White House press secretary Sean Spicer had no good answer for one important question Tuesday.
After several reporters tried (and largely failed) to nail Spicer down on the source for President Trump's bogus claim that between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, NPR's Mara Liasson got to the root of the matter: If Trump truly believes there were so many illegal votes, she asked, why hasn't he called for investigations?
Spicer tried to deflect and restate his previous boilerplate answer — that Trump believes what he believes — but Liasson pressed him. Eventually, Spicer granted that "Maybe we will [investigate]."
Later on, NBC's Hallie Jackson tried again, and Spicer said: "We're here on Day Two. I think let's not prejudge what we may do in the future."
And then NBC's Kristen Welker tried again. Spicer assured that he was only speaking hypothetically about a possible investigation. And then Spicer, as he had before, quickly tried to move on. "It's been asked and answered," he assured Welker, and called on the next reporter.
Once you get past the lack of a factual basis for Trump's strange and incredible claim, this is what really doesn't make sense about it. Trump is alleging that as many as 3.6 percent of the votes cast in a 2016 contest decided by even fewer votes may have been illegitimate. He's saying the number of illegal votes may have been larger than the populations of 38 states. He's saying that as many as 30 to 40 percent of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States cast ballots.
If that's even close to true, it's a massive, unprecedented electoral scandal that requires investigations to, if nothing else, prevent it from happening again. And that would seem to be something Trump, with his hard-line policy on illegal immigrants and pre-election warnings of large-scale voter fraud, should clearly support. The idea that Trump would truly believe this but not investigate it as one of his first priorities makes precisely zero sense.
It also, as I wrote the last time Trump went down this road, inherently risks calling into question his own win and whether there should be a recount. Trump won by fewer than 80,000 combined votes across three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and if there really were 5 million illegal votes, who knows what that would mean?
I was being somewhat facetious, especially since immigrants tend to lean to the left politically and undocumented ones probably wouldn't have voted for Trump (for obvious reasons). It's not hard to make an argument that their votes, if they had actually existed, would have benefited Clinton.
But if this level of voter fraud were truly possible in American elections, who knows what else might have occurred:
If the system was susceptible to the kind of pro-Clinton fraud that Trump is alleging, who is to say that it wasn’t also susceptible to manipulation that might have benefited Trump? Trump’s argument is that our electoral system was vulnerable to all kinds of shenanigans that could have changed the results in specific states. Why not shenanigans instigated by Russia, which experts say aided Trump during the campaign with fake-news propaganda? Or something else? There is also no evidence of this, but apparently evidence is not required for our next president to make a charge.Trump is alleging that these shenanigans ... accrued to Clinton’s benefit, but if our system has so many holes in it, why couldn’t those holes have helped Trump in the states that mattered? If illegal immigrants can vote and there was real voter fraud in states such as California, New Hampshire and Virginia, why couldn’t these things have happened in circumstances and places that didn’t hurt Trump? Why not in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump won the presidency by a margin of about a point or less? If the system is that shoddy, it’s probably shoddy everywhere.
Trump is trying to have it both ways here. He wants the perception of voter fraud to cast doubt on his popular vote loss. But he doesn't want the parts where he has to actually investigate it (which could prove his claim was complete nonsense) or to actually call into question his electoral college win.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny asked Spicer toward the end of Tuesday's session how Trump can be confident in his win, given that massive alleged voter fraud. "What does that mean for democracy?"
"It means I've answered your question," Spicer responded.
But he hadn't, because he really couldn't. At least, not in a way his boss would be happy to hear.