It's pretty much beyond dispute at this point that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election in a number of different ways. The extent of the damage, and whether or not the Trump campaign and other Republicans who were clearly the beneficiaries helped them do it, is still unknown. In the past it would have been automatic for the government to establish a blue-ribbon commission to investigate and make recommendations about how to prevent such events in the future. The 9/11 Commission comes to mind. That obviously is not happening now. In fact, the president is doing everything he can to prevent any investigations at all.
Never let it be said that Donald Trump isn't concerned about the integrity of our elections, however. He is convinced that he was the victim of an unprecedented tidal wave of election fraud amounting to millions of illegal votes, all cast for his opponent in 2016. Determined to prove that he was cheated out of the popular vote, he immediately convened his Election Integrity Commission to look into the matter. It's led by vote suppression zealot, Kansas Secretary of State and paid Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, the man who wrote the template for Arizona's odious "show me your papers" law that was struck down by the courts.
I've written about Kobach here on Salon for years. He is one of the foremost GOP experts on vote suppression and anti-immigration law. Those issues have long been central to conservative political strategy but have achieved new salience with demographic challenges to the Republican coalition, since that relies more and more upon a large racist and xenophobic faction at its base. Kobach is determined to ensure that both legal and illegal immigration is stopped and that voting is made as difficult as possible for minority groups and young people who tend to vote Democratic.
As analyst Ron Brownstein said on CNN on Tuesday when asked about the commission and the issue of "voter fraud":
This is not a neutral "good government" argument. As the court said about the North Carolina [voter fraud] law, they talked about surgical precision aimed at minority voters. You have a diversifying country, and you have in Trump a candidate who relied on whites for 90 percent of his votes in that rapidly diversifying country. He's looking at approval ratings among nonwhite voters of under 20 percent. So there is a clear kind of direction in the way this might be going in terms of the recommendations . . . that is about resisting the implications of a changing America.
As the chief election official in the state of Missouri that has a Republican supermajority, I have seen the GOP voter suppression playbook up close . . . The commission is step one. Convince the American people that American democracy doesn't work so they can then take laws that make it harder to vote and spread them all over the country. And that is the core of the Trump reelection strategy.
Kobach got off to a bad start when he demanded that all states turn over all the personal information on their voters to the commission. He had to back off when many states, even those run by Republicans, refused. This looks even worse today than it did at the time, with Tuesday's report that the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation demanded that the commission be stacked with right-wing extremists. That didn't happen, but the president did appoint the man the foundation confirmed was the one who made that demand to the commission, Hans von Spakovsky. As the Campaign Legal Center has said, von Spakovsky is "widely considered to be the architect of the voter fraud myth." One can only imagine what he and Kobach had planned to do with that information.
On Tuesday, Kobach held the second meeting of the commission and was once again embarrassed by his sloppy extremism. In a Breitbart column last week, he declared that voter fraud had tipped the election in New Hampshire last fall, costing the Republicans a Senate seat. The reason? There were people who registered to vote on Election Day with out-of-state drivers’ licenses and didn’t get a New Hampshire license within 60 days. As usual, the governing assumption was that these were mostly Democrats because Republicans are all honest as the day is long.
Dave Weigel of The Washington Post debunked this story at the time. These people were mostly college students, and there is no law that says your vote doesn't count if you don't change your driver's license within 60 days. Nonetheless, Kobach and the commission hightailed it up to New Hampshire to "investigate," where Kobach was confronted with his misleading assertions. He now says his evidence was “anecdotal” and admits he shouldn't have said it “appears” there was fraud. He looked foolish, but didn't admit he was wrong.
But that was nothing compared to the master trolling presentation by the thoroughly discredited economist John Lott, whose usual field is the study of gun violence on behalf of the NRA. Evidently, Lott wrote an article on voter fraud a decade ago from which to hang his alleged expert testimony, but his proposal was clearly designed simply to provoke Democrats. He suggested that if the left is so adamant about background checks for gun owners, the government should use that system to determine whether someone is eligible to vote. Quoting Senator Chuck Schumer, Lott said:
Democrats have long been concerned about voter suppression but they’ve also long lauded the background check system on guns, saying it’s simple, accurate, in "complete harmony with the right of people to go and defend themselves." If they don’t believe that it suppresses people’s ability to defend themselves, would we believe that using this system would suppress being able to go and vote?
The sophomoric Republican commission members could barely keep from snickering and high-fiving each other over how they'd totally pwned those libs. It'll be a cold day in hell before they try to pass gun control legislation again!
Oh, wait: This was about voter fraud. And they want to stop people from voting, don't they? What are they talking about?
To recap: our election campaign was clearly tampered with by a foreign country. The president of the United States may or may not have been in on it, but he's certainly been active in trying to cover it up. Meanwhile, he's convened a commission that's completely lacking in credibility to investigate election fraud that doesn't exist, and they're spending their time trolling Democrats about gun control.
It's Breitbart's world. We just live in it.