It would be comforting to say that's the end of the story, and that the absence of evidence of significant voter fraud discredits the entire issue. In fact, even though his voter-fraud panel was exposed as a fraud itself, Mr. Trump and some others in his party show no signs of dropping their unfounded contentions, for one big reason: They provide a pretext to rationalize voter suppression.
Restrictive voter-ID laws and other such stratagems are the GOP's main means of fighting the electoral consequences of long-term demographic trends empowering minorities and other constituencies that tend to favor Democrats. By mid-century, whites are projected to make up less than half the U.S. population, a chilling prospect for Republicans.
Mr. Trump himself made no bones about the pretext he hopes his baseless assertions will provide. "Push hard for Voter Identification!" he tweeted Thursday after he dissolved the commission, while also repeating the falsehood that U.S. voting is "rigged."
In service of perpetuating that fallacy, the president announced he had instructed the Department of Homeland Security "to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action." Thus did Mr. Trump make clear his intention to politicize an executive agency with 240,000 employees. The test for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, sworn into office a month ago as the sixth person to hold that job, is whether she'll permit it to happen. If Homeland Security officials are deployed to comb through voter registries, they may find minor, statistically insignificant cases of illegal voting. In the process, they also will do grave damage to their department, giving Americans ample reason to believe they have been coerced into running an overtly partisan errand.
Most prominent Republicans have tiptoed around Mr. Trump's vitriolic crusade to delegitimize the nation's electoral system. Even Vice President Pence, who chaired the voter-fraud commission, seemed content to keep it at arm's length and firmly in the hands of the vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican notorious for his rabid voting fraud conspiracy theories and immigrant-bashing.
Nonetheless, phony fears of voting fraud have had a very real effect on Republican state officials, candidates and especially lawmakers across the country, who, emboldened by the president's hyperbole, have continued to press for more exclusionary voting laws and to lend credence to nonsense about corrupt elections. That's just one example, but a particularly toxic one, of how Mr. Trump debases his own party.