The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Once again, Trump claims that just enough fraud cost him an electoral victory

Then-candidate Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, N.H., on Oct. 28, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

It’s always just enough, isn’t it? There is always just enough fraud in whatever contest President Trump happens to be talking about to have made the difference in the election.

On Thursday, it was New Hampshire, a state that Trump lost by just less than 3,000 votes. Trump apparently raised that loss during a conversation with a number of senators that was intended to be focused on his nominee for the Supreme Court.

“The president claimed that he and [former senator Kelly] Ayotte both would have been victorious in the Granite State if not for the ‘thousands’ of people who were ‘brought in on buses’ from neighboring Massachusetts to ‘illegally’ vote in New Hampshire,” Politico’s Eli Stokols reports.

Let’s come back to this. For now, let’s remember how we got here.

Trump’s habit of explaining his losses as being the fault of others’ cheating started almost exactly a year ago. You may recall that late polling showed him winning the caucuses in the state of Iowa. Somewhat mirroring the general election results in reverse, Trump was out-organized by Sen. Ted Cruz and ended up losing the state — doing so poorly that he nearly ended up in third. The night of the election, Trump was gracious and promised to fight on, but within days that changed.

By Feb. 3, two days after the contest, Trump explicitly accused Cruz of cheating in a tweet.

In Iowa, Trump didn’t explicitly say that Cruz’s efforts cost him 6,200 votes, the margin by which he lost. Instead, Trump offered a pastiche of excuses different from the sort he alleges in New Hampshire: Cruz had provided bad information about Ben Carson dropping out, lied in ads and had sent a misleading flier to voters.

None of that made any real difference, of course. The Carson thing was perhaps the most potent critique, and it wasn’t that potent. (Carson actually did better than expected in the state, undercutting Trump’s claim that his voters went to Cruz.) The misleading flier was sent from Cruz to a few hundred likely Cruz supporters, for example, hoping that they would turn out to vote. There was no fraud; there was just a loss.

After Trump won the general election, America could have been forgiven for assuming that Trump would not be too worried about voter fraud. But he was, you see, because when all of the votes were counted, Hillary Clinton beat him by nearly 3 million votes. That and a Patagonia fleece earned Clinton nothing more than a free walk in the woods, but it still clearly grated on Trump. So, again: fraud.

Millions of votes! At the time of that tweet, the margin of his popular vote wasn’t clear, but it was clearly millions. He was apparently seizing on a single tweet from a single guy, Gregg Phillips, that had been propagated by the conspiracy site Infowars to make this claim about fraud. Last month, in another tweet, he put that guy’s hard number on things. Three million. The margin by which he lost.

In fairness, though, the 3 million posited by Phillips did get inflated slightly as Trump continued to complain about the results. Perhaps worried that a flat 3 million illegal votes wouldn’t hold up in the minds of the public, it swelled a bit to between 3 million and 5 million. Why did the number suddenly jump up by a potential 2 million votes? Who knows. As he later said to Bill O’Reilly, “forget all that.”

The Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee explains why White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s claims about voter fraud in the presidential election don’t add up. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

We should forget all that, of course, because there’s zero evidence that voter fraud happened on any significant scale in 2016 — or in any other recent election.

So now there’s this New Hampshire claim. Thousands of people, seeping over the border from dirty ol’ Massachusetts, making Trump lose. One of the big questions about these allegations of rampant fraud, such as in, say, California, is how all of these fraudulent votes were cast for Clinton but not for other Democrats. How is it that Ayotte lost by only about 1,000 votes while Trump lost by twice as much? Both Ayotte and the woman who defeated her, Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan (D), got more votes than the people at the top of their parties’ tickets. So thousands of people bused into New Hampshire, cast enough votes for Clinton to ensure her victory — but then Hassan somehow got nearly 10,000 more votes than Clinton anyway, once you take out that margin by which Trump lost?

And besides, how did they know how many votes they would need? Polling in New Hampshire showed Clinton winning by a small margin — 0.6 points — before Election Day. She won by 0.3 points. That’s entirely because some ne’er-do-wells in Massachusetts predicted the precise number of votes needed, even though the polling said they didn’t need any at all?

By the way, busing in thousands of people is harder than it seems. A charter bus holds about 55 people. So that’s 50 buses that would have had to make the trip into New Hampshire to hand Clinton the victory. If you’ve got any photos of that caravan, please do share.

It’s all nonsense. It’s all rationalization and insecurity. Trump lost the popular vote and he lost in New Hampshire, and that’s too bad but he’s still the president and the election was 94 days ago, but here we are still talking about it. It couldn’t be less important — except for what it tells us to expect about other times Trump might see his winning streak interrupted.