But still, there’s that lingering question of how aware he is of his falsehoods. When, for example, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reports that Trump thinks he will somehow be reinstated as president by August — a claim as verifiably false as a claim that the Earth is made of pudding — should we assume that he is simply throwing out an enticing possibility or that he actually thinks this will happen?
The National Review’s Charles Cooke has an answer: Trump actually believes it.
“I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be ‘reinstated’ to office this summer after ‘audits’ of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed,” Cooke wrote on Thursday. “I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.”
As Cooke goes on to write, there is no mechanism for this to happen. Unless Trump is, say, elected as House speaker (which, with a Republican House majority, actually could happen) and both President Biden and Vice President Harris resign simultaneously, there’s no process for Trump to simply assume the presidency. This isn’t like giving out the wrong table in the dining room of a private golf club. Even if, as Cooke notes, rampant fraud were proved and Biden ousted through impeachment, it’s not the case that Trump then suddenly gets to be president as though Biden is Medina Spirit and we’re just reshuffling the Kentucky Derby results.
It is not new that Trump would demonstrate a naive understanding of how the transition of power works. The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 hinged largely on Trump’s obviously false claims that Vice President Mike Pence could simply reject submitted electoral votes from states, somehow triggering a process whereby Trump wound up staying in the White House. The rioters that day chanted “hang Mike Pence” because they believed he had a power to affect the election outcomes that he didn’t. But for Trump, grasping at every straw within reach, the idea was irresistible that maybe Pence could keep open a door that — without Trump’s understanding it — had already been firmly shut and locked.
It’s fitting that Trump should hinge his false belief that he can somehow be casually moved back into the executive mansion on the “audit” in Arizona and similar efforts elsewhere. We’ve discussed that effort repeatedly, the way one might repeatedly chat with neighbors about the guy who doesn’t mow his lawn and feeds the feral raccoons. The situation remains sketchy and unchanging but, still, you have to marvel.
In Arizona, the sketchiness takes many forms, from shoddy management of the ballots being “reviewed” to the bizarre review processes being used. The effort is so objectively nonsensical that even Republican officials in the state are wringing their hands about it. But if you are predisposed to believe that something untoward happened in the election — a claim for which there remains no credible evidence — then you are almost certainly also going to be willing to believe that the Arizona effort is not fundamentally ridiculous.
Reinforcing Cooke’s reporting is Trump’s own commentary.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they found thousands and thousands and thousands of votes,” Trump told a crowd at Mar-a-Lago in April. “So we’re going to watch that very closely. And after that, you’ll watch Pennsylvania and you’ll watch Georgia and you’re going to watch Michigan and Wisconsin. … Because this was a rigged election, everybody knows it.”
It was rigged, ergo evidence that it was rigged will later emerge. In fact, no one should doubt that the effort in Arizona will turn up thousands of “questionable” ballots; after all, the investigation is predicated on the idea that the election was rigged and the mechanisms used in the review are designed to raise unfounded questions. In that speech at Mar-a-Lago, Trump also claimed that they had “found a lot of votes up in New Hampshire” — which is true, except that the votes were in a state legislative race and amounted to a tiny fraction of what would be needed for Trump somehow to have won the state.
We should step back for a second and simply marvel at how deluded all of this is. Trump lost the national vote by 7 million votes and would have needed to flip the results in at least three states to have forced the presidential contest to the House to settle. This was no closer an election than the one that Trump won in 2016 in terms of electoral votes and a much worse popular vote outcome for him. To believe there’s any serious question about the outcome is to fundamentally misunderstand how elections work, much less how math works.
Which brings us to Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow.
You’ll remember that Lindell showed up at the White House shortly before Biden was inaugurated with a document including various dramatic measures Trump could use to hold on to power. Since Trump’s loss last November, Lindell has entertained a wide array of obviously false assertions about fraud. His personal wealth has enabled him to produce various “documentaries” detailing allegations of fraud; videos that primarily center on elevating random individuals’ statistical gymnastics aimed at suggesting that something illegal occurred in the voting.
Lindell would also like to take credit for Trump’s assertion about being reinstated by August.
“If Trump is saying August, that is probably because he heard me say it publicly,” he told the Daily Beast after Haberman’s original report. He admitted that this was something of an estimate.
“I started saying August … about four weeks ago,” Lindell said. “That was my estimation. I spoke about it with my lawyers who said that they should have something ready for us to bring before the U.S. Supreme Court by July. So, in my mind, I hope that means that we could have Donald Trump back in the White House by August.”
That is not how any of this works. The Supreme Court is not the returns department at Macy’s where you take a number and get to make your case. Nor does Lindell have any actual evidence of fraud. A good indicator of that is Lindell followed up his initial documentary, “Absolute Proof,” with at least two other products, suggesting that, perhaps, his proof was something short of absolute. And, again, even if the Supreme Court for some reason determined … what, that the election was rigged? There’s no constitutional process for just making Trump president again.
This should all be obvious, from top to bottom. It should be obvious that Trump lost, given how unpopular he was over the course of his presidency and given what the 2018 midterm elections indicated how voters saw him nationally. It should be obvious that no rampant fraud occurred because there’s been no credible evidence presented that it did, even seven months after the election. It should be obvious that Trump can’t simply be made president again because the American system of government is not built to simply trade the senior executive position between people as though it’s a Netflix subscription.
In fact, this is all obvious to people who are not motivated for whatever reason not to see the obvious truth that’s in front of them. The problem, though, is that those who believe Trump and Lindell and the “auditors” in Arizona are also going to believe that Trump should be returned to office. And that’s when you get comments like the one from Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, that the country “should” see a coup like the one in Myanmar.
That Trump seems to actually believe he can be reinstated as president makes it more like that he would also view such an effort with approval. As he reportedly did the last time his deluded sense of how the transfer of power works: during the violence on Jan. 6.