Despite huge pressure, even from Republicans, the White House isn't backing off in supporting President Trump's tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. And in defending the tweets Thursday, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a pretty simple and familiar justification: He won.
“Look, the American people elected a fighter; they didn't elect somebody to sit back and do nothing,” Sanders said. “They knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump, and he won overwhelmingly.”
First off, we can't let that last point go unchallenged. Trump lost the popular vote and prevailed by less than one point in the three states that mattered. “Overwhelmingly” is part of a laughable, continued effort to inflate his win.
That aside, the logic behind this defense is both familiar and faulty. It's a slippery slope that essentially gives Trump license to do whatever he wants and claim a mandate from the American people.
The White House has employed this strategy before to suggest that media coverage shouldn't be so tough and that he doesn't have to release his tax returns. Here's Trump at his February news conference suggesting the media should ease up on the duly elected president of the United States:
Look, I want to see an honest press. … But if you were straight, I would be your biggest booster. I would be your biggest fan in the world, including bad stories about me. But if you go — as an example, you’re CNN, I mean it’s story after story after story is bad. I won. I won.
And here's Trump responding to the tax return question at a January Q&A session:
TRUMP: You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, okay? They're the only who ask.
QUESTION: You don't think the American public is concerned about it?
TRUMP: No I don't think so. I won, and I became president. No, I don't think they care at all. I don't think they care at all.
Trump said much the same thing in a post-election interview with "60 Minutes”: “Obviously, the public didn’t care, because I won the election very easily. So they don’t care. I never thought they did care.”
And Kellyanne Conway picked up on this argument shortly after Trump's January presser, saying it even more bluntly: “We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him.”
The tax returns are a good illustration of the faulty logic at work here. Polls have regularly shown the vast majority of Americans want to see Trump's tax returns — even as much as 64 percent of Republicans. To say people don't care is to ignore scores of polls which all show the same thing.
Perhaps the argument, then, is that those people cared, but they didn't feel strongly enough to have voted against him. That's completely fair and probably accurate. But that's also the point here: Just because certain factors in an election didn't swing the result doesn't mean the American people effectively signed off on them. There was plenty to dislike in both candidates in this election, but Americans had two choices. They chose the candidate whose warts were less offensive to them and whose strengths they felt outweighed them, but that doesn't mean they don't perceive those warts.
And taken to its logical extreme, this argument suggests basically everything Trump did as a candidate was met with the approval of the American people — which is simply not true. It's not far-fetched to see the White House using this logic to justify more of Trump's more infamous deeds.
Clearly Americans like when their president talks about physically assaulting women, a White House spokesperson might say, because they knew he had done it and they elected him!
The American people definitely want a president who makes fun of the physically handicapped, they might say, because he won!
The reality is that polls regularly showed a huge majority of Americans were concerned about Trump's often-boorish behavior and his attitude toward women and minorities. As many as 4 in 10 Republicans said they were troubled about these things.
Americans elected Trump for many other reasons that they apparently felt outweighed these things, but his election is not a ready-made vindication for anything and everything that Trump decides to do as president, no matter how consistent it is with his past behavior.
It's all a pretty neat little window into how Trump feels he's above criticism and doesn't have to apologize for anything.