Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, candidate for governor and the vice chairman of President Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, leads the widely ridiculed group supposed to investigate millions of illegal voters, whom the president seems to believe cast votes for Hillary Clinton. The idea is preposterous, lacks any evidence according to the people who know (secretaries of state from 50 states) and appears to be a thinly veiled effort to ratchet up voting restrictions (which, incidentally, federal courts are now routinely striking down).
Vice President Pence, who has been put in charge of this operation (although Kobach is running the show) must realize his group’s credibility is nearly nonexistent. At its first meeting Wednesday, he therefore insisted, “This commission — let me be clear — this commission has no preconceived notions or preordained results.” He added, “We’re fact-finders. And in the days ahead, we will gather the relevant facts and data, and at the conclusion of our work, we will present the president with a report of our findings.” Now if you believe this group of vocal activists who have perpetuated the idea that widespread voting fraud is real are open-minded, we have a bridge to sell you. But at least Pence understands the commission is on thin ice with not just Democrats but all sensible Americans. Not Kobach.
Kobach quickly confirmed suspicions that he and his commission members are, well, crackpots. Asked if he thinks Clinton won the popular vote, he blithely proclaimed, “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.” What?! “What we really [will] never know is how otherwise smart people allow themselves to be part of a giant goat rope meant to validate the lunatic tweets of a president deeply insecure about losing the popular vote,” wisecracked GOP operative and #NeverTrumper Rick Wilson. To be clear once again, there is no evidence of widespread fraud.
Moreover, if we don’t know if Clinton won the popular then do we know Trump won states that made up his electoral college majority? Asked if “the votes for Donald Trump that led him to win the election [are]in doubt as well,” he replied, “Absolutely.” Thunk.
“This is what happens when you have a president making policy based on his own lies — you have to keep telling that lie, even when the logical extension is questioning the president’s own election, as Kobach conceded,” former Justice Department public relations director Matt Miller told me. “The problem is that the policy that will be produced will be deeply damaging to millions of Americans.”
Even beyond Kobach’s babbling and the danger he will rationalize voter-suppression measures based on non-existent voter fraud, Kobach and others on the commission play the role of useful idiot for Russia when they speak this way. After all, Russia’s larger plan is to discredit Western democracies and treat our open and free elections as no more legitimate than Vladimir Putin’s rigged system. “It’s the latest example of Trump’s apparatchiks trying to curry favor with the boss by telling him what he wants to hear, no matter how outrageous or outlandish,” observes Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. “Trump and Kobach are ignoring the very real threat to U.S. democracy and inventing one that serves their own personal interests. Meanwhile, the Russian threat to American democracy gathers unhindered.”
And that in a nutshell is the problem: We have an administration that finds it more helpful to fan Russian propaganda than to speak simple truths about America’s democratic system and Russia’s corrupt thugocracy. Supporting Russian propaganda now seems part and parcel of the commission’s assignment. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) remarked to me, “The far right has never seemed to care about facts in their crusade to keep certain people from voting, but this astonishing denial of the election outcome stands out as the kind of phoniness that undermines the country’s faith in the very democratic institutions our system is built on. This is nonsense, but it’s dangerous nonsense.”
Sen. Amy Klobachur (D-Minn.) agreed. “We know Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. We know President Trump won the electoral college. And we know there hasn’t been widespread voter fraud,” she told me. “What we don’t know is the extent of Russia’s attempt to hack into states’ election systems and what the administration is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again — that’s where the focus should be.”
Trump, and now Kobach, do Putin’s handiwork far more effectively than he ever dreamed. Along with the Trump flunkies at Fox News, they take Russia’s side in its assault on Western democracies’ free and fair elections. Frankly, if the members of the commission had backbone and principles they’d denounce Kobach’s comments and do their best to demonstrate that there is no systematic fraud in our electoral system.