present him” with the contrary evidence, which is far more conclusive and persuasive? If they did, why did Trump not find this convincing? If they did not, why didn’t they? Whichever of these is the case, neither is particularly reassuring.

Remember, we’ve already seen other instances of Trump’s advisers failing to act as a check on him when he flies off the rails of reality. The New York Times has already reported that, when Trump began stewing over the media coverage showing his inaugural crowds were not quite as spectacular, impressive and glorious as Trump thought they should be, some Trump advisers reportedly counseled him against pushing back. But they lost that battle:

The lack of discipline troubled even senior members of Mr. Trump’s circle, some of whom had urged him not to indulge his simmering resentment at what he saw as unfair news coverage. Instead, Mr. Trump chose to listen to other aides who shared his outrage and desire to punch back.

So Trump and Spicer both went out there and lashed out at the news media for accurately reporting his crowd sizes, with Spicer adding that Trump’s inauguration viewership was larger than any other in history, which is preposterously false, no matter which angle you examine it from.

Can anyone talk Trump into accepting reality? Is anyone seriously trying?

It is bad enough that Trump repeated the lie about millions voting illegally in private. But now the White House has declined to correct the record when given the chance to do so publicly. The White House, of course, is stuck in the position of asserting that Trump really believes this, because, well, he said it, and copping to a knowing lie on Trump’s part would lead to more criticism. But the end result is that the White House is allowing the underlying false claim to stand.

This is not a tenable position, as reporters quickly revealed at the presser. As you’ll note from the video above, Spicer was subsequently pressed on whether Trump might want an investigation into the election, if he really believes millions voted illegally, since that would be a rather serious occurrence. Spicer answered that he probably would not, because “he won fairly overwhelmingly.”

The White House’s actual position is that Trump genuinely believes that millions of people voted illegally, which would have dire implications for our democracy — yet Trump also doesn’t think this is a big enough deal to merit a serious accounting, because it didn’t prevent him from winning.