He won’t stop obsessing about it, either, nearly four years later. And now, ironically, Trump’s stubborn desire to prove that he really did win the 2016 election may actually have led him to the actions that seem most likely to get him impeached.
Much of the focus of the investigation of Trump’s attempt to use military aid to Ukraine as a political weapon has been on the push for a Ukrainian investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and the suggestion that Trump was leveraging U.S. foreign policy to attack a current political opponent. But from all available reporting, testimony and transcripts, it seems that Trump was just as intent on leveraging U.S. foreign policy to attack a past political opponent.
Trump didn’t just want Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where Biden’s son Hunter Biden was a board member. He also explicitly asked Zelensky to investigate the thoroughly debunked theory that it was actually Ukraine that interfered with the 2016 election, and specifically that the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, which worked with the Democratic National Committee after the DNC’s servers were hacked in 2016, somehow spirited off a critical evidence-holding server to Ukraine. (There was no server; the DNC’s network was cloud-based.) That idea, which has been kicking around fringe right-wing circles for years, is muddled and baseless, but the point of it seems to be deflecting blame for interference from Russia.
Rigorous adherence to carefully established facts has never been Trump’s thing (like, say, affirming that Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution actually exists). So it shouldn’t be surprising that, even though it’s been debunked, Trump has been fixating on this CrowdStrike-Ukraine theory since at least 2017. He even raised it in a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin last year. But he still doesn’t quite seem to understand it, as shown by his confusing (or maybe confused) request for Zelensky to “find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … the server, they say Ukraine has it.” Perhaps the former denizens of r/Pizzagate understand that shorthand perfectly, but to the rest of us, it sounds like a vaguely hopeful fishing expedition.
What it really means, though, is that Trump, nearly three years after Election Day 2016, is still trying to prove — without an asterisk — that he won.
Could a sitting U.S. president engaged in urgent matters of state and/or prime-time cable news programming really be so thin-skinned? Yes. Of course. It’s Trump. And 2016 has stuck in his craw for his whole term. He’s obsessed over the electoral college, the popular vote and the idea that President Barack Obama was the one in office during Russia’s meddling. He has given wide-ranging interviews to Fox News in which he has talked about Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton. He kicked off his 2020 reelection campaign with a nostalgic rally throwback to Clinton and her emails and the sweet, familiar strains of “Lock her up!” He has returned to the safety of unhinged, braying sidekick Rudy Giuliani. And even as Mueller wrapped up his two-year special counsel investigation without indicting Trump, Trump was still obsessing over vestigial fake news, fake polls and “Crooked Hillary’s” acid-washed emails. He also throws back to Anthony Weiner, Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele. It’s like the campaign was the good old days and he misses it.
I mean, I get it. On the most basic level, I can sympathize. You win the election, you beat your opponent fair and square, you overlook the fact that you lost the popular vote by 3 million people — and then it turns out @TrumpComrade469 didn’t really vote for you, because she’s not actually an American, or a person. It’s got to rankle.
But is it worth jeopardizing his whole presidency for? Because after Tuesday’s testimony from William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a five-decade public servant, it seems quite clear that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to try to persuade Zelensky to help Trump obsess over 2016. What a Pyrrhic quid pro quo.
Of all the many potentially impeachable actions by this president (Do I really need to list them? Even the Flat Earthers know what I’m talking about), withholding military aid from a strategic ally to extract a public pledge to investigate a crackpot 2016 theory may just be the clincher. All because Trump is obsessed with proving that he really, truly won in 2016.
Wouldn’t it be something if that’s what keeps him from doing it again in 2020?