President Trump had a very, very big day yesterday. In fact, he was almost manic running from one meeting to the other, speaking before cameras with what seemed to be barely contained rage and ending it with a devastating, incoherent, rambling interview with the New York Times. He must be all worn out.
But he also had photo-ops and made some remarks earlier in the day which were a bit more substantive, if no more coherent or prudent. After the failure of the latest iteration of Trumpcare, the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act, the president dragged all the GOP Senators to the White House for lunch and then humiliated some of them before the cameras by threatening their jobs. This gives you the flavor of how it went:
But, Trump's first meeting of the day had been his surprise welcome to his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. You'll recall that he promised to put that together after he made the ridiculous claim that Hillary Clinton hadn't really won the popular vote because 3 million "illegals" had voted in California. It took a while but one of his biggest supporters, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has made vote suppression his life's work, came in board and it's finally up and running. (I wrote about Kobach here, here and here.)
Trump named Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence as co-chairs and almost immediately the commission was embroiled in controversy. Kobach had instituted a plan that would kick eligible voters off the rolls in his home state of Kansas and he wanted to take it national so his first step was to cause a national firestorm by requesting all personal voter information from each state, which most secretaries of state of both parties refused.
Now lawsuits are rolling in from all over the country regarding the commission's lack of transparency and violations of federal regulations and privacy laws. Kobach was served with a suit claiming that he's illegally exploiting his position to promote his candidacy for governor of Kansas and is being investigated by the Kansas Supreme Court for ironically refusing to turn over documents to the court. Democratic lawmakers have sent an official notice requesting that Kobach be removed from the commission for violations of the Hatch Act and and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. All in all, it's off to a terrific start.
Wednesday morning, Pence opened the proceedings by saying the commission "has no preconceived notions or preordained results. We’re fact-finders. And in the days ahead, we will gather the relevant facts and data, and at the conclusion of our work, we will present the president with a report of our findings.” But whatever hopes Pence had of keeping the pretense of nonpartisan fact-finding were blown to kingdom come when the president took the mic and started talking about the need for the states get with the program:
If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about. And I ask the vice president and I ask the commission: What are they worried about? There’s something. There always is.
This issue is very important to me because throughout the campaign and even after, people would come up to me and express their concerns about voter inconsistencies and irregularities which they saw, in some cases, having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.
Trump said for months that the electoral system was rigged and even said at a presidential debate that he might not accept the results. Of course people come up to him and say they know about some instance of voter fraud.
His real gripe is that he didn't win the popular vote and is driven by some egomaniacal need to be able to at least create the possibility that he actually did. Kris Kobach went on MSNBC yesterday and gave an astonishing interview that surely pleased him:
KATY TUR (HOST): Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 to 5 million votes because of voter fraud?
KRIS KOBACH: We may never know the answer to that — we will probably never know the answer to that question, because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example —
TUR: So, again, you think that maybe Hillary Clinton did not win the popular vote?
KOBACH: We may never know the answer to that question.
That's an outrageous assertion. It is completely impossible that 3 million votes were cast illegally in 2016. In a world that makes sense he would have been fired immediately for casting such a shadow over the electoral results. There have been more than nine major investigations into alleged "voter fraud" and it just does not exist on even a small systematic scale much less something like what he's suggesting.
One can only imagine what the boss had to say when he heard this follow up, though:
TUR: So were the votes for Donald Trump that led him to win the election in doubt as well?
KOBACH: Absolutely. If there are ineligible voters in an election, people who are noncitizens, people who are felons who shouldn't be voting according to the laws of that state —
So Trump's rather pathetic 77,000 vote Electoral College win is also in doubt? Oh my.
But Trump needn't worry. Kobach is a conservative extremist whose life's work is preventing people from voting. That's what this is about. Trump's victory will never be questioned by him.
There is one slight mystery about all this, however. With all this talk of our electoral system being vulnerable to fraud the commission isn't the least bit interested in the subject of Russian interference in the election. That seems odd.
Of course if the goal of the hacking was to create chaos sow the seeds of doubt about the integrity of our democracy the Russian government is probably are wondering why they went to the trouble. Kris Kobach and his friends are doing a fine job of that all on their own. If he could manage to get all that voter information for them in one place that would be very helpful for future hacking. They're pulling for his success if no one else is.