Thursday’s announcement that last year’s congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th District would need to be rerun marks the first time in more than 40 years that a federal race will get a do-over — and perhaps the first time in American history that one would be thrown out because of possible fraudulent activity.
That means the candidate in the lead, Republican Mark Harris, won’t see his victory certified. He has only his own campaign to blame. It was someone working with his campaign who allegedly collected absentee ballots that were then altered or destroyed. Harris is a Republican, though, which means other Republicans have stayed mum about his situation.
On Friday, President Trump didn’t have that option. A reporter asked him during a meeting in the Oval Office why he hadn’t condemned the alleged fraud that took place.
“Well, I condemn any election fraud,” he began, which was a good place to start — before fritzing off the launchpad and spiraling in a thousand different directions.
“And when I look at what’s happened in California with the votes," he continued, “when I look at what happened — as you know, there was just a case where they found a million fraudulent votes, when I look at ... what’s happened in Texas, when I look at that catastrophe that took place in Florida, where the Republican candidates kept getting less and less and less and less, and fortunately [Sen.] Rick Scott and [Gov.] Ron [DeSantis] ended up winning their election, but it was disgraceful what happened there.
“So I look at a lot of different places all over the country,” he said. “I condemn any voter fraud of any kind, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, but when you look at some of the things that happened in California in particular, when you look at what’s happened in Texas with all of those that they recently found that were not exactly properly done, I condemn all of it, and that includes North Carolina. If anything, you know, I guess they’re going to be doing a final report, but I’d like to see the final report. But any form of election fraud I condemn.”
This is all oddly reminiscent of his comments following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August 2017. Something demonstrably bad happened in North Carolina, to the point that a nearly unprecedented event in American history will take place — but Trump equated it with a bunch of exaggerated things that he’d rather talk about. There was “blame on both sides” he said in 2017 and, in not so many words, now. Trump has a habit of condemning all sides in a way that places the brunt of the condemnation on the things he dislikes the most.
As for the equivalences he drew Friday? Put bluntly, they are almost entirely unfounded.
Were “a million fraudulent votes” found in California? No. It’s not even clear where this assertion came from. Trump has harped on California’s 2016 votes having been fraudulent since the election, part of his effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory that year. There was a rumor floating around on Facebook that someone had uncovered 1.7 million votes in the state from people not registered to vote, but even the conservative group to which the claim was attributed said it was untrue.
Were votes recently found in Texas that were “not exactly properly done”? No. Trump was quick to seize on a report this month from Texas’s Republican secretary of state that raised questions about the voting status of nearly 100,000 people who might be noncitizen residents. But in short order — in fact, even before Trump tweeted about it — those numbers were shown to have been inflated dramatically, relying on loose name matches to raise questions about registered voters. The lists also failed to exclude people who may have been naturalized. (From 2007 to 2016, almost 1 million Texans became citizens.)
There may actually be noncitizens included on the lists sent to counties by the state who are improperly registered to vote. So far, though, no illegal votes have been determined. As the Texas Tribune reported this month, a similar effort in Florida targeted 180,000 people — and ultimately removed 85 from voter rolls. Eighty-five people, not 85,000.
Was the Florida vote count marred by fraud? No. On the night of the midterm elections, it seemed as though then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) would easily win election to the U.S. Senate and that then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) would replace him at the governor’s mansion. But there were still votes to count, and as that process slowly wound on, both Scott’s and DeSantis’s leads narrowed. Why? Because more votes were still outstanding from counties with larger populations, counties that tend to be home to cities, which tend to vote more heavily Democratic.
Scott, sensing danger, quickly alleged that there was fraudulent activity happening, with Democratic officials illicitly adding votes to the total. There was no evidence that any votes were manipulated, but Trump joined Scott’s crusade, calling for the totals at the end of election night to stand.
The effect of that, of course, would be to disenfranchise the thousands of voters who cast absentee ballots — but also to ensure Scott’s victory. Essentially, Trump and Scott alleged fraud without evidence to protect Scott’s eventual (and always likely) win. (Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump enthusiast, even claimed that Democrats were practicing tactics to steal the 2020 election from Trump.)
But notice what else Trump did Friday! He accepted at face value allegations of actions that purportedly helped Democrats: that there was rampant fraud in California (there wasn’t), that thousands of illegal votes were cast in Texas (they weren’t) and that Florida’s vote tallying was riddled with fraudulent behavior (it wasn’t). And yet on North Carolina, what does he say?
“I guess they’re going to be doing a final report, but I’d like to see the final report,” Trump said.
Gotta wait for that report before jumping to conclusions.
This entire conversation occurred while Trump was sitting across from the vice premier of China, Liu He. While next to a leading representative of a geopolitical foe — a foe that, for its own political purposes, works actively to undermine international confidence in American elections — Trump equated almost-certain fraudulent activity in North Carolina with various politically friendlier things for which there’s no evidence.
Why? Because this is what he does.